Award-winning author Zadie Smith offers a healthy cosign of essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah in a recent piece written by the pair for ELLE UK. Described as “the writer who teaches her everything,” Ghansah was first acquainted with Smith while studying at Columbia University in New York City. Smith describes herself at the time as a heavy-handed writing instructor whose approach reportedly “exasperated” Ghansah, a protege of the late Rich Nichols, longtime manager of The Roots. A transformative experience for Smith, their interaction in the classroom ultimately changed her approach to life as an educator. The encounter would also introduce her to a writer whose commentary on black culture and womanhood she recognizes as singular and subsequently necessary.
‘I’m sure she is coolly sceptical of the phrase “black girl magic” [the resilience of black women who persevere in the face of adversity] but some version of that is what Rachel brings to me. I was very affected when I was a kid by a phrase of novelist Zora Neale Hurston’s, “The black woman is the mule of the world.” This is not the only truth about us and Zora is proof of that: despite all the difficulties, she lived her life with verve, purpose and joy. Rachel’s got some of the Zora energy; she walks into a room and it’s a kind of event. I’ve learned from Rachel that black culture is a house with a thousand rooms, with windows looking out on so many views. Her writing is like a high-wire act: Can she pull it off? Are these swirling ideas going to cohere? But they do. I admire her bravery, boldness and attention to the craft. Rachel always understood that to make your writing stand out online you don’t need a fancy website, a million Instagram followers or a picture of yourself in a bikini. You just need to write better than everyone else. And she does.’