Born in 1975 to a Jamaican mother and British father, Smith grew up in Willesden Green, North London, where most of the action in her debut novel takes place.
Although Smith began penning poems and short stories when she was only six, writing wasn't her only interest. From the age of five through to fifteen, she was particularly fond of tap-dancing and as a teenager enjoyed watching musicals and dreaming of a career in front of the camera. Surprising many of her teachers with her decision to apply to Cambridge University (a precocious talent, she was never outwardly ambitious at school, preferring the company of her friends rather then the lofty confines of the school library), Smith left North London to study English Literature
Graduating with an English Degree from Cambridge and despite never having taken a creative writing class during this time (she feels a particular aversion to them), Smith wrote White Teeth during her senior year, reading drafts to friends and progressing through their encouragement. The first 100 pages of her manuscript earned Smith representation from the prestigious Andrew Wylie Agency and the novel was bought by Penguin following a frenzied auction. Although she intended to carve a career in journalism, the interest surrounding her debut novel set Smith up for a particularly public entrance into the literary world and she is now celebrated as one of Britain's most talented young novelists.
Zadie Smith is currently studying a postgraduate course on the Modern European Novel at Harvard University.