“Inequality is the greatest block to kindness,” says Sussex hon Ali Smith
Acclaimed novelist Ali Smith, who received an honorary degree from Sussex last year, has advised people to “stay a student as long as possible”.
The author of Costa Award-winning How to be both and the Man Booker shortlisted Autumn, who recently topped a poll to be named the UK’s best novelist, was speaking after appearing at the Charleston Festival in Sussex.
She said: “There is no consequence for learning other than learning and understanding and becoming more dimensional as people. It’s because of education that we become fully-fledged and properly able to think and understand on all levels all the things we need to know about the world.”
But she was also aware of the inequalities in access to education. In response to the question of kindness and its place in a university context, she said: “Kindness means family. It comes from ‘kind’, as in, we are of the same kind. And that is a reminder that, right now, some kinds of people can’t go to university and some kinds can.
“We are all family. There is nobody who does not share the same DNA. But when it comes down to, well, you come from this background because you have this much money and can have this, and you’re this kind of person so you can’t…it’s not just a breakdown of the notion of kindness, it’s a breakdown of the notion of equality and family and sharing, and an understanding of what it is to be human. Inequality is the greatest block to kindness.”
Ali was at Charleston to deliver Making the Plates Dance, a dazzling monologue inspired by The Famous Women Dinner Service of 50 dinner plates decorated by artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant at the Bloomsbury Group’s Sussex retreat, Charleston Farmhouse.
The plates, commissioned in 1932 and still in a private collection, appeared one-by-one on a screen to the left of the stage, while Smith, in her inimitable fast-paced delivery, served a feast of amusing biographies, quirky anecdotes, and even did impressions of some of the famous women.
“This great collage of work is the common life,” she said. “This reminds us that masterpieces are not singular, they are the initiators of earth-spinning possibilities.”