Mensah Demary as an editor is most known for his work with Catapult Nonfiction, and more recently, Black Balloon. But Mensah Demary the writer is a force to be reckoned with. The Common published his essay “Blood and Every Beat” in our most recent issue, No. 13. In this month’s Q&A, Interviews Editor Melody Nixon talks with Demary about audience and desire, creative partnerships, “getting out of his own way,” and why the personal essay is not dead (“the idea is absurd”).
Isabel MeyersThe Personal (Essay) is Not Dead: an interview with Mensah Demary
In this month’s interview, Saretta Morgan talks with poet, editor, and academic Muriel Leung about her poetry collection Bone Confetti; queer love; how loss can activate political consciousness; Hortense Spillers; and writing in a state of transition. Bone Confetti was released by Noemi Press in 2016.
Flavia MartinezGestured to and not yet quite: an interview with Muriel Leung
Author Viet Thanh Nguyen is on a hot streak. Since winning a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for The Sympathizer, his nonfiction collection Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War and this year’s short-story collection The Refugees have amassed acclaim. In an ultimately uplifting conversation with Alexander Bisley, Nguyen discussed America’s obligation to help Syrian refugees, writers’ political responsibilities, and why the past’s traumas endure.
Julia PikeHistory is Not Over: An Interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen
In this month’s interview, Melody Nixon speaks with Icelandic author Oddný Eir about feminism and writing, folklore, and tyranny. Eir’s latest book of auto-fiction, Land of Love and Ruins, is a work of diaristic essay, lyric collage, and rumination. Collaborator Björk describes Eir as “a true pioneer.” Eir appeared this week in New York City’s PEN World Voices Festival on Gender and Power.
Julia PikeThe Female Writer is Political: an Interview with Oddný Eir
Aleksandar Hemon is the author of the novel The Lazarus Project, which was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, of which Junot Diaz said: “Incandescent. When your eyes close, the power of this novel, of Hemon’s colossal talent, remains.” Hemon has also written three books of short stories: The Question of Bruno; Nowhere Man, which was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Love and Obstacles. His autobiography The Book of My Lives, was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Hemon was the recipient of a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship and a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. Born in Sarajevo, Hemon visited Chicago in 1992, intending to stay for a matter of months. While he was there, Sarajevo came under siege, and he was unable to return home. He now lives in Chicago with his family.
A week after the release of the January 27 executive order titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” The Common’s editorial assistant Nayereh Doosti talked with Hemon in the library of the Lord Jeffery Inn during his visit to Amherst College. Their shared perspective—growing up outside the U.S.—and the ban’s direct effect on Doosti guided the conversation toward the intersection of politics and literature.
DoostiNationalism and Contemporary American Literature: An Interview with Aleksandar Hemon
In May 1965, Amherst College student Tom Fels ’67 interviewed three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Archibald MacLeish. The below interview, conducted at MacLeish’s home in Conway, Mass., is adapted from their conversation, a portion of which originally appeared in the town newspaper the Amherst Record.
Archibald MacLeish, one of the best-known American poets, playwrights, and public intellectuals, was born in Illinois, and educated at Hotchkiss and Yale, later taking a law degree at Harvard. After participating in World War I, he forsook the life of an attorney to focus on poetry, making his living for several years as an editor of Fortune magazine. Under President Franklin Roosevelt, he was for five years the Librarian of Congress, and later, during World War II, an assistant Secretary of State. After the war he taught at Harvard for thirteen years before taking the position of Simpson Lecturer at Amherst College (1963-67). MacLeish was the author more than fifty works of poetry, nonfiction, and drama.
Tom Fels is a curator and writer based in southern Vermont. His work in the arts includes exhibitions at the Getty Museum in Malibu, CA, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, as well as numerous articles and books. He is the author of two books on the 1960s, Farm Friends and Buying the Farm. Fels met Archibald MacLeish after the poet’s delivery of his convocation speech at Amherst College’s Frost Library in 1963. This interview was the first of many that have played a part in Fels’s writing and research. Among the latest is a conversation with MacLeish’s fellow former Harvard faculty member Daniel Aaron in The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture (June 2013).
Sarah WhelanThat Awkward Unbalance that Becomes the Beautiful: an Interview with Archibald MacLeish
Clare Beams’s story collection We Show What We Have Learned was published by Lookout Books in October 2016, and is currently a finalist for the 2017 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in One Story, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Ecotone, The Kenyon Review online, Willow Springs, and elsewhere, and has received special mention in Best American Short Stories2013 and The Pushcart Prize XXXV. She was a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts fellow, and the 2014 Bernard O’Keefe Scholar at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She has an MFA from Columbia University and lives with her daughters and husband in Pittsburgh.
Hilary Leichter spoke with Beams over email about her story “The Drop,” appearing in Issue 12 of The Common.
Hilary Leichter (HL): Where and when do you write?
Clare Beams (CB): These days, wherever and whenever I can. I have a daughter who will be four in March, and a brand-new daughter who was just born in December; my first book came out in October, and I’m teaching in a new place this term. So right now I have to pull my minutes for writing out from all the minutes of nursing and grading and trying to convince my older daughter she should eat something besides macaroni and cheese, and put on her pants. I think most of us are always fighting for those writing-minutes, in one way or another.
Sunna JuhnThe Rituals With Which We Stud Our Lives: An Interview with Clare Beams