Interviews

The Female Writer is Political: an Interview with Oddný Eir

Oddny Eir

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
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Nationalism and Contemporary American Literature: An Interview with Aleksandar Hemon

NAYEREH DOOSTI interviews ALEKSANDAR HEMON

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 BrunoNowhere 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
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Ask a Local: Christopher Kloeble, Berlin, Germany

With CHRISTOPHER KLOEBLE

Berlin

Your name: Christopher Kloeble

Current city or town: Berlin

How long have you lived here: 8 years

Three words to describe the climate: fear the winter

Best time of year to visit? Summer!

1) The most striking physical features of this city/town are . . .

Berlin is not a city like New York or Paris where a visitor can just look for that one architectural landmark in order to feel the classic spirit of the city. Berlin has grown out of several towns and was divided for decades. All the parts of Berlin are as different from each other as separate towns might be. Everybody can find a neighborhood in Berlin, called a “kiez” in local parlance, that suits her or his demands. For example, if you take a long walk along all of Friedrichstraße, you get to witness the many shades of the city, which in their combination are the most striking physical feature of Berlin.
2) The stereotype of the people who live here and what this stereotype misses . .

“Berliners,” as they are called, are not always the friendliest people. They can be grumpy and impatient; they like to point out that you’re riding your bicycle on the wrong side of the road or that you’re taking too long to pay at the supermarket. But not all of this is meant to be hostile. There’s this thing called the “Berlin snout.” People make ironic, sarcastic comments and they mean it in a jovial, teasing manner. A bus driver might say to you that you look terrible but in that Berlin way perhaps he or she was just trying to make you smile.

3) Common jobs and industries and the effect on the town/city’s personality. . .

For a long time, the cliché of a typical Berliner was to be jobless or in between jobs. The former mayor of Berlin advertised the city as “poor but sexy.” Many artists, who couldn’t afford to live in any other metropolitan area, had moved to Berlin by then. But all that has changed dramatically within the last years. Berlin has become so popular that in colleges all around the world students want to learn German in order to visit it. Real estate prices have skyrocketed. Apart from the German government moving from Bonn to Berlin in the nineties, many other job opportunities have appeared. It has become the new global center for start-ups. By attracting people from all kinds of fields and countries, Berlin is more international than ever before. It is the single most diverse and metropolitan city in Germany.
4) Local/regional vocabulary or food?

The most traditional Berlin street food is the infamous “Curry Wurst.” It’s not a delicacy (although I know a few people who might disagree). Sausage, ketchup, and some “curry spice.” Berlin people eat it as a snack or as a whole meal, in combination with fries or a bun. It’s especially popular after a long night out, if you want to balance some of that booze. Apart from this local specialty, there are fabulous international food places all over town. Some of the best are Arabic, Italian, and Turkish.

5) Historical context in broad strokes and the moments in which you feel this history. . .

There’s the obvious context of Berlin being at the epicenter of two World Wars and the cold war, a divided city that was later reunited. There are many, many situations and places that remind Berlin’s citizens of its history. But one of the most subtle reminders are the “stumbling stones”: small, rectangular plates, no bigger than a coaster, made of bronze, which are integrated into the pavement in front of houses in which people lived who were killed in the Third Reich. On each stone you can read the name and date of birth and death of each person. It is a chilling yet gentle reminder of the atrocities that once took place in this country. You don’t notice the stepping stones every day. But every now and then they pull you out of your everyday life and make you feel grateful for how much Berlin has progressed during the last hundred years.

 

Christopher Kloeble is the author of five books, including three novels, most recently Almost Everything Very Fast, which was published in English in 2016. His website is www.christopherkloeble.de. 

 Photo by Valerie Schmidt.

Sarah WhelanAsk a Local: Christopher Kloeble, Berlin, Germany
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That Awkward Unbalance that Becomes the Beautiful: an Interview with Archibald MacLeish

By TOM FELS

Photo courtesy of Amherst College Archives

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
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The Rituals With Which We Stud Our Lives: An Interview with Clare Beams

HILARY LEICHTER interviews CLARE BEAMS

Clare Beams headshot

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 Stories 2013 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
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Leaving New York City: an interview with Cathy Linh Che

MELODY NIXON interviews CATHY LINH CHE

Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split, winner of the 2012 Kundiman Poetry Prize, the 2015 Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the 2016 Best Poetry Book Award from the Association of Asian American Studies. Che is a Vietnamese American poet and teacher, originally from Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. She received her MFA in poetry from New York University and has been awarded fellowships and residencies from Poets & Writers, The Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, Kundiman, Poets House, and The Asian American Literary Review, among many others. Her poems have been published in Hyperallergic, Hyphen, poets.org, and AAWW’s The Margins. Her work delicately probes the liminal spaces between cultures, identities, nationalities, and bodies.

Isabel MeyersLeaving New York City: an interview with Cathy Linh Che
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Ask a Local: Antti Tuomainen, Helsinki, Finland

With ANTTI TUOMAINEN

One of Antti Tuomainen’s favorite places in Helsinki is the beautiful Kaivopuisto park and the Baltic shore on the southernmost tip of downtown Helsinki, pictured here on a December morning.

 

Your name: Antti Tuomainen

Current city or town: Helsinki, Finland

How long have you lived here: 44 years

Isabel MeyersAsk a Local: Antti Tuomainen, Helsinki, Finland
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Making Space for the Common Cyborg: an Interview with Jillian Weise

T. K. DALTON interviews JILLIAN WEISE

Jillian Weise is the author of the novel The Colony (2010) and the poetry collections The Amputee’s Guide to Sex (2007) and The Book of Goodbyes (2013), the latter of which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Her writing appears in The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Granta, The New Republic, Tin House, and elsewhere. She teaches creative writing at Clemson University in South Carolina.

Isabel MeyersMaking Space for the Common Cyborg: an Interview with Jillian Weise
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