We hope you’ll join us virtually for the seventh annual LitFest, hosted in conjunction with Amherst College. This year’s lineup includes Pulitzer Prize winners Natalie Diaz and Viet Thanh Nguyen; 2021 National Book Award nominees Katie Kitamura and Elizabeth McCracken; and journalists Vann Newkirk and David Graham, among others.
This year, we are continuing to highlight the work of The Common’s own Literary Publishing Interns and Amherst Alumni Authors during a virtual reading at 4pm on Saturday, February 26. The Common is also hosting, in collaboration with Restless Books, a conversation with winners of the Restless Books Immigrant Writing Prize, Deepak Unnikrishnan, Grace Talusan, and Ani Gjika. Join us for this packed weekend!
I head downstairs and around the dark corner to spy my eldest son in his child bed, grey sneaker poking through the captain’s wheel footboard. The familiar angles of his shoulder and hip turned toward the lavender wall. Upstairs: a turkey half-cooked, speakers blaring Radiohead, collards on simmer, beers all over the counter. My wisdom crumbles when I try to comfort anyone. Oh hon, I’m sorry, I say. He sobs and pulls the faded deer blanket over his head.
I just don’t want anybody else getting hurt, he says.
No one else is getting hurt, I tell him.
And watch as he weeps, not knowing what to do. Hug him? Would he want me to? My body does not leap into a hug. Nobody in my family hugged. Earlier he had tried to tell me about this boy Karl, his roommate first year at college—Oh, I remember your dorm room, I interrupted—that he was dead. Suicide, I heard my son say and went on chopping celery. Heat coils in my cheekbones and sinuses. Oh, that’s too bad. Is that all I said? That’s too bad.
Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex is Angela Chen’s first book: an incredible feat considering the breadth of topics that Chen covers with the adroitness that only an experienced journalist could bring. This is a book about asexuality, the often overlooked ‘A’ in LGBTQIA, and the ace community. But the book also challenges everyone, regardless of sexual identity, to interrogate their own relationship to romance, sex, desire, and culture. Chen is particularly interested in the phenomenon of compulsory sexuality, which, in her own words, describes, “a set of assumptions and behaviors that support the idea that every normal person is sexual, that not wanting (socially approved) sex is unnatural and wrong, and that people who don’t care about sexuality are missing out on an utterly necessary experience.”
I once dated a bull rider, which is very interesting, I still find. He was at the time no longer a bull rider, he had rather been one in his youth, but this lingered, as you might expect. This was in a part of the country where bull riders are not so rare as they are in the northeast, though still rare enough for people to lean forward when they hear. The only time he visited with my family we played a board game where everyone shouts out words, and would you believe a card came up “Things You Can Ride.” Even this cosmic wink could not keep together two with only the two-step in common. But the two-step itself married me to rambling dancehalls for joyful months after, a sweating Dos Equis in one hand and the other free for the taking.
Saturday night I’m at the kitchen window listening to my neighbors fight. Theirs is the only light on, pungent and pouring out onto the fire escape, illuminating a coffee can. I’ve counted five cigarette butts so far.
“I can’t keep doing this, bro,” the girl shouts. Glass shatters thick against a wall in their apartment. “I can’t keep doing and doing this.”
The kettle screeches and out goes the mug in my hand and the spoiled red wine all over the windowsill and all over me. Who knows why I’ve set water to boil. A jilted habit of steeping tea to sleep when I had patience with myself. A phantom limb.
There’s a sprint of shouts, one voice trampling another, and then a long, feral cry. My cat when I was a kid yowled like that when she pawed at a mouse trap. We freed her and she crawled into my mother’s dresser where she stayed for weeks and weeks, burrowing into her fear. The world became a mouse trap.
JinJin Xu’s first chapbook, There is Still Singing in the Afterlife (Radix Media, 2020), collects twelve poems of multivarious forms, charting equally vast emotional territory–from birth to death, from one language to another, through words and subjects that are too dangerous to be said or written. This expansive collection demands a nimble, heightened attention and rewards the reader with language of great texture and depth. I first came to know Xu as an undergrad and it was a distinct pleasure to be challenged again by her work, to feel the push and pull of the poet engaging and rejecting her reader.
Review: There is Still Singing in the Afterlife by JinJin Xu
This Way Back (West Virginia University Press, 2020) is Joanna Eleftheriou’s first book. She is currently an assistant professor of English at Christopher Newport University and a faculty member of the Writing Workshops in Greece. Dividing her time between Greece and New York, Eleftheriou’s work can also be found in Apalachee Review and Arts and Letters.
Most artists struggle with the role of responsibility and their art. Does art have a responsibility? In this insightful interview with Cameron Finch, Joanna Eleftheriou provides readers with a mini-manual on how to engage in the dialectic of identity, confront the privilege of choosing an identity, and how writers prioritize discovery. If you’re looking for advice on how to begin an essay, or a way to honor your wounds, this interview is an excellent starting point. Eleftheriou’s focus on freedom and all of its incarnations is a valuable canvas for artists who might find themselves at an impasse. “We deserve to see ourselves in art,” says Eleftheriou. Indeed, says The Common.
This Way Back: An Interview with Joanna Eleftheriou
Kritika Pandey is a writer from Jharkhand, India, and a final year candidate at the MFA for Poets and Writers, UMass Amherst, where she is working on her first novel. Her works have been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and are forthcoming or have appeared in Guernica, The Bombay Review, Raleigh Review, UCity Review, and eFiction India, among others.
It’s not as though the military fiction canon ignores social commentary; books like Slaughterhouse-Five and Catch-22 certainly have a lot to say. But while many celebrated works in the genre feature criticisms of war and the armed services, water & power is the first of them I’ve encountered whose critiques discuss the racism, sexism, and homophobia running rampant in military culture. (At least in Navy culture, which the book focuses on.) The most climactic moments are not just battles and bombings—they’re also things like the Tailhook Scandal, a three-day symposium after which eighty-three women and seven men reported sexual misconduct. “A group of up to two hundred men who lined the corridor outside the hospitality suites around 10:30 each night” engaged in behaviors ranging from “consensual pats on the breasts and buttocks to violent grabbing, groping, clothes-stripping, and other assaultive behavior.” Steven Dunn, a Black West Virginia native, experienced Navy culture close up during his ten years of service.