In Tara Westover’s bestselling 2018 memoir, Educated, a wildly intelligent young woman finds herself stuck working in her family’s junkyard, unable to leave her isolated Idaho town even as she longs to go to college. Public school is forbidden by her fundamentalist Mormon father, so she is homeschooled with her siblings and forced to scrap metal in illegal and unsafe conditions. Westover’s gripping story of escape captivated readers across the country, and I found myself thinking of it as I watched Nicole Riegel’s directorial debut, Holler, which concerns a young woman facing similar challenges.
Amherst, MA, June 4, 2021 — The Common, the award-winning literary journal based at Amherst College, is a 2021 Literary Magazine Fund Grant Recipient, awarded in alliance with the Amazon Literary Partnership Literary Magazine Fund and the Community of Literary Magazines & Presses. Since 2017, funding from the Amazon Literary Partnership has helped further The Common’s mission of publishing and promoting emerging and underrepresented authors who deepen our individual and collective sense of place.
With this $7,000 grant, The Common will publish, promote, and support a diverse group of writers in its print magazine and open-access website, connecting authors with a global readership. In the spring of 2022, The Common will continue its series of translated Arabic fiction with a collection of short stories from Palestinian authors, co-edited by acclaimed Jordanian author, and The Common’s Arabic Fiction Editor, Hisham Bustani. As part of The Common’s spring issue, this portfolio will feature contemporary Palestinian voices alongside poetry and prose from the US and abroad.
Recent issues of The Common have featured short stories from Morocco (Issue 21, spring 2021), literature from and about the Lusosphere (Portugal and its linguistic and colonial diaspora) in Issue 20, and fiction from Sudan in Issue 19. A collection of writing from the Arabian Gulf, co-edited with Egyptian author Noor Naga, is forthcoming this fall. All of the above portfolios have been developed with Amazon Literary Partnership support.
The Common Awarded 2021 Amazon Literary Partnership grant
In the June edition of Friday Reads, our Managing Editor and two of our volunteer readers recommend books that have refreshed and engaged them as the start of summer creeps closer. Read onward for reflections on translation, the lasting and often problematic legacy of novels, and the importance of maintaining hope.
Recommendations: Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri, Without a Map by Meredith Hall, Lolita in the Afterlife edited by Jenny Minton Quigley
Selected by Major Jackson as the 2012 Vassar Miller Poetry Prize winner for his sophomore collection, Club Icarus, and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow, Matt Miller published Tender the River this year with Texas Review Press. He is the winner of the 2019 Nimrod International Review’s Pablo Neruda Prize and has published poems in the Harvard Review, The Rumpus, and SouthwestReview. Miller also wrote The Wounded for the Water and Cameo Diner: Poems. He currently teaches at Phillips Exeter Academy.
In this interview conducted by Kerrin McCadden, you’ll find a poet engaged in an exploration of rivers as national symbols of disparity, dispossession, hope, and boundaries. The meaning of “being from somewhere,” or “home” is thoroughly examined in Miller’s responses, as it is in his poetry. McCadden’s inquiry ignites the discussion until it becomes a lesson on craft, self-reflection, the history of a place, and the biography of a country as told by a poet who can make cobblestone and metal dance, who can teach us how to listen when memory tries to speak.
Hold the Mirror up to Nature: An Interview with Matt Miller
Prickly pear cacti are always squat and spindly bushes—that much I know. The exception to this rule, however, is the prickly pear grove found in my grandfather’s village. It’s lofty. It towers into the sky, its foliage so dense it always struck me as foretelling of a secret that was to be hidden away for good in its myriad crevices and shadows. And what intensified this feeling in me, and brought me to the conclusion that cacti are far from innocent, was the sight of our beautiful, fair-skinned friend Heaven running to the prickly pear one day and trying to hide among its limbs and behind its broad, swollen leaves. She looked like the heroine of a fairy tale fleeing a terrifying kingdom.
Little beads of sweat were pouring off her forehead, her cheeks were even rosier than usual, and when she almost slammed into me on her way past, a shivery thrill went through my body, a strange jolt of energy. Heaven did not seem to be the same sex as me, even though I knew her well and I had seen her bathing in her birthday suit more than once; just like me, she had untamable, bouncing breasts. But deep down inside, Heaven was fundamentally different from me, as—in utter contrast to most girls in the village—she existed in a constant state of awe. She lived among us, but her almond-shaped eyes seemed to be seeing another world, about which we knew nothing at all. And what was stranger still was the color of those eyes of hers: they beamed out a brilliant sky blue that made her the talk of the entire village. Despite everything that was said about her and her eyes in the village back then, I didn’t understand anything about that awe they shone with until I grew up. As an adult I finally came to understand, with the benefit of hindsight, what the grown-ups had been hinting at about the djinns that had taken up residence in Heaven and imprisoned her in an invisible box called Desire.
then, the bottom fell out. until then, your black ass better treat every cop with suspicion. even then, the narrative arc is an aporetic irruption between disequilibrium, and equilibrium-restored. then comes marriage. right then and there, she met her in her peculiar of places with a shudder inducing tenderness. well then, what have we here?how then does one make legible the sexual violation of the enslaved when that which would constitute evidence of intentionality, and thus evidence of the crime—the state of consent or willingness of the assailed—opens up a pandora’s box in which the subject formation and object constitution of the enslaved female are no less ponderous than the crime itself or when the legal definition of the enslaved negates the very idea of “reasonable resistance”? and then, it was over? if this is how it’s gonna be, then get me a napkin and the hot sauce out my purse. by then, you wouldn’t recognize or feel comfortable in your own neighborhood anymore. then, why you got all of us out here face down on the pavement with our hands cuffed behind our backs? then, of course, the explanation had to be fished out from the bottom of the tallahatchie. so then, you best get to crackin’. then, at least you wouldn’t be caught off guard when you didn’t get equal treatment. whatever then, as even a surprise to herself, she ordered his accountant to write the gay bard a cheque for two hundred and fifty thousand euros. then, what?
To my counterpart in privation: The Awaited Mahdi, Mohammed al-Mahdi Saqal
If he’d obeyed me I wouldn’t be here now, and he wouldn’t be there, either… but he’s what they call around here head-cracking stubborn.
Lice and stench and cockroaches. I thought head lice died out ages ago, but in this dump they’re still going strong. The flabby woman sitting across from me is picking through her friend’s hair. From time to time she yells out, “There’s one. I’ve got it!” She squashes each little nit between her two thumbs.
My mother used to put my head on her lap, too, and search for those tiny little bugs. She’d set herself up ready with a bottle of paraffin next to her, and one of those combs made from sheep or gazelle horn that we all used in those days, and then she’d launch her attack on the parasites feeding on my blood. I’d be trying to wriggle away; she’d grab my arms; I’d keep struggling. Eventually she’d lure me in—I’m gonna tell you the tale of Hayna, who was abducted by the ghoul—and at that I’d surrender instantly.