Ask a Local: Caitriona Lally, Dublin, Ireland


Front door in Dublin

Your name: Caitriona Lally

Current city or town: Dublin

How long have you lived here: Most of my life

Three words to describe the climate: Damp, mizzly, unpredictable

Best time of year to visit? Summer

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

Dublin is a pretty compact city, perfect for walking around in. Probably the first thing overseas visitors notice is that its skyline is very low. The odd high-rise building stands out, for example Liberty Hall, which seems to be the Marmite of buildings; you either love it or hate it. Dublin still has many of its beautiful old Georgian houses in squares on both sides of the city.

2) The stereotype of the people who live here and what this stereotype misses . .

Fast-talking quick-witted oul lads sitting at the bar with pints of Guinness coming out with one-liners and long-winded tales. The stereotype is often true—the craic is mighty—but the same jokes tend to wear thin when you’re a regular.

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

Last year saw the centenary of the 1916 Rising, in which a small band of rebels rose up against the occupying British forces. The Rising began the process which resulted in the formation of the Irish republic. It took place in the streets of Dublin’s city centre and it’s hard to forget, when bullet marks still pock the General Post Office (GPO), headquarters of the rebels.

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

Dublin is very much a port city and even though many of the former dockworkers lost their jobs with the arrival of industrialisation, I think it still has a port feel. There are still a few early houses near the docks—pubs that open early for workers coming off nightshifts.

5) Local politics and debates frequently seem to center on . . .

Anything and everything, local and international. People you meet on the bus will start chatting about everything from Brexit to Trump (maybe the international debates have more of a parochial angle—how will Brexit affect the Irish economy, how will Trump affect undocumented Irish workers in the United States) to the proposed introduction of water charges, or unemployment, or politicians who are out of touch and don’t care about the ordinary person. Probably the same topics debated all over the world . . .


Caitriona Lally’s debut novel, Eggshells, published by Melville House, was an IndieNext pick and a Library Reads choice for March 2017.

Photo by Caitriona Lally

Isabel MeyersAsk a Local: Caitriona Lally, Dublin, Ireland

Gestured to and not yet quite: an interview with Muriel Leung


Muriel Leung Headshot

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

History is Not Over: An Interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen


Viet Thanh Nguyen Headshot

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

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

Nationalism and Contemporary American Literature: An Interview with 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

That Awkward Unbalance that Becomes the Beautiful: an Interview with Archibald MacLeish


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

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