When popular uprisings against the Baath regime started in Syria in 2011, Odai Al Zoubi was in the United Kingdom working on a PhD thesis in Philosophy. He quickly became involved in the revolution, writing political essays to defend the right of Syrians to self-determination. But his literary passion was fiction. Since 2011 he has published tens of stories and literary essays in journals such as aljumhuriya and Romman and most recently “Silence” in The Common’s forthcoming Issue 17. “Silence” marks Al Zoubi’s first appearance in English translation.
Al Zoubi’s short stories capture feelings of transience shared by many displaced Syrians. They are often set in spaces of transition: a balcony overlooking the sea in Beirut or a mall in Dubai. There, characters caught between a past in ruins and an uncertain future have fleeting conversations, sometimes about matters that might seem trivial considering the gravity of Syria’s situation. But from the attempt to resume the banality of everyday life springs a profound existential anxiety linked to irremediable loss and a striving for survival.
Silence in the Syrian Limbo: an interview with Odai Al Zoubi
Elias Farkouh’s short story “A Man I Don’t Know” was among the most viscerally engaging pieces in The Common’sIssue 15 portfolio of Arabic fiction from Jordan. A prize-winning writer and translator who has earned accolades for short fiction collections and novels, Farkouh is interviewed by The Common interns Whitney Bruno, Avery Farmer, and Isabel Meyers, who discuss fear, translation, and formal construction with Farkouh. This is the second of two interviews conducted by the summer interns; the first was with Haifa’ Abul-Nadi.
We Write Our Own Past: 10 Questions with Elias Farkouh
The Common’s summer interns Whitney Bruno, Avery Farmer, and Isabel Meyers corresponded via email with Haifa’ Abul-Nadi, Issue 15 contributor, about Arabic and English authors, the use of details in evoking emotion, and the power of writing in translation. Abul-Nadi’s short story, “Propositions,” was featured in The Common’s Issue 15 portfolio, ‘Arabic Stories from Jordan.’
TC Interns: What writers and works are you most excited about at the moment?
Haifa’ Abul-Nadi: I am currently reading Eduardo Galeano’s “Voices of Time: A Life in Stories.”
Details, Description, and Difference: 11 Questions with Haifa’ Abul-Nadi
Helen Benedict is the author of seven novels and five works of nonfiction. A professor of journalism at Columbia University, Benedict spends her time between New York City and upstate New York, where her latest novel, Wolf Season, is set—though the characters’ lives encompass Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the US. Wolf Seasonwas selected as a 2018 Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association.
As the seasons changed from fall to winter, Melody Nixon spoke with Benedict about her newest book, the “effects of war on the human heart,” Benedict’s path to social justice, and the way forward with the crisis of tolerance.
Multiple Geographies: an Interview with Helen Benedict
Courtney Kersten’s work been featured in Brevity, The Normal School, River Teeth, Hotel Amerika, DIAGRAM, The Sonora Review, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. In 2018, the University of Wisconsin Press published her debut memoir, Daughter in Retrograde.
Thaïs Miller met with Kersten on the campus of the University of California at Santa Cruz, where they are both pursuing PhDs in Literature with a Creative/Critical Writing Concentration. Astrology plays a large role in Kersten’s memoir, so they decided to conduct the interview after a tarot card reading.
Intuitive Nonfiction: An Interview with Courtney Kersten
J.M. Holmes was born in Denver and raised in Rhode Island. His literary prizes include the Burnett Howe Prize for fiction at Amherst College, the Henfield Prize for literature, and a Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, The White Review, How Journal, the Missouri Review, and Gettysburg Review. His debut book How Are You Going to Save Yourself was published with Little, Brown and Sceptre books in August 2018.
Keeping Perspective: An Interview with Jeff Holmes
Rita Bullwinkel is the author of the story collection Belly Up (A Strange Object). Her writing has been published in Tin House, Conjunctions, BOMB, Vice, NOON, and Guernica. She is a recipient of grants and fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Brown University, Vanderbilt University, Hawthornden Castle, and The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. She is an Editor at Large for McSweeney’s, and lives in San Francisco.
Several years ago, when Rita Bullwinkel left New York City for the West Coast, Hilary Leichter went to her bon voyage party, for which Bullwinkel had purchased and reheated 100 pork buns. They did not have any pork buns on hand for this interview, but talked quite a bit over email about what fills their bellies, both literally and literarily.
Discrete Brain Containers: An Interview with Rita Bullwinkel
How long have you lived here: With the exception of two years in Spain, I’ve lived in Puerto Rico almost my whole life. I was born and raised in the center of the island, in a small town called Aibonito.
Three words to describe the climate: Tropical, Hot, Lush (You are going to be hit hard by humidity the moment you walk out of the airport, but then, you will feel the caress of the sun and the wind, and maybe of the rain as well. Also, we are obsessed with air conditioning, so you could go from sweating profusely to freezing in minutes). Also, as Gabriel García Márquez’s novel Cien años de soledad portrayed, in the Caribbean we are still obsessed with ice. Months after the hurricane —when it was really a necessity and we waited 6 or 8 hours in line to buy it— this is still a thing. Ice: the ultimate great thing.
Best time of year to visit? Christmas season (In the island it lasts 50 days and the weather is amazing, but besides that the whole country experiences a feeling of constant celebration during those festive days that start just after Thanksgiving and extend until mid-January when we celebrate Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, a popular festivity with a bit of the experience and feeling of a carnival. We also celebrate the Three Kings Day on January 6th, and share lots of “arroz con gandules”, “pasteles”, “lechón asado”, and our beloved “pitorro.” Most of it made by our mothers and grandmothers.)
Ask a Local: Ana Teresa Toro, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Poet Willie Perdomo at his home in Exeter, NH Daffys and Paperwhites
Willie Perdomo is a Puerto Rican poet and storyteller. He is the author of The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon (a 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist), Smoking Lovely (winner of the 2004 PEN Open Book Award), and Where a Nickel Costs a Dime (a Poetry Society of America Norma Farber First Book Award Finalist). Perdomo is currently an English instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy. His latest collection, The Crazy Bunch, is forthcoming in 2019, and his poems Breaking Night,They Won’t Find Us in Books, and We Used to Call it Puerto Rican Rain are published in Issue No.16 of The Common.
Via email, Lisa M. Martinez recently spoke to Perdomo about what it’s like to write about his former home, New York City, where much of his inspiration still lies. Perdomo discusses his relationship with that city, communication with ghosts, and the power memory has to transport us to a “gone place.”
Rule-Breaking is a Conscious Decision: an Interview with Willie Perdomo