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Honoring Amherst Writers

For Amherst College’s fourth annual LitFest, The Common put together a Literary Landmarks tour of Amherst College, highlighting locations on campus with special connections to literary figures affiliated with the college, from Robert Frost to Lauren Groff. Building on that effort, we’ve compiled these highlights from The Common that were written either by or about Amherst professors, alums, and even current students.

The Poet in Rome: Richard Wilbur in Postwar Italy by Robert Bagg

Richard Wilbur circa 1944, standing near the 6 X 6 truck that transported gear for the 36th Texans Division during World War II.

Richard Wilbur graduated from Amherst College in 1942, and returned to Amherst to teach towards the end of his life, from 2008 to 2014.

“Richard Wilbur first visited Rome with the American Fifth Army that liberated the city, just behind the fleeing Germans, on 5 June 1944. By 10:00 p.m., his division, the 36th Texans, in trucks, in jeeps, and on mobile artillery, followed the tanks of the First Armored Division into the southern outskirts of Rome, where it paused, expecting to camp and rest within Cinecittà—then, as now, the sprawling center of Italy’s movie industry. Ever the explorer, Wilbur wandered into an abandoned viewing room and found, already loaded into an editing machine, a costume drama set in the Roman Empire. He turned the hand crank and watched a Fascist version of ancient history until his disgust overcame his curiosity.”

Brown Road (1853-1932) by Ted Conover

Map Ted Conover graduated from Amherst College in 1980.

“If it weren’t for the detailed map in my hands—a page of the New Hampshire Atlas and Gazetteer, from DeLorme, with the small state divided up into more than thirty spreads—I’d have had no idea that a road existed here, half a mile from our house. And in fact, the atlas has oversold it: Brown Road does exist, but not in a condition where you could drive a car or even an SUV down it. Nor a mountain bike, unless you were hardcore and could lift it over fallen trees, slide it under branches, and skirt some soggy bogs.”

Ann Arbor Diptych by Avery Farmer

averyAvery Farmer is a current student at Amherst College and an intern with The Common.

“Soccer becomes a home for people. A momentary higher calling. When you step onto the grass, or when you crowd into the stands with a rowdy, loving group of supporters, you are elevated. You become more than one person with personal traumas and aspirations; you are a part of a massive, moving thing, greater than the individual game you’re playing in or watching; greater, even, than all the games being played and watched at any given time, because soccer is a ritual that the whole world shares.”

Exquisite Corpse by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff graduated from Amherst College in 2001.groff

In addition to contributing fiction to The Common, Groff gave an interview in 2015.

“We can’t always choose what we love, or what we can’t love. All my life I have been surrounded by people who would have loved otherwise, if they could: my mother who loved my father, my father who loved the red-haired woman, my uncles who loved their mother, Flo. My wife. Me. When I began to make money, a lot of it, I protested that I didn’t love it, I loved the life that came with money, I loved the good I could do with it, I loved the color and vibrancy and music that it brought into the world. In the end, in that small gray prison cell, the only music my heart’s slick swish in my ears, I realized how wrong I was.”

Journals in Ice by Kelle Groom

harborJames Merrill graduated from Amherst College in 1947.

“The house, a late-Victorian, is where Merrill and his partner, the writer David Jackson, lived for 40 years. He and David contacted spirits at the round, milk glass table in the scarlet-pink room in the Merrill apartment. Here, he wrote the 17,000-line epic, The Changing Light at Sandover, from séances with the Ouija board. He transcribed these sessions with otherworldly spirits, creating a 560-page trilogy of poems. Merrill called the spirits to this room for decades.”

Keeping Perspective: An Interview with Jeff Holmes by Nayereh Doosti

Jeff holmes Jeff Holmes graduated from Amherst College in 2012.

“Hip hop was the soundtrack to the lives of me and my friends. So for that not to be present in the stories, it would have been a great injustice. And I think hip hop as a genre and as a literary form is finally starting to get its day in the sun. There is a class at Harvard, and 9th Wonder the producer teaches as a professor, I’m not sure where. Nas is also a fellow at Harvard. People are starting to recognize it as the literary genre that it is. I would love to see more writers embrace that. I think a lot of writers who come from my background, and even those who don’t, find it very influential as an American art form. It was the first narrative I engaged with that made me feel like I had a voice.”

Horizontal Feminists: An Interview with Alexander Chee by Julia Lichtblau

cheeAlexander Chee was a visiting writer at Amherst College.

“After I left college, I went out to San Francisco, where I met a good number of sex workers who became very good friends of mine. At one point, I did makeup for gay pornography films for extra cash. I was also a go-go boy. So you could say I was a citizen of the San Francisco demi-monde. If I hadn’t had literary ambitions that were larger than the literary culture of San Francisco at the time, in terms of wanting to work in publishing and magazines, I probably would have stayed. It was the kind of freedom you can have when you agree to not even try to be the thing that the culture wants from you.”

The Old Apartment by Isabel Meyers


Isabel Meyers is a current student at Amherst College, and an intern with The Common.

“It took years for me to feel like I was no longer living in her shadow. Summer before junior year of high school, after Rosa had left for Brazil, I attended my first creative writing workshop and began drafting, for the first time I can remember, a voice distinct from hers, paragraph by paragraph. It was only after I attended more writing workshops, and she ventured deeper into theater, that I really considered us individuals and at last creative equals. Today though, I hang onto her every word when she translates the world around us, and onto her arm when she guides me through packed bus terminals.”

Dread by Julia Pike

Julia PikeJulia Pike is a current student at Amherst College and the Thomas E. Wood ’61 Fellow at The Common. In addition to the essay featured here, she contributed a dispatch in 2017.

“That year, my first Massachusetts winter, January oozed into February and I stopped wanting to look out the window. I forgot to notice how the sun washed the sky pastel as it rose, noticing only the way it faded the mountains to bruise-colors as it set. The things that used to make me happy no longer stuck, moments of beauty slipping off my psyche like pearls of water off a duck’s back. The darkness made me weepy and ineffectual, and a fog settled in me that would stick around until August, lifting just as my sophomore year began.

I inherited my grandfather’s sadness, his love of drawing, his long limbs. His awareness of all the things beyond his control, the things that loomed.”

Talmudic Lesson: God’s Smile by Ilan Stavans

Ilan Stavans is the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. In addition to contributing essays, he has translated several poems that appear in The Common.

isaac blesses jacob“Why are the two stories of Rebekah and Rabbi Eliezer so devastating? And why can’t I get over them? Because they tell us that no matter how humble or how dignified we pretend to be, it is impossible—even for God—not to get enmeshed in the dirty business of life. And life is indeed dirty, made of an infinite number of occasions on which, no matter how objective, how impartial we want to be, our actions will have reverberations—they will affect others in unforeseen ways. Because, in essence, avoiding taking sides is an ideal repeatedly betrayed. The act of living is, in and of itself, a way of taking sides. Because Rebekah, one of the four biblical matriarchs, is shameful in her action. But so is God. And if God isn’t above the fray, who will be?”

From The Study of Animal Languages by Lindsay Stern

Animal_LanguagesLindsay Stern graduated from Amherst College, where she interned at The Common, in 2013.

“’First for school to end’, he interrupts. ‘Then for my twenties, then for success. Marriage, children, et cetera. For them to leave. For their children. Then the waiting became less conspicuous. Waiting for the cry of boiled water. For the paper. For spring. It took a mighty long time to understand that what I’d been waiting for wasn’t each thing, actually, but the chance to wait for whatever came next.’”


Griffin LessellHonoring Amherst Writers

Photos of LitFest 2019

This year marks the fourth LitFest, an annual literary festival hosted at Amherst College. From February 2-March 2, students, professors, alumni, and community members came together in Amherst College’s Johnson Chapel to hear National Book Award finalists Jennifer Egan, Brandon Hobson, and Jamel Brinkley speak about their writing processes, what writing means to them, and the purpose of writing. On March 2, Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth Kolbert and NYT-bestselling author Charles C. Mann ’76 had a robust conversation about environmental changes and science journalism. Additional events included author masterclasses, a poetry slam, career panels, and a literary tour of Amherst. LitFest is sponsored by The Common, the Center for Humanistic Inquiry and the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Click here for a full write-up and more photos.


Photos by Jiayi Liu and Matai Curzon ’22.

Debbie WenPhotos of LitFest 2019

2019 AWP Writers Conference in Portland

Event Date: Wednesday, March 27–Saturday, March 30
Location: Oregon Convention Center

The Common will host a booth at AWP 2019 from March 27–30. Visit us at table T7040, and check out these panels, featuring Editor-in-chief Jennifer Acker and Managing Editor Emily Everett! More info below.

Map of AWP

Isabel Meyers2019 AWP Writers Conference in Portland

Join Us For Amherst College LitFest 2019

Featured authors include Jennifer Egan, Elizabeth Kolbert, Jamel Brinkley, Brandon Hobson, and more!

LitFest 2019

Amherst College’s fourth annual LitFest, a literary festival celebrating fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and spoken-word performance, will be hosted on February 27 – March 2 of this year. Co-hosted by The Common, this year’s events feature panels with 2018 National Book Award Fiction Finalists Jamel Brinkley and Brandon Hobson, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction author Elizabeth Kolbert, award-winning science writer Charles C. Mann, and more. Author events will be taking place in either Frost Library or Johnson Chapel on Amherst College campus, with most being followed by Q&A sessions and book-signings. All events are free and open to the public. Click here for coverage from the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Whitney BrunoJoin Us For Amherst College LitFest 2019

The Common’s 10 Most-Read Pieces of 2018

As The Common office continues to anticipate the exciting work we plan to share in 2019 both online and in our next issues, it seems like a great time to reflect on the pieces that made 2018 just as exciting for us. See what resonated with readers the most in 2018 by browsing the list below of our most-read works of the past year: they range from fiction to essays, interviews, and more! 

Whitney BrunoThe Common’s 10 Most-Read Pieces of 2018

Weekly Writes Vol. 2

Signups for Weekly Writes Vol. 2 closed on January 27th. To register your interest in future WW programs, click here.

WW vol 2

Weekly Writes is a ten-week program designed to help you create original place-based
fiction and nonfiction.

WW Volume 2 kicks off on January 28, just in time to help you sustain the momentum of your New Year’s writing resolution! The deadline to sign up is January 27, 2019.

Sign up for Volume 2 is now closed. The $15 fee includes one free, expedited* submission via Submittable after program completion. Prompts and advice are brand new for Volume 2, so Volume 1 participants will not encounter any repetition or old prompts.

sign up button
Emily EverettWeekly Writes Vol. 2

TC Alumni Spotlight: Meghan Maria McCullough

Meghan Mccullough headshot

Curated by: SARAH WHELAN

Welcome to the TC Alumni spotlight, where we highlight the achievements of our former staff members! This month, we’re checking in with Meghan Maria McCullough, a former Senior Editorial Assistant and Amherst College Class of 2015. Since graduation, Meghan has worked in publishing at organizations such as Penguin Random House and Union Literary, and has most recently been hired as an Editorial Assistant at Arthur A. Levine Books.

Congratulations on your new role at Scholastic! What drew you to join this publisher in particular?

Thank you! I’m just over three months in and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be here. I was drawn to Scholastic, and my imprint, Arthur A. Levine Books, in particular, because I love children’s books–picture books, Middle Grade, Young Adult especially. That’s what Scholastic does, and in my opinion, we do it better than anyone else out there. I am so proud to work for the publisher of, yes, Harry Potter, but also of some of the most remarkable children’s books being released today. Some of my recent favorites of ours that have been just-released or are coming down the pike include: a Middle Grade called The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty, a young adult novel coming in February called The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg, and a just-released picture book called Good Morning, Snowplow! by Deborah Bruss, illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson. I am of the mind that the books that we read growing up are the most important books we will ever read–they are the books that shape us, they are our closest friends, they are the building blocks that we stack into a worldview. I still can’t quite believe that now I get to have a hand in making them.

Flavia MartinezTC Alumni Spotlight: Meghan Maria McCullough

Author Postcard Auction 2018

postcard auction 2018 header
Don’t miss The Common’s annual author postcard auction! Bid for a chance to win a postcard from your favorite writer, handwritten for yourself or a person of your choice. Past years’ authors have gone above and beyond in creating their postcards, penning long letters or including drawings of recipients’ dogs.

Postcards will be written and mailed in time for the holidays! Makes a great gift – choose who the postcard goes to, and have it personalized for them.

Julia PikeAuthor Postcard Auction 2018

TC Alumni Spotlight: JinJin Xu

Curated by: SARAH WHELAN

This month, enjoy a new feature that celebrates the wonderful former interns and employees that have worked at The Common over the years. Though we miss seeing them everyday, we’re continually impressed by what they go on to accomplish. This month, we’re catching up with former Editorial Assistant JinJin Xu, an Amherst College alumna, Watson Fellow, and most recently, recipient of the Lillian Vernon Fellowship at NYU.

JinJin XU

Flavia MartinezTC Alumni Spotlight: JinJin Xu

The Common’s Issue 16 Events


Wistariahurst event

November 5, 5:30 pm
Community Reception & Meal
Wistariahurst Museum, 
Holyoke, MA
Reception 5:30 pm, Reading and Conversation 7 pm 

Join The Common for a Puerto Rican meal, and stay to hear writers and translators Ana Teresa Toro, Sergio Gutiérrez Negrón, María José Giménez, and María Luisa Arroyo Cruzado discuss their work in The Common‘s special portfolio: De Puerto Rico: Un año después de la tormenta/ From Puerto Rico: One Year after the Storm. Filmmaker Michelle Falcón will showcase her documentary film PROMESA, which tells the stories of people affected by Puerto Rico’s economic crisis. The independent short documentary examines the economic crisis in Puerto Rico, before Hurricane Maria, by exploring how its colonial relationship with the US has had both political and personal impact on the islanders. From this documentary, Reclaim Puerto Rico was created to help the Puerto Rican community overcome the Hurricane Maria devastation by awarding mini-grants to support entrepreneurship on the island. Donate to Reclaim Puerto Rico here.

Free and open to the public. Dinner provided.

238 Cabot Street, Holyoke MA

Julia PikeThe Common’s Issue 16 Events