Palestinian writer Suhail Matar speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about his story “Granada,” translated by Amika Fendi. The story appears in The Common’s new spring issue, in a special portfolio of Arabic fiction from Palestine. Suhail talks about the inspiration and process behind the story, which explores the complex ways in which Palestinians connect when they meet and interact abroad. Suhail also discusses the difficulties of translation, the history and modern realities of Palestinians living within Israel’s current borders, and his PhD work exploring how the brain processes and reacts to language.
Translated from German [“mein lieblingstier heißt winter”] by NEIL BLACKADDER
The piece appears below in both English and German.
Ferdinand Schmalz was already well established as an award-winning and widely produced playwright when, in 2017, he took part in the annual Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur in the Austrian town of Klagenfurt. Schmalz won the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize for the unpublished story he read aloud at the event: “mein lieblingstier heißt winter.” Over the next few years, Schmalz developed the story into a novel which was published in 2021 by Fischer Verlag—and his first book of prose was shortlisted for the Austrian Book Prize and longlisted for the German Book Prize.
This round of Friday Reads brings you mini book reviews from The Common’s Literary Publishing Interns. From shapeshifting professors to self-deprecating travelers, these reading recommendations will enliven your summer TBR list, whether you curl up with a book in the sunshine or cool off somewhere in the shade.
Gabriella Fee’s poetry appears in Michigan Quarterly Review, Washington Square Review, Guesthouse, Sprung Formal, Levee Magazine, LETTERS, The American Literary Review (2019 Prize for Poetry), and elsewhere. Their co-translation of Giovanna Cristina Vivinetto’s “Dolore Minimo” won the 2021 Malinda A. Markham Translation Prize, and is under contract with Saturnalia Books. Excerpts appear in The Journal of Italian Translation, The Offing, Copper Nickel, Smartish Pace, Alchemy, and Italian Trans Geographies. Fee holds a BA from Wellesley College and an MFA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, where they received the Elizabeth K. Moser Fund for Poetry Studies Fellowship in 2021 and the Dr. Benjamin J. Sankey Fellowship in Poetry in 2022. They’ll spend next year as a postdoctoral fellow with the Alexander Grass Institute for the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University.
When April comes I lie down in the shower.
A root in drought drowning in one hard rain,
I bathe my every vein in Jameson.
Death springs from me like a hothouse flower.
My mother swaddles me in terrycloth
and vigils me for three days in her bed.
Pillbox. Rice and lentils. Kettle. Psalm.
She dims the lights as though I were a moth.
She combs my hair. Why do I have to live? My mother answers just the way she did
when I was five and wouldn’t brush my teeth.
You’ll do it because that’s the way it is,
now open wide and let the whole world in.
Three days she holds the dying out of reach.
In recent years, female filmmakers have been carving out a space for themselves in the American West, redefining a genre and a place that is has historically been depicted as the terrain of lonely male cowboys and vigilantes. There have been period pieces like Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, and Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff and First Cow, as well as contemporary stories set in the west, such as Chloe Zhao’s The Rider and Nomadland, and Reichardt’s Certain Women. These films bring a new realism to the western as they widen the lens to center female characters and to incorporate themes of friendship, romance, and community.
You stare low on the horizon into the black sky and wait for the next tiny circle of light. A flash. You hold your breath. You listen to the high-pitched whir as each pinpoint shoots upward, and your eyes follow the undulating trajectory, one, two, sometimes three seconds and still you’re not really breathing. The light vanishes, and you wait, bracing yourself for one loud low boom, a series of pops and crackles, or a deep, hard blast that feels like a punch in the chest. And in that instant before each burst you hope for your favorite colors and shapes, for purple or green or one of those big white sparklers that puffs out like a giant dandelion cloud then hangs suspended, for just a heartbeat, before each shimmering speck flickers and falls toward earth.
Mark Kyungsoo Bias speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about his poem “Adoption Day,” which appears in The Common’s new spring issue. Mark talks about the inspiration and process behind the poem, which looks at issues like memory, immigration, and racism in post-9/11 America, all through the lens of a family experience. Mark also discusses his approach to language, sound, line breaks, and more, and the methods and techniques he’s found helpful in revising poetry. He reads two additional poems published in The Common: “Meeting My Mother” and “Visitor.”
Spring Boulevard 50, in the heart of Bucharest’s former nomenklatura, currently bourgeois neighborhood, is where the former General Secretary’s one-story villa can be found. Împușcatu is what people sometimes call him around here, “the one who was shot,” or Ceașcă, “cup.” They were executed in winter: Nicolae Ceaușescu, and his wife Elena, who was also shot, but in people’s minds this was secondary to her being an insufferable pseudo-intellectual who loved fur coats. And their children, Nicu, Zoe and Valentin, spared during the 1989 Revolution.
A woman writes to her fourteen-year-old daughter. Not letters but a manual. She tries to offer advice on how to live in Germany in the early twenty-first century. There are the practical matters, the dos and don’ts that are imposed on each member of society depending on the stratus he or she belongs to. There are also the more nuanced aspects of human interaction such as friendship, why it matters, and how it could be lost. The woman writes in present tense, without much ornament, it flows and flows, and in the act of writing the woman is being transformed.