All posts tagged: Ilan Stavans

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.”

Griffin LessellHonoring Amherst Writers

Un Walker en Nuyol

“Exaggerate to exist.”
―W. H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety (1948)

[1] From El Gueto

Friday, January 4th, 1985. It is 7:50 am. The temperature outside is below freezing.

“The city” isn’t altogether alien to me. I have seen it featured in a thousand movies. As a boy I came with my father, a theater actor, to buy Broadway plays. I am familiar with its grammar. Indeed, I make my way through conversations, although, in all honesty, my English is still precarious.

This time around, though, I am alone and I am learning to cope with it. I barely have any money. The $67-a-week I make shelving books at a local library are barely enough. Collect calls are expensive. I used to write long letters while I lived in the Middle East, but I have lost practice. Plus, for now I don’t feel like sharing my thoughts with others.

I have landed in a small apartment on Broadway and 121st Street, next to The Jewish Theological Seminary. They have given me a scholarship to study philosophy. I share the apartment with three other young men, one called Francesco from Italy with a heavy accent, Arno from Canada, and Ritchie from the United States. It has taken us time to get acquainted with one another. I understand what they all tell me, though I am at a loss every third or fourth word, especially with Arno’s lingo. He speaks fast and uses strange words. He says I talk English like a “primitive.” Franco’s syntax isn’t good either. His accent is heavy. He helps me when I fumble.

Olivia ZhengUn Walker en Nuyol

Friday Reads: April 2015


This month’s books are full of surprises, for their characters and their readers. Whether it’s a world of whimsy, fantasy, or magic(al realism), or else a microcosm of grief either private (a family home) or public (a busy airport), we’re along for the ride as imagined worlds both playful and harrowing rise and fall on these pages.


Play for Me by Céline Keating, The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog by Alicia Ostriker, Munich Airport by Greg Baxter, Where the Bird Sings Best by Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann

Olivia ZhengFriday Reads: April 2015

Talmudic Lesson: God’s Smile


There is one story that has always held a strange allure for me. It appears in Genesis 25:19 to 28:9 and is about Jacob’s theft of Esau’s birthright. Every time I read it, I feel haunted. In old age, a blind Isaac asks Esau, his oldest son, to visit him. He makes it understood that the end is near and asks Esau to gather food from the field and bring it back so he might be able to bless him.

Megan DoTalmudic Lesson: God’s Smile

“The Last Nail in the Coffin”: Ilan Stavans Interviews John Sayles

John Sayles

“Not just a place, but a place in its time, has a character. That character affects who people are. In a movie it certainly affects the way that you shoot.

Today we are thrilled to feature an original, exclusive interview between The Common contributor Ilan Stavans and filmmaker and writer John Sayles. Stavans and Sayles discuss the differences between fiction writing and filmmaking, the challenges and comfort of writing historical fiction, and the importance of place in both book and movies. Sayles recently published A Moment in the Sun (McSweeney’s, 2011) and directed the newly released Amigo (Variance Films, 2011).

Julia Pike“The Last Nail in the Coffin”: Ilan Stavans Interviews John Sayles

El mundo al revés/The World Upside Down



Un pájaro puso a su dueño en una jaula. “Nuestros papeles se han invertido”, dijo el pájaro. “¡Quiero que cantes!” El dueño se quejó: “Pero yo no sé cantar”. “No importa”, gritó el pájaro. El dueño silbó pero claramente no tenía ningún ritmo. “Prefiero que bailes ante mí”. El dueño bailó sin ninguna gracia. El pájaro se sintió desilusionado. “De cualquier manera te mantendré en la jaula”. Sin embargo, una hora más tarde el pájaro estaba del todo aburrido. “No me había dado cuenta que tener una mascota es como estar en la cárcel. En la medida que controlamos a los demás ellos también nos controlan a nosotros”.

Isabel MeyersEl mundo al revés/The World Upside Down