In celebration of Art Omi’s 30th anniversary, DW Gibson connected with residency alumni to dive into different aspects of their work and process. When presented with the opportunity to interview Joseph O’Neill and Chigozie Obioma, Gibson was eager to talk with them about the importance of place in their fiction because the settings of their novels and stories feel so acutely important. Whether it’s New York in O’Neill’s Netherland, Dubai in The Dog, or the village of Akure in Obioma’s The Fishermen, the landscapes of these novels are always front and center and, in some ways, steering the storytelling. In this conversation, O’Neill and Obioma bring to light how a sense of place does—and doesn’t—play a part in their process, and how the settings we choose as writers relate back to our own identities. This interview is a collaboration between The Common and Writers OMI.
Art is Always a Verb: An Interview with Joseph O’Neill & Chigozie Obioma
Abeer Khshiboon’s short story, “The Stranger” is featured in Issue 23’s portfolio of stories from Palestine. Here, Abeer and translator Nashwa Gowanlock discuss the story’s inspiration and the context in which its events unfold.
Words We Use to Talk About Home: An Interview with Abeer Khshiboon, author of “The Stranger”
Xochitl Gonzalez has an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow and recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Prize in Fiction. She was the winner of the 2019 Disquiet Literary Prize, and her work has been published in Bustle, Vogue, and The Cut. She is a contributor to The Atlantic, where her weekly newsletter Brooklyn, Everywhere explores gentrification of people and places. Her debut novel Olga Dies Dreaming is out now from Flatiron Books. Prior to beginning her MFA, Xochitl was an entrepreneur and strategic consultant for nearly 15 years.
Reclaiming Brooklyn and Puerto Rico: An Interview with Xochitl Gonzalez
Latifa Baqa’s gripping stream of consciousness short story “Adam’s Apple” is a highlight of Issue 21’s portfolio of fiction from Morocco. A feminist, human rights activist, and award-winning author, Baqa is interviewed by The Common interns Sofia Belimova, Olive Amdur, Adaku Nwokiwu, and Eliza Brewer. They discuss editing, the devil in the details, and countering the traditional expectation of the male gaze. Nariman Youssef translated the interview, as well as the original story. This is the first of two interviews conducted by the summer interns with Issue 21 contributors; the second will be with Abdelmajid Haouasse.
TC interns (TC): What inspired “Adam’s Apple?” Can you describe your process of writing and revising it?
Latifa Baqa (LB): The idea behind “Adam’s Apple,” like pretty much all ideas you may find in any of my fictional texts, began with a sentence. Meaning that one sentence preceded the idea, in a way not unlike how one note might resonate in a musician’s head before the rest of the tune. This is how it often happens: before I begin writing, a lone sentence rises up in my thoughts, for no obvious reason. I remember how this one stuck in my head for days: “We shouldn’t lay bare what we carry within us more than once.” The rest of the story followed from that sentence, beginning with a minor character who barely features in the narrative: Alzamourie, the neighborhood’s baker, who was a real person in the working class neighborhood where I was born and raised. To be more precise, one element that started making its way into the story was Alzamourie’s teeth. I just could never forget his teeth. It seems almost absurd, but I find more reassurance in the foggy arbitrariness of memory than in the clarity of conventional reality.
I Will Be in the Place You Least Expect to Find Me: 10 Questions with Latifa Baqa
This piece is a selection from Byobu, out this November from Charco Press.
The Sensitive Toad
From the bottom step, where the stairs rise from the stone path between two patches of grass, Byobu sees a toad cross in front of him, hopping from green to green. It’s followed by another, just as quick. Not long ago, Byobu read a horrendous list of little tragedies that could befall an Englishman in the nineteenth century: it included stepping on a toad, believing it to be a stone in the road. Byobu is not English, nor is he from the nineteenth century, but there he stands on one foot, like a heron, which luckily for these batrachians he is not. On a magnificent summer night like this it’s normal to hear them, but seeing them is not so common, thought Byobu when the third little fellow appeared. Why the third fellow? Well, because as we all know three is a sacred number, and besides, there were three.
Translation and Q&A: Ida Vitale’s The Sensitive Toad
Recently published in The BreakBeat Poets Volume IV: LatiNEXT, Cuban-American writer Kyle Carrero Lopez holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU and is the co-founder of LEGACY, a production collective by and for Black queer artists.
Carrero Lopez is unapologetic about his poetic concerns. In this powerful interview, he explains how sonnets give him the ultimate space to practice his multitudes in a pressurized space, and the way anti-Blackness is provoked by capitalism, dangerous clothing, and cultural brutalization.
Sasha Burshteyn (SB):You have such a feeling for form in your collection MUSCLE MEMORY— “After Abolition” and “Inheritance” are both sonnets, and “(SLANG)UAGE” is in the Oulipian beautiful outlaw form. What draws you to these forms? What do you feel they offer your work?
Kyle Carrero Lopez (KCL): In the case of the sonnets, something about the compression really works for me. I appreciate that a sonnet demands a turn via the volta. It’s a pressurized space for those two poems. They’re intense poems as far as the subject matter, but I wanted to work with brevity in both, and so the sonnet felt like the right pot to put the poem in. Terrance Hayes has said that a sonnet is a room that you can scream into.
Sitting with Ugliness and Complicated Beauties: An Interview with Kyle Carrero Lopez
Poet and journalist Sara Elkamel is currently pursuing an MFA at New York University, dividing her time between Cairo and New York City. Her work can be found in several literary magazines including the Los Angeles Review and Michigan Quarterly Review. Her most recent work is a chapbook, Field of No Justice, published as part of Akashic Books’ African Poetry Book Fund.
Birds, Language, and the Desire for Repair: An Interview with Sara Elkamel
Does a poet benefit from knowing more than one language? In what way do translingual poets approach their craft differently than their monolingual counterparts? Should translingual poets be understood as “self-translators”? Is translingualism a form of rebellion? How do we make home in, across, and between languages?
These topics are part of the following conversation between Ilan Stavans and Haoran Tong. Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities, Latin America and Latino Culture at Amherst College. He is the author of the award-winning, book-length poem The Wall (2018) and the translator into English of Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda and into Spanish of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop, among others. Chinese poet Haoran Tong is a student at Amherst College. The conversation took place electronically in Amherst and Wellfleet, Massachusetts, from June 25 to July 10, 2021.
The Poet’s Languages: A Conversation between Ilan Stavans and Haoran Tong
Elizabeth A.I. Powell’s most recent book is Atomizer(LSU Press, 2020). She is a Professor of Creative Writing at North Vermont University. Her poems are forthcoming in The New Republic and American Poetry Review. You can find her at www.elizabethaipowell.com.
The terrestrial assumption is that on any given day you can find humans crying out to the heavens. Elizabeth A.I. Powell is a poet who has “spent a lifetime trying to say the truth in a beautiful way,” and operates on the assumption that we all have celestial cries to process. In this interview, Matt Miller and Elizabeth A.I. Powell explore the invisibility of sexuality, the enactment of fury, and poem as atomizer. Walk through this synesthetic interview and discover how poetry approaches the smell of memory.
Come Angels: An interview with Elizabeth A.I. Powell about her new collection The Atomizer