In the mornings, I like to follow our border collie on his nose-to-the-ground rounds: out to the creek at the edge of our land; up to the vegetable garden near the foothills; across the back yard. Sometimes, the hair on the back of his neck stands up.
Our farm land in southern British Columbia borders a mountainous wilderness. My husband and I find curiosities on our property all the time: peaches picked from our trees; tunnels under our fences; grape cluster stems, cleaned of berries. Now and then, feeding our fascination with the unknown: strips of grass, chiseled out of the lawn, coiled like jelly rolls. What roams around here at night after we turn out the lights?
After thirty-six hours of travel, VALERIA LUISELLI arrived at Amherst College LitFest on a freezing Saturday night just in time to speak with The Common’s editor-in-chief JENNIFER ACKER. Their conversation explored the capacity of memory to shape geography, the relationship between language and home, and the architecture of a book. Luiselli also spoke with honesty and ardor about her research in and around the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and her experience as a legal translator for refugees, experiences informing her acclaimed novel Lost Children Archive. This interview is an edited and condensed version of the live conversation; read more about LitFest, and watch a video of the full conversation online.
Let Me Open the Window: Valeria Luiselli in conversation with Jennifer Acker at LitFest 2023
The art critic Jerry Saltz peppers his Twitter feed with advice to artists. Recently, he wrote: “Artists: Every single second you spend on being jealous of someone else is a complete waste of life.” Reading it, I thought of Lizzy, the sculptor at the center of Kelly Reichardt’s new film. Showing Up is a dry comedy that is a love letter to anyone who finds time to make art while holding down a day job and trying not to let anxieties—which might arrive in the form of jealousy, resentment, or self-loathing—get the best of them. What makes this story unusual is that it focuses on an artist in mid-career, someone who has honed her talent and is respected by her peers, but who is not famous or conventionally successful. I can think of a lot of movies about artists at the beginning or end of their careers, charting the exciting rise or the tragic crash-and-burn, but there aren’t many filmmakers who can find the drama in the daily life of an artist diligently doing the work.
Gerardo Sámano Córdova speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about his story “Iceberg, Mine,” which appears in The Common’s fall 2022 issue. Gerardo talks about combining the real and the surreal in this story, and using both to show the power of a brief moment of connection. He also discusses the risks and rewards of writing about the fantastical, the process of finding balance through revision, and his debut novel Monstrilio, which is out now from Zando. The novel is about a boy who transforms into a monster, a monster who tries to be a man, and the people who love him in every form he takes.
Podcast: Gerardo Sámano Córdova on “Iceberg, Mine”
JOANNE McFARLAND is an artist, poet, and curator whose work centers on the intersection of language and visual representation. Her newest collection, Pullman (Grid Books, 2023), is a brilliant and singular exploration of form and artistic disciplines that examines themes of labor, creativity, eroticism, and love, engaging and interacting with events in the American past as they relate to the state of being human today. By exploring the history of the Pullman car porters of the late 19th-century railroads, McFarland’s poems and integrative collages explore historical sources, entries from the Black Almanac of 1972, lyrics created by McFarland’s own father—a songwriter for Aretha Franklin—and vintage French magazines.In this interview, MAKENNA GOODMAN connected with McFarland about Pullman and the broader scope of her artistic work. McFarland asks us to consider our relationship to the erotic, to our delight, to the sensual experience of being alive, to our drive to make music from a moan, to adhere ripped pages into re-imagined dresses, to reconsider the past as a way out of pain.
Creativity as the Opposite of Violence: Makenna Goodman Interviews JoAnne McFarland
Welcome to the June round of Friday Reads! Are you hoping to read more this summer? Do you have a favorite shady spot in a backyard or park, but no book to share it with? Read on for exciting recommendations from our contributors. Find stories that reach beyond the scope of normative human experience, essays about writing and writers, and hybrid memoir on music and survival.
Adrienne G. Perry speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her essay “Flashé Sur Moi,” which appears in The Common’s new spring issue. Adrienne talks about the questions that inspired this essay: questions about memory and friendship and coming of age, questions about what it means to desire someone and be desired, and what we do to appear desirable to others. She also discusses her approach to teaching creative writing, her interest in writing about place, and her current works-in-progress.
Silvia Spring speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her debut short story “The Home Front,” which appears in The Common’s fall issue. In this conversation, Spring talks about the inspiration and process behind this story, which tangles with the difficulties of coming into adulthood, and the experience of living abroad without feeling part of the community. Spring drew from her own experience studying and living in London in the U.K., and her time as a journalist at Newsweek, embedded with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conversation also includes discussion of the revision process; writing without an MFA; and U.S. foreign policy, today and over the last few years.
One night, out walking, unable to sleep, and more fatigued than usual by his endlessly unfolding apprenticeship, the eighteen-hour days, the bugs that puncture his skin every night, the lack of money for real milk or for visiting his favorite sister, Andrew saw a man in the street who was raising a gun and pointing it at what?
A young mastiff, thin and weary-looking, staggering for a place to sleep.
Cha chaan tengs, local diners that serve comfort food all day, are a cornerstone of Hong Kong culture. At a cha chaan teng, you can order beef satay noodles for breakfast, a cup of milk tea stronger than any Starbucks coffee, lo mai gai (glutinous rice and chicken wrapped in a lotus leaf), and more. To many Hongkongers, cha chaan tengs evoke a sense of familiarity and nostalgia. Indeed, it was precisely these feelings that drew me, a Hongkonger living in America, to translate Derek Chung’s (Chung Kwok-keung) remarkable poems.
Chung wrote “The Cha Chaan Teng on Fortune Street” in 1996 about a Cha Chaan Teng he visited in Sham Shui Po while running an errand. He no longer remembers what the errand was for, he writes in a blog post, but “words have helped [him] remember concrete details of that cha chaan teng.” At the same time, he also wonders whether there is something about a place that is lost forever once it no longer exists, no matter what we write down. As evocative as the details in this poem are, from the “soft clink” of utensils to the “grease-soaked hair” of a waiter, the poem ends on a note of uncertainty, unsure of whether words can safeguard memory.