My father was killed on a spring night four years ago, while I sat in the corner booth of a new bistro in Oakland. Whenever I think about that moment, these two contradictory images come to me: my father struggling for breath on the cracked asphalt, and me drinking champagne with my roommate, Margo. We were celebrating because Margo had received a grant from the Jerome Foundation to work on a new chamber piece, her second big commission that year. We’d ordered steamed mussels and shared an entrée and lingered late into the night. The waiter was trying to convince us to get the chocolate mousse for dessert when my phone rang.
It’s been obvious from the beginning who are Broadway Babies and who aren’t. Those who truly can sing, who can give them the old razzle-dazzle, who live for that one singular sensation, have for the most part drawn attention to themselves from the first day of school. They cluster around the Black Box piano during rainy-day lunchtimes and sing The Fantasticks. They wear the Cats sweatshirts to school that they got on their holiday trip to New York. Some of them, like the Junior named Chad, are enviably serious musicians who can not only sing but play Sondheim, for real, from sheet music. Some of them, like Erin O’Leary, don’t just sing but dance like Ginger Rogers, having apparently put on tap shoes at the same time as they took their first steps.
Sometimes I think I understand everything else more than I’ll ever understand Leonie. She’s at the front door, paper grocery bags obscuring her, hitching the screen and kicking it open, and then edging through the door. Kayla scoots toward me when the door bangs shut; she snatches up her juice cup and sucks before kneading my ear. The little pinch and roll of her fingers almost hurts, but it’s her habit, so I swing her up in my arms and let her knead. Mam says she does it for comfort because she never breast-fed. PoorKayla, Mam sighed every time. Leonie hated when Mam and Pop began calling her Kayla like me. She has a name, Leonie said, and it’s her daddy’s. She look like a Kayla, Mam said, but Leonie never called her that.
Mark your calendars! For the fifth year, The Common is preparing for LitFest, a weekend of events to recognize and celebrate contemporary literature. In conjunction with the National Book Awards and Amherst College, The Common will celebrate extraordinary voices such as Jesmyn Ward, Susan Choi, Laila Lalami, and Ben Rhodes.
LitFest will be held on the campus of Amherst College from February 27th through March 1st. For more details, visit the LitFest website. But first, read on for recommendations from the participating authors.
Recommendations: Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward; Trust Exercise by Susan Choi; Battle Dress by Karen Skolfield, and The World as It Is by Ben Rhodes.
On the Friday of LitFest, Amherst College’s annual literary festival, The Common Editor in Chief Jennifer Acker sat down with Jennifer Egan, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, among other accolades, to talk about crime, place, and “timely” writing. This is an edited version of that live interview from March 1, 2019.
Resisting the Path of Least Resistance: An Interview with Jennifer Egan
Featured authors include Jennifer Egan, Elizabeth Kolbert, Jamel Brinkley, Brandon Hobson, and more!
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.
James kept busy at the security desk now, doing the work of both men while Lincoln sat there with his stomach on his lap. He felt a sort of bond with James now, a familiar gratitude. But one gets sick and tired of saying thank you. When he was engaged to Alexis, and during their first years of marriage, his friends would also tell him how lucky he was, but this was said as a joke. Lincoln would say thank you and agree, would tell them how grateful he was for her, but this wasn’t true. He deserved her—this was what he believed, and he knew this was what his friends believed in. A man of a kind should get what he deserves, and if a man like him couldn’t get a woman like her, then something was terribly wrong with the world.
It’s that time again—The Common and Amherst College will be hosting the fourth annual LitFest at the end of the month. For three days, February 28th to March 2nd, award-winning authors, poets, and critics will descend on Amherst to read, discuss, teach, and celebrate great writing. This year the lineup includes two National Book Award finalists, two Pulitzer Prize winners, and a New York Times bestseller. View the full list of participating writers and a calendar of events here.