Even Punch and Judy were in love once. They knew the exact clockwise adjustment required to fit their preposterous profiles together for a kiss, her nose to the left of his nose, his chin to the left of her chin. Before the slapstick and the swazzle, the crocodile and the constable, before above all the baby: they’d known how to be sweet to each other.
We were the unwanted, the unneeded, and the unseen, invisible to all but ourselves. Less than nothing, we also saw nothing as we crouched blindly in the unlit belly of our ark, 150 of us sweating in a space not meant for us mammals but for the fish of the sea. With the waves driving us from side to side, we spoke in our native tongues. For some, this meant prayer; for others, curses. When a change in the motion of the waves shuttled our vessel more forcefully, one of the few sailors among us whispered, We’re on the ocean now. After hours wind- ing through river, estuary, and canal, we had departed our motherland.
The navigator opened the hatch and called us onto the deck of our ark, which the uncaring world denigrated as merely a boat. By the lopsided smile of the crescent moon, we saw ourselves alone on the surface of this watery world. For a moment we were giddy with delight, until the rippling ocean made us giddy in another way. All over the deck, and all over one another, we turned ourselves inside out, and even after nothing remained we continued to heave and gasp, wretched in our retching. In this manner we passed our first night on the sea, shivering with the ocean breezes.
Dawn broke, and in every direction we saw only the infinitely receding horizon. The day was hot, with no shade and no respite, with nothing to eat but a mouthful and nothing to drink but a spoonful, the length of our journey unknown and our rations limited. But even eating so little, we still left our human traces all over the deck and in the hold, and were by evening awash in our own filth. When we spotted a ship near the horizon at twilight, we screamed ourselves hoarse. But the ship kept its distance. On the third day, we came across a freighter breaking through the vast desert of the sea, a dromedary with its bridge rising over its stern, sailors on deck. We screamed, waved, jumped up and down. But the freighter sailed on, touching us only with its wake. On the fourth and fifth days, two more cargo ships appeared, each closer than the one before, each under a different flag. The sailors pointed at us, but no matter how much we begged, pleaded, and held up our children, the ships neither swerved nor slowed.
I arrived in The Hague with a one-year contract at the Court and very little else. In those early days when the city was a stranger to me, I rode the tram without purpose and walked for hours at a time, so that I would sometimes become lost and need to consult the map on my phone. The Hague bore a family resemblance to the European cities in which I had spent long stretches of my life, and perhaps for this reason I was surprised by how easily and frequently I lost my bearings. In those moments, when the familiarity of the streets gave way to confusion, I would wonder if I could be more than a visitor here.
We hope you’ll join us virtually for the seventh annual LitFest, hosted in conjunction with Amherst College. This year’s lineup includes Pulitzer Prize winners Natalie Diaz and Viet Thanh Nguyen; 2021 National Book Award nominees Katie Kitamura and Elizabeth McCracken; and journalists Vann Newkirk and David Graham, among others.
This year, we are continuing to highlight the work of The Common’s own Literary Publishing Interns and Amherst Alumni Authors during a virtual reading at 4pm on Saturday, February 26. The Common is also hosting, in collaboration with Restless Books, a conversation with winners of the Restless Books Immigrant Writing Prize, Deepak Unnikrishnan, Grace Talusan, and Ani Gjika. Join us for this packed weekend!
Amherst’s annual literary festival celebrates the College’s extraordinary literary life by inviting distinguished authors and editors to share and discuss the pleasures and challenges of verbal expression—from fiction and nonfiction to poetry and spoken-word performance. This year’s LitFest was held virtually, with authors, poets, and literature lovers joining from all around the world.
The Common’s Editor in Chief Jennifer Acker hosted two readings at LitFest: one with The Common’s student interns, and one with Amherst College alumni authors. Both events were recorded and can be watched below. Watch video recordings of all the events, readings, and discussions at LitFest ’21 here.
LitFest ’21 Readings by The Common’s Literary Publishing Interns
Student interns at The Common read short excerpts from their writing. Readers are:
Isabel Meyers ’20 (former intern, current Literary Editorial Fellow)
Elly Hong ’21 (Thomas E. Wood ’61 Fellow)
Whitney Bruno ’21
Sofia Belimova ’22
Eliza Brewer ’22
Olive Amdur ’23
LitFest ’21 Amherst College Alumni Authors Reading
Amherst College alumni read short excerpts from their recent work, and answer questions. Readers are:
Calvin Baker ’94
Chris Bohjalian ’82
Dan Chiasson ’93
Edward A. Farmer ’05
Michael Gorra ’79
Kirun Kapur ’97
Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne ’01
Ismée Williams ’95
Amherst College’s sixth annual literary festival will take place virtually this year, from Thursday, February 25 to Sunday, February 28. Among the guests are 2020 National Book Award fiction winner Charles Yu and longlist nominee Megha Majumdar. The Common is pleased to reprint a short excerpt from Yu’s novel Interior Chinatown here.
Join Megha Majumdar and Charles Yu in conversation with host Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint (visiting writer at Amherst College) on Friday, February 26 from 7 to 8pm.
Amherst College’s sixth annual literary festival will take place virtually this year, from Thursday, February 25 to Sunday, February 28. Among the guests are 2020 National Book Award fiction winner Charles Yu and longlist nominee Megha Majumdar. The Common is pleased to reprint a short excerpt from Majumdar’s novel A Burninghere.
We hope you’ll join us for the sixth annual LitFest, hosted in conjunction with Amherst College. This year’s festival features 2020 National Book Award for Fiction winner Charles Yu and finalist Megha Majumdar, National Book Award for Poetry finalists Natalie Diaz and Tommye Blount, and Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Applebaum, among others.
This year, to celebrate Amherst College’s Bicentennial, we’ll have a very special set of readings by The Common‘s very own Literary Publishing Interns at 4:30 pm on Saturday. Join us for this packed weekend!
Amherst College’s sixth annual literary festival will take place virtually this year, from Thursday, February 25 to Sunday, February 28. Among the guests are 2020 National Book Award poetry finalists Tommye Blount and Natalie Diaz. The Commonis pleased to reprint four of their poems here.
Join Tommye Blount and Natalie Diaz in conversation with host John Hennessy (poetry editor of The Common) on Saturday, February 27 from 11am to noon.