In the Spotlight
Amherst, MA Member Since: 2012
About: Jennifer Acker is the founding editor of The Common, a new print and online journal featuring literature and images with a strong sense of place. She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and her translations, essays, and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in publications such as Harper’s, The New Inquiry, Ascent, and Ploughshares. Acker was a visiting lecturer at Amherst College in 2011-12 and is currently a Faculty Fellow at New York University Abu Dhabi. She writes a monthly column about her Middle Eastern adventures for The Common Online.
What was the first book you loved?
The first author I fell in love with as a writer with diverse talents was Steinbeck. I started with the short ones, Tortilla Flats and Cannery Row, and was moved by their tenderness and humor. Before then, I didn’t realize literature could be funny.
What book could you read again and again?
The Great Fire, or anything by Shirley Hazzard.
Is there a book you are embarrassed to say you have never read?
I have not yet made it all the way through War and Peace.
Who is your favorite literary character?
Any of Alice Munro’s women.
What are you reading right now?
Travel essays, old and new, from William Hazlitt to Andre Aciman.
Where do you get your best reading recommendations?
A few good friends who are also writers and editors. Also my cousin who is a physician and a voracious reader; he’s Canadian so he often points me towards Commonwealth authors I’ve overlooked.
What do your books look like once you’ve finished reading them?
I try not to write in hardcovers, but paperbacks don’t stand a chance of escaping pen and pencil marks — underlining’s and notes in the margin.
What is the best advice you can give an aspiring writer?
There’s nothing wrong with learning from imitation.
What do you like in a story, whether fiction or nonfiction?
A world I don’t know brought to life by language I want to read out loud.
What’s in a title?
An interesting title is important in urging me to pick up or start reading a book or a story, but once I’ve started, I forget the title, often forever.
Do you own an e-reader? How has that changed your relationship to books?
E-readers are hugely useful for reading and sharing submissions now that magazines use electronic submissions systems. I don’t really enjoy reading on them for pleasure, though a Kindle (without the screen glare) will do if I’m traveling. When I read on an electronic device I have a harder time keeping track of when and how fast things happen – chronology and pace.
Describe your workspace.
Right now I am working at NYU Abu Dhabi, and my office is on the 13th floor of a highrise that overlooks the oldest building in the city, a whitewashed fort, set in the middle of a sandy block that has been a construction zone for months. The windows are covered in city dust. The interior is white and spare with institutional furniture and a borrowed Persian rug. A map of the city thumbtacks to a partition. My office is actually carved out of a studio apartment, so I have my own bathroom and a nonfunctioning sink.
What are the books you would take with you on a trip?
Definitely novels, not stories. I don’t like to keep stopping and starting when I’m on a trip. Recently I read Cloud Atlas in Sri Lanka, and it was divine.
Share a favorite AWP conference moment.
A couple members of our advisory board staffed our table while I was at a panel. When I came back, they were urging people to buy the magazine based on the soft, alluring feel of the volume’s paper cover.