Moveable Type: The Common
August 30, 2018
A Conversation with Jennifer Acker, Editor-in-Chief
How would you describe the aesthetic guiding principle or vision of The Common?
The central mission of The Common is to publish literature and art with a strong sense of place. What this means in concrete terms is that the place (or setting) must matter in an important way; it must influence the concerns of the characters or speakers, the way people talk, the language, mood, or tone. And we are just as concerned with placelessness (exile, migration) as we are with rootedness.
Give us a look behind the editorial curtain. What’s The Common’s process like for putting together its biannual issues?
We have a wonderful team of readers and editors who contribute to each print issue. For unsolicited submissions, we have three tiers of readers—each piece is read at least three times, moving up the chain, before it is rejected or accepted. For the special portfolios within issues, I solicit pieces directly or work with a co-editor who is a native speaker in the language being translated from.
Who are some writers or pieces that you been particularly proud to publish or feature in The Common recently?
I’m particularly proud of publishing the debut short story by Emily Chammah in Issue 12, which won the PEN/Robert J. Dau short story award for emerging writers. Another standout was the recent essay in Issue 15 by Noor Naga about the use of the term “Arab” in Egypt. Noor is a native Egyptian who has also lived outside the country, so she was able to provide a unique perspective on a particular element of Egyptian culture. Both of the pieces I’ve mentioned are about the Arab world, a literary region we are incredibly proud to be focusing on regularly, via pieces written both in English and translated from Arabic.
What are a few things you’re excited about in the world of contemporary literature?
I’m grateful for incredible energy and generous community in the world of literary magazines and small presses. I’m also heartened to see more writers of color being published and getting the attention they deserve, though I still lament the lack of attention for works in translation. I also want to applaud the many wonderful literary festivals that are held around the country each year. The Common helped launch LitFest here at Amherst College, and The Loft in Minneapolis is currently fundraising to launch a new festival there in the spring. Literary events are so much work, but are such an important opportunity for person-to-person connection.
What’s next for The Common? Realistic or unrealistic plans, initiatives and intentions are welcome!
I am very excited to publish the portfolio of Puerto Rican writers this fall, to mark one year after Hurricane Maria. There is an overflowing bounty of exceptional stories, essays, and poetry being written on the island and in the diaspora, and these works are simply not making it to the mainland or into the mainstream. Our annual spring portfolio of Arabic stories in translation is another source of joy. We also have two initiatives that support students and emerging writers I’m pretty excited about. The first is The Common in Classroom, in which we support teachers who are using The Common’s diverse literature in their classrooms. The other is our brand-new-this-summer Weekly Writes, in which we offer 10 weeks of writing prompts with some additional perks, to help writers engage in place-based fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Oh, and I would like The Common to own a big house to host residencies and events and run a radio station with a series of podcasts in which all of our authors get to read their work and talk about it. Big dreams.