Author Jennifer Acker
Jennifer Acker - Quick Facts
- Favorite Activity (not related to writing): Meandering in farmer’s markets.
- Favorite place to go when thinking through a plot issue or book idea: My grandparents’ lakeside cabin in Maine.
- Favorite Author: Shirley Hazzard
- Favorite Books: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson; The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard; A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
- Favorite Pastime: Watching and listening to loons and eagles on the dock at aforementioned cabin.
- Favorite Speech and why: Obama singing Amazing Grace during his Charleston eulogy—his humanity and decency and willingness to take a risk to connect with other people.
- What do you most like about being an author: The wonder that an internal, mental craft can impact other people emotionally.
- What skill are you working on now: The art and grace of doing very little.
Do you teach on a specific topic?
As founder and editor in chief of the literary magazine The Common, I run a literary publishing internship for undergraduates at Amherst College, mentoring the next generation of editors and publishers. I love introducing young people to editing because it encourages them to get inside another writer’s head, work collaboratively toward joint goals, and think structurally about pieces of writing, which is a kind of three-dimensional imagining they haven’t done before.
Learning to be a good editor also makes them (and all of us) better writers.
What specialized knowledge do you have?
I am a generalist. I dig deep for particular projects—most often the histories of cultural and ethnic minorities, as well as certain areas of Latino and Latin American history (Mexico, Puerto Rico), as well as olive oil, but I don’t have a PhD in anything. That’s the beauty of being a writer and the fun of being a curious person.
Regarding my first novel: Not many people outside of the community itself know the history of Asians (Indians/Pakistanis) in East Africa, the cultural context for The Limits of the World, and it’s great fun to introduce people to the origins and evolution of this fascinating community.
Do you, as an author, provide in-depth research on a topic?
I like to ask how an author adds to the conversation or the body of work on a topic?
There are certainly other novelists who have embedded works of fiction within the East African Asian community (M.G. Vassanji, Peter Kimani, to name two), but few have provided a panoramic look at this history over time, or have traced the tri-continental migration chain to America.
Nearly a decade ago, I started a literary magazine, with the goal of it becoming a vehicle for spurring conversations and creating literary community. Our editors and former interns now span the globe, and we’re able to reach students all across the country and Canada via our classroom program. The magazine also launched a literary festival. What we publish and program reflects our belief in the power of literature to create empathy and break down cultural barriers—editing as activism. I’m also a member of PEN America, supporting their efforts to protect free speech.
The communities I live in are also important to me. I grew up in a small town in rural Maine, where town-meeting democracy reigned. My parents showed me how to invest in the place where you live: to speak up in public, to listen other points of view, and to take on often thankless tasks because you believe they will benefit your neighbors.
Local politics has taken off in a dynamic and encouraging way in my western Massachusetts town—a poet acquaintance launched a branch of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, and two first-time women politicians were elected in the midterms—and I’m trying to figure out how to best be involved their important work.
I have a chronic illness, so I don’t have a lot of spare energy for volunteer work, and my challenge is to figure out how to arrange my life to make an impact in my second hometown.
A long essay for Amazon Original Stories, their love story/relationship imprint called The Real Thing. Mine is a deeply personal look at a recent period in my husband’s and my life in which we had to learn to take care of each other in intense, moving, and sometimes terrifying ways.
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