Annual Literary Festival

Thursday, February 23 - Sunday, February 26, 2023

A series of six books, the names of which are included in the accompanying text

Amherst’s 8th annual literary festival celebrates the College’s extraordinary literary life by inviting distinguished authors and editors to campus. This year’s lineup includes Pulitzer Prize winner Hilton Als; MacArthur Fellowship winner Valeria Luiselli, and 2022 National Book Award finalists Meghan O’Rourke and Ingrid Rojas Contreras, among others.

SCHEDULE (Subject to Change)

Thursday, FEBRUARY 23

Spoken Word Slam for Amherst Students
Host: Daniel Gallant
Time: 8 p.m.
The Powerhouse


Reception and Opening of God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin
Introductions and remarks: Hilton Als; Siddhartha V. Shah, Director of the Mead Art Museum; Jennifer Acker ’00, editor-in-chief of The Common
6 p.m.
Mead Art Museum

A Conversation with National Book Award Finalists Meghan O’Rourke & Ingrid Rojas Contreras and Moderated by Dennis Sweeney
Introductions and remarks: President Michael A. Elliott; Jennifer Acker ’00, editor-in-chief of The Common; Ruth Dickey, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation
7 p.m.
Johnson Chapel


Phosphorescence: Special Edition, A Poetry Event with Victoria Chang and Tyehimba Jess
Host: Jane Wald, Executive Director of the Emily Dickinson Museum 
12 p.m.
Friendly Reading Room, Frost Library

Craft Talks for Amherst Students: Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Meghan O’Rourke, Valeria Luiselli, Victoria Chang and Hilton Als
2 p.m.

Readings by Amherst Alumni Authors and The Common Student Interns
Introductions and remarks: Sofia Belimova '22, Literary Editorial Fellow, The Common. 
Amherst Alumni Authors: Ted Conover '80, Catherine Newman '90, Mark Vanhoenacker '96, and Marti Dumas '98. The Common interns: Olive Amdur '23, Alma Clark '25, Sophie Durbin '25, Andrenae Jones '23, Kei Lim '25, and Sarah Wu '25
4 p.m.
Location: TBD

Valeria Luiselli in Conversation with Jennifer Acker '00, Editor in Chief of The Common
7 p.m.
Johnson Chapel

Sunday, FEBRUARY 26

President’s Colloquium on Race and Racism: Hilton Als in Conversation with Professor Frank Leon Roberts
Introductions and remarks: President Michael A. Elliott
1 p.m.
Johnson Chapel*

*Johnson Chapel seats 600 people. We recommend arriving early to get a seat. 

Amherst College is committed to making all of its programs, services and activities accessible for all. Contact the Office of Conferences and Special Events with questions and special requests. Our campus map notes the location of all venues and accessible parking spaces. For directions, parking, transportation and local lodging options, see Visiting Amherst.



Jennifer Acker ’00 is founder and editor in chief of The Common, and author of the debut novel The Limits of the World, which was a fiction honoree for the Massachusetts Book Award. Her memoir Fatigue is a #1 Amazon bestseller, and her short stories, essays, translations, and reviews have appeared in the Washington Post, Oprah Daily, Literary Hub, n+1, and The Yale Review, among other places. Acker has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and teaches writing and editing at Amherst College, where she directs the Literary Publishing Internship and LitFest.

A photo of Hilton Als Hilton Als is an associate professor of writing at Columbia University and a staff writer and theater critic for The New Yorker. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of the Berlin Prize of the American Academy in Berlin. In 2017, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. As an art curator, Als has been responsible for exhibitions including the group show Forces in Nature and Alice Neel, Uptown. In the coming year, the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College will host his most recent exhibit, God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin.

Photo by Rivkah Gevinson

A photo of Sofia Belimova Sofia Belimova ’22 is the 2022-2023 Literary Editorial Fellow at The Common and a 2022 graduate of Amherst College. A recipient of the Peter Burnett Howe Prize for excellence in prose fiction and the English Department 19th Century Novel Essay Prize, she is from New York City and lives in Western Massachusetts.

A photo of Victoria Chang Victoria Chang’s forthcoming book of poems, With My Back to the World, will be published in 2024 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her latest book of poetry is The Trees Witness Everything (Copper Canyon Press, 2022). Her nonfiction book, Dear Memory (Milkweed Editions), was published in 2021. Obit (Copper Canyon Press, 2020), her prior book of poems, received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Poetry, and the PEN/Voelcker Award. Chang has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, lives in Los Angeles and isDistinguished Faculty within Antioch’s M.F.A. Program.

Photo by Jay L. Clendenin

A photo of an older man in a red, plaid shirt Ted Conover is the author most recently of Cheap Land Colorado: Off-Gridders at America’s Edge. He is best-known for Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, an account of his ten months spent working as a corrections officer at New York’s Sing Sing prison. Newjack won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Conover’s other books include Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America’s Hoboes, Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders with America’s Mexican Migrants, Whiteout: Lost in Aspen, The Routes of Man, and Immersion: A Writer’s Guide to Going Deep. He has written for publications including The New Yorker and New York Times Magazine and is professor at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Photo by Jon Cohrs

A photo of Ingrid Rojas Contreras Ingrid Rojas Contreras was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. Her first novel, Fruit of the Drunken Tree, was the silver medal winner in first fiction from the California Book Awards and a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her essays and short stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, BuzzFeed, Nylon Guernica and elsewhere. Rojas Contreras has received numerous awards and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, VONA, Hedgebrook, The Camargo Foundation, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures. She is a visiting writer at Saint Mary’s College. She is working on a family memoir about her grandfather, a curandero from Colombia who, it was said, had the power to move clouds.

A smiling woman with blond hair Ruth Dickey is the Executive Director of the National Book Foundation and has spent over 25 years working at the intersection of community building, writing, and art. Prior to the Foundation, she served as Executive Director of Seattle Arts & Lectures. A builder and believer in big dreams, Ruth has had the pleasure of leading organizations in Washington, DC; New Orleans, LA; Cincinnati, OH; and Seattle, WA to dramatically expand their community impact. Ruth holds an MFA in poetry from UNC-Greensboro, and a BS in Foreign Service and an MA in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University. She was a 2017 fellow with the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program, and served as a judge in Fiction for the 2019 National Book Awards.

Photo by Libby Lewis

A photo of Marti Dumas Marti Dumas is a mom, teacher, and creative entrepreneur. She is passionate about childhood literacy, and for the past 15 years she’s worked with children and teachers across the country to encourage an early love of reading both in and out of the classroom. Her stories combine humor, family, and magic, while adding much-needed diversity to the children’s book landscape.

A bald man with galsses wearing a blue collared shirt Daniel Gallant is a writer, performer, lecturer and producer, and the author of the short story collection Determined to Prove. He is a board member of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and of PEN America’s Literary Action Coalition; he has also served as executive director of the Cafe and of the Theoria Foundation, and as a program director for the U.S. State Department and for the 92nd Street Y. Daniel recently completed a Fulbright Specialist fellowship in Portugal; he has also received an Eisenhower Fellowship, as well as fellowships from National Arts Strategies and the Devos Institute. His writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Time Out, the New York Post, the Daily News, and anthologies from Vintage Books, Applause Books and TCG. He has been featured in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Crain’s New York, Forbes, Adweek, Inc., The Washington Post and Voice of America; and on CNN, MTV, NPR, NBC, NY1, CBS, Univision, the BBC and other networks.

A photo of Tyehimba Jess Tyehimba Jess is the author of two books of poetry, Leadbelly and Olio, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, The Society of Midland Authors’ Award in Poetry and an Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Jessʼ fiction and poetry have appeared in many journals and anthologies. Jess has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and is a professor of English at the College of Staten Island.

A photo of Valeria Luiselli Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City and grew up in South Korea, South Africa and India. An acclaimed writer of both fiction and nonfiction, she is the author of Sidewalks, Faces in the Crowd, The Story of My Teeth, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions and Lost Children Archive. She is the recipient of a 2019 MacArthur Fellowship and the winner of a DUBLIN Literary Award, two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, the Carnegie Medal and an American Book Award, and has been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Kirkus Prize and the Booker Prize. She has been a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree and the recipient of a Bearing Witness Fellowship from the Art for Justice Fund. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Granta and The New Yorker, among other publications, and has been translated into more than 20 languages. She is a professor at Bard College and lives in New York City.

Photo by Diego Berruecos/Gatopardo

A woman with glasses and long hair Catherine Newman is the author of the memoirs Catastrophic Happiness and Waiting for Birdy, the middle-grade novel One Mixed-Up Night, the kids’ craft book Stitch Camp, the best-selling how-to books for kids How to Be a Person and What Can I Say? and the new indie bestseller novel We All Want Impossible Things. She edits the non-profit kids' cooking magazine ChopChop, wrote the etiquette column for Real Simple magazine for 10 years, and has been a regular contributor to the New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, Parents magazine, Cup of Jo, and many other publications. She is the Academic Department Coordinator of the Creative Writing Center at Amherst College.

Photo by Ben Newman

A photo of Meghan O’Rourke Meghan O’Rourke is the author of the poetry collections Sun In Days, Once and Halflife, as well as the memoirs The Invisible Kingdom and The Long Goodbye. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, two Pushcart Prizes and the inaugural May Sarton Poetry Prize, among many other awards, O’Rourke writes for The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly and is the editor of The Yale Review. O’Rourke resides in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she grew up, and Marfa, Texas.

A pilot smiling in the cockpit of a commercial airline Mark Vanhoenacker ’96 is a commercial airline pilot for British Airways and the author of the international bestseller Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot and How to Land a Plane. His latest book, Imagine a City: A Pilot’s Journey Across the Urban World, was published by Knopf in 2022. A columnist for the Financial Times and a regular contributor to the New York Times, Mark has also written for The Times (London), the Atlantic, Wired and the Los Angeles Times. Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Mark trained as a historian before starting his flight training in Britain in 2001. He now flies the Boeing 787 Dreamliner from London to cities around the world.

A photo of the author Jane Wald Jane Wald has been executive director of the Emily Dickinson Museum (owned by Amherst College) since 2006. During that time, she has led efforts to expand public and educational programs and to preserve and restore the two Dickinson family homes and landscape. Her research and writing has focused on the cultural and material context of Dickinson’s life and work, including essays published in The Blackwell Companion to Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson Journal, The Oxford Handbook of Emily Dickinson, and Emily Dickinson Electronic Archive. She holds an AB from Bryn Mawr College and an MA from Princeton university, and she completed advanced study at the College of William and Mary.

A woman sitting at a table in a grey sweater and green scarf and wearing a face mask gestures with her hands while talking

LitFest 2022: Steering the Craft

Novelists Viet Thanh Nguyen and Katie Kitamura talked to students about creating characters, time frame, language, and more.

LitFest is sponsored by the Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Amherst College, The Common magazine and The Emily Dickinson Museum and is made possible by the generous support of the Croxton Lecture Fund, established in 1988 by William M. Croxton ’36 in memory of his parents, Ruth L. and Hugh W. Croxton. Income from this fund is to be used to educate Amherst students and to bring attention to the College by virtue of the renown of speakers underwritten by the fund.