LitFest Speakers

More than 1,700 bibliophiles gathered on campus March 1-3 for LitFest 2018, Amherst’s third annual literary festival, which celebrates the College’s literary life as well as exceptional writing and writers.

The festival included readings and conversations with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz; 2017 National Book Award finalists Carmen Maria Machado and Min Jin Lee; 2017 National Book Award winner and Amherst professor Masha Gessen and her brother, author and n+1 co-founder Keith Gessen; and acclaimed Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. Additional activities included master classes with Díaz, Lee and Machado, a poetry slam by Amherst students, conversations with book editors and with poet Rafael Campo ’87, and tours of the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Junot Diaz in Johnson Chapel

An Evening with Junot Díaz: The festival headline event on March 2 with Díaz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and the international bestsellers Drown and This Is How You Lose Her, included a brief reading and a conversation with Jennifer Acker ’00, editor-in-chief of The Common literary magazine at Amherst, followed by a book signing.

Junto Diaz teaching a Master Class

Master Class: Prior to the event in Johnson Chapel, Junot Díaz hosted the master class “Character, Conflict, World: The Fundaments of Fiction and Their Operations” for Amherst students in the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Carmen Maria Machado and Min Jin Lee

National Book Awards on Campus: The festival kickoff event on March 1 featured readings, a conversation and book signing with 2017 National Book Award finalists Min Jin Lee (top right) and Carmen Maria Machado (bottom right), hosted by Parul Sehgal (bottom left), a book critic at The New York Times. The event was introduced by Jennifer Acker ’00 (top left), editor-in-chief of The Common literary magazine at Amherst, and hosted in partnership with the National Book Foundation as part of the National Book Awards on Campus. 

Min Jin Lee teaching a Master Class

Carmen Maria Machado  teaching a Master Class

Master Classes: The day after their event in Johnson Chapel, Min Jin Lee and Carmen Maria Machado hosted the master classes “Interviewing for Fiction” (Lee) and “The Short Story as Haunted House” (Machado) for Amherst students in the Center for Humanistic Inquiry seminar room.

Publishing panel

Careers in Publishing Workshop: The festival included a new workshop for students interested in writing, editing, publishing and photojournalism careers, hosted in partnership with the Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Planning. The workshop was led by Niko Pfund ’87 (top left, far left), president and publisher at Oxford University Press; Dan Saltzstein ’95 (bottom left), an editor for The New York Times travel section; and Phoebe Yeh ’84 (top right), vice president and publisher of Penguin Random House’s Crown Books for Young Readers.

Poetry Slam

Poetry Slam: Amherst students shared personal and provocative poems during a poetry slam hosted by Daniel Gallant, executive director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, in the Powerhouse on March 1. Deborah Williams ’20 (top left) took first place, Olusade Green ’20 (top middle) came in second and Bao Tran Tran ’18 (top right) came in third.

Cullen Murphy, Masha Gessen and Keith Gessen

Writing in America: Award-winning author and Amherst professor Masha Gessen (top left) and her brother, author and n+1 co-founder Keith Gessen (top right), were hosted in conversation by Cullen Murphy ’74 (bottom left), Vanity Fair’s editor at large and chair of the College’s board of trustees, on March 3 in Johnson Chapel.

Touring the Emily Dickinson Museum

Emily Dickinson and her Amherst Literary Milieu, Walking Tour: On Saturday morning, festival goers gathered at the Emily Dickinson Museum for a tour of the Homestead and the Evergreens.

Rafael Campo

Poets of Amherst: Professor of English Amelia Worsley hosted a conversation with alumni poet and doctor Rafael Campo ’87, which included a tribute to Richard Wilbur ’42, in the Center for Humanistic Inquiry.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

This Time Tomorrow: The festival came to a close on March 3 with renowned Kenyan author Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o (top left) hosted in conversation by Visiting Writer Peter Kimani (top right, middle). The event marked Ngũgĩ’s 80th birthday and culminated with surprise birthday cake for all to share. Members of the Amherst College Gospel Choir led a round of “Happy Birthday” in English and two celebration songs in Kikuyu.


Read more about LitFest 2018 in our cover story, and see videos of some of the speakers (videos require Amherst login).