LitFest 2019

LitFest: Illuminating Great writing and Amherst College’s Literary Life

Wednesday, February 27–Saturday, March 2, 2019, at Amherst College

LitFest author book covers

Now in its fourth year, Amherst’s annual literary festival celebrates the College’s extraordinary literary life by bringing to campus distinguished authors and editors to share and discuss the pleasures and challenges of verbal expression—from fiction and nonfiction, to poetry and spoken-word performance. 

This year’s festival features Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction author Elizabeth Kolbert, award-winning science writer Charles C. Mann ’76, and 2018 National Book Award for Fiction finalists Jamel Brinkley and Brandon Hobson, among others. 

The schedule is below, followed by biographies of each guest. All events are free and open to the public, no tickets required.



Literary Amherst: An exhibition celebrating Amherst College’s literary past and present
On view February 1 through March 3
Frost Library


Spoken Word Slam for Amherst Students
Host: Daniel Gallant
8–10 p.m.
The Powerhouse


National Book Awards on Campus: A Conversation with 2018 Fiction Finalists Jamel Brinkley and Brandon Hobson
Host: Rebecca Carroll
7:30–9 p.m.
Johnson Chapel*
Hosted in partnership with the National Book Foundation. Followed by Q&A and book signing.


Emily Dickinson Museum Tours
11:30 am, 12:30 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm
Emily Dickinson Museum

A Conversation with Rebecca Carroll
Host: Darryl Harper ’90
10–11 a.m.
Frost Library, Center for Humanistic Inquiry (2nd floor)
Followed by Q&A. Light refreshments served.

An Evening with Jennifer Egan
Host: Jennifer Acker ’00
7:30–9 p.m.
Johnson Chapel*
Followed by Q&A and book signing.


Emily Dickinson Museum Tours
9:30 am, 11:30 am, 12:30 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm
Emily Dickinson Museum

Poets of Amherst: A Conversation with Shayla Lawson and Nuar Alsadir ’92
Host: Jane Wald
10–11:30 a.m.
Frost Library, Center for Humanistic Inquiry (2nd floor)
Light refreshments served. 

The Once and Future Planet: Science Journalism in the 21st Century with Charles Mann '76 and Elizabeth Kolbert
Host: Cullen Murphy ’74
1–2:30 p.m.
Johnson Chapel*
Followed by Q&A and book signing.

*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 magazine. Her short stories, essays, translations and reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Literary Hubn+1, GuernicaPloughshares and other places. Forthcoming from Amazon Original Stories in 2019 is a long personal essay. She has an M.F.A. in fiction and literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars and teaches literature and editing at Amherst College, where she also directs the Literary Publishing Program. Her debut novel, The Limits of the World, will be published in April 2019.

Nuar Alsadir

Nuar Alsadir ’92 is a poet, essayist and psychoanalyst. She is the author of the poetry collections Fourth Person Singular, a finalist for the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and shortlisted for the 2017 Forward Prize for Best Collection in England and Ireland; and More Shadow Than Bird. Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Granta, BOMB, The New York Times Magazine, The Kenyon ReviewPloughshares and Poetry London. She is a fellow at The New York Institute for the Humanities and works as a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York.


Jamel Brinkley is the author of A Lucky Man: Stories, a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction. His writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Best American Short Stories 2018A Public Space, Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, The Threepenny Review, Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Tin House and other places. He is a graduate of Columbia University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford University.


Rebecca Carroll is a cultural critic and the editor of special projects at WNYC and a critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times. She is the author of several books about race and blackness in America, including 1997’s Sugar in the Raw. She is currently at work on her memoir, Surviving the White Gaze, due out from Simon & Schuster in 2020.


Jennifer Egan is the author of Manhattan Beach, which was awarded the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Her previous novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award. She is also the author of The Invisible Circus, a novel which became a feature film starring Cameron Diaz in 2001; Look at Me, a finalist for the 2001 National Book Award for Fiction; Emerald City and Other Stories; and The Keep. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, GQ, Zoetrope, All-Story and Ploughshares, and her nonfiction appears frequently in The New York Times Magazine. She lives with her husband and sons in Brooklyn.

Portrait of Daniel Gallant

Daniel Gallant is the executive director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, the author of the short story collection Determined to Prove and the recipient of a 2016 Eisenhower Fellowship. He is also a playwright, theatrical producer, actor and teacher. His plays and monologues have appeared in five separate volumes of Hal Leonard’s Best American Short Plays anthology series, as well as anthologies from Vintage Books and Theater Communications Group. Daniel previously served as the director of theater and talk programming at the 92nd Street Y’s Makor and Tribeca centers. He has been featured in The New York TimesCrain’s New York, the Daily NewsNew York magazine and Voice of America; and on MTV, NBC, NY1, CBS, NPR, Univision, the BBC and other networks.

A portrait of Darryl Harper

Darryl Harper ’90 is a jazz musician interested in how race, culture, and political economy intersect with music. Harper has performed as a jazz clarinetist in venues around the world. His credits include opening concerts for Max Roach, the Billy Taylor Trio, and the Wynton Marsalis Quartet, as well as dates with Orrin Evans, Tim Warfield, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Carla Cook, Roscoe Mitchell, Dave Holland, Uri Caine, and Regina Carter. Harper has led the small jazz ensemble The Onus since 1996. His projects as a leader also include the C3 Project, a multi-media presentation of music, video, dance and poetry. Harper is an Associate Professor in the Department of Music at Amherst and the incoming director of the Center for Humanistic Inquiry (CHI).


Brandon Hobson is the author of Where the Dead Sit Talking, a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award for Fiction, and other books. He has won a Pushcart Prize, and his work has appeared in magazines such as The Believer, The Paris Review Daily, Conjunctions, NOON, Post Road and other places. He holds a Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University and is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation Tribe of Oklahoma. He teaches writing in Oklahoma, where he lives with his wife and two children.


Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer for The New Yorker. Her most recent book, The Sixth Extinction, received the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2015. She is a two-time National Magazine Award winner, and has received a Heinz Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Academies communications award. Kolbert is a visiting fellow at the Center for Environmental Studies at Williams College.

Shayla Lawson

Shayla Lawson is the author of three collections of poetry, including the recently-released I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean. Her work has appeared in print and online at Tin House, GRAMMA, ESPN, Salon, The Offing, Guernica, Colorado Review, Barrelhouse and MiPOesias. She has been awarded fellowships and residences from the Oregon Literary, MacDowell Colony, Yaddo and RACC. She is a member of The Affrilachian Poets and works on The Tenderness Project. She is currently a writer-in-residence at Amherst College.

Charles Mann

Charles C. Mann ’76’s most recent book is The Wizard and the Prophet. His previous books include 1493, a New York Times best-seller, and 1491, winner of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Keck award for the best book of the year. A correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, Science and Wired, he has covered the intersection of science, technology and commerce for many newspapers and magazines here and abroad. In addition to 1491, he has co-written four other books, television scripts for HBO and Law and Order, and the texts for museum exhibits and Native American cultural centers. A graduate of Amherst College, he now lives, somewhat to his surprise, in Amherst, Mass.


Cullen Murphy ’74 is Editor at Large of The Atlantic, where he has spent most of his career, and a former Editor at Large of Vanity Fair. His most recent book is Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe, a memoir about the large cartoonist colony in Fairfield County, Connecticut. His other books include Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America and God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World. For twenty-five years he collaborated with his father, the illustrator John Cullen Murphy, on the comic strip Prince Valiant. Murphy, who graduated from Amherst in 1974, was a longtime member of the College's board of trustees and was the chair of the board from 2012 to 2018. He lives in Massachusetts. 

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 publications have focused on the cultural and material context of Dickinson’s life and work. She holds an AB from Bryn Mawr College, an MA from Princeton University and completed advanced study at the College of William and Mary.

LitFest 2019 is sponsored by The Common magazine, The Emily Dickinson Museum and the Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Amherst College. It 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 publicity to the College by virtue of the renown of speakers underwritten by the fund.