The College’s literary festival turns 5 this month, and to celebrate, we asked Jennifer Acker ’00, editor-in-chief of The Common and the festival’s lead organizer, to pick her favorite moments from prior years of LitFest.

LitFest began in 2016 as a partnership between the College, The Common and the National Book Foundation, then headed by Harold Augenbraum, who instigated the collaboration. 

LitFest 2020 will take place Feb. 27 to March 1, featuring National Book Award winners Jesmyn Ward and Susan Choi, National Book Award finalist Laila Lalami and memoirist Ben Rhodes, among others.

Acker's Favorite Five:

Six people posing together 3 sitting on a couch, 3 standing, all holding books and smiling

Number 1: At the very first LitFest, College Photographer Maria Stenzel asked those of us participating in the debut event (President Biddy Martin, me, novelists Lauren Groff ’01 and Angela Flournoy, and editor Harold Augenbraum) to gather around a couch holding books to take a series of posed and candidly silly pictures. Books were upside down, everyone was laughing, and I was in happy shock: this dream of a festival was really happening--and there would be photographic evidence to prove it! (Photo by: Maria Stenzel)

Zadie Smith and Jennifer Acker on stage in Johnson Chapel

Number 2: Interviewing the novelist and essayist Zadie Smith was one of the highlights of my literary life, but I was so nervous that afterward, I could hardly remember a thing she said, though I do remember laughing a lot. (Photo by Jonathan Jackson ’18)

Cullen Murphy and Doris Kearns Goodwin

Number 3: The audience was charmed by presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin and her rapid-fire storytelling about Lyndon Johnson and other political figures. She hardly stopped to take a breath, and we were rapt from start to finish. (Photo by David Le ’16E)

Ngugu wa Thiong'o receives a surprise birthday cake from two Amherst College students

Number 4: Toward the end of the conversation with author Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who visited around the time of his 80th birthday, students from the Amherst Gospel Choir burst out from the back doors of Johnson Chapel and broke into glorious Kikuyu song, singing and clapping, enlivening the whole room. And then birthday cake was served. (Photo by Takudzwa Tapfuma ’17)

Min Jin Lee poses for a selfie with a woman

Number 5: In describing how she came to fiction writing later in life, novelist Min Jin Lee said that in college she’d been intimidated because “English majors had the best hair.” Amherst fell in love with her, then hired her(Photo by Takudzwa Tapfuma ’17)