This event, marking its fifth year, will also feature award-winning authors Susan Choi and Laila Lalami and former Obama Deputy National Security Advisor and best-selling writer Ben Rhodes.

Featured book covers for authors participating in LitFest 2020

(AMHERST, Mass., Dec. 5, 2019)—Amherst College will host LitFest 2020, its annual literary festival celebrating fiction, nonfiction, poetry and spoken-word performance, from Feb. 27 to March 1. The event will feature readings, conversations and book signings with, among others, Jesmyn Ward, winner of a 2017 National Book Award (NBA) for fiction; 2019 NBA fiction winner Susan Choi and fiction finalist Laila Lalami; and memoirist Ben Rhodes, former speechwriter and deputy national security advisor to President Barack Obama. The festival takes place on the Amherst College campus and is free and open to the public. 

LitFest, now in its fifth year, builds literary community among students, faculty, staff and the public, and gives members of Amherst’s very diverse student body opportunities to engage directly with renowned authors whose perspectives and texts can inform and inspire their own. These role models and connections are an outgrowth of a literary publishing internship with the College’s own award-winning literary magazine, The Common, which celebrates its 10th publishing year in 2020. The internship provides hands-on publishing experience for Amherst students year-round. 

Details about the main LitFest 2020 events are below, and the full festival schedule is available online at amherst.edu/go/litfest.

NBF Presents A Conversation with 2019 Fiction Winner Susan Choi and Finalist Laila Lalami

Friday, Feb. 28, 7:30–9 p.m.
As part of the NBF Presents (formerly the National Book Awards on Campus) program—a partnership between the National Book Foundation, Amherst College and The Common—the festival will host readings and a conversation with Choi, who won the NBA in fiction this year for her novel Trust Exercise, and Lalami, who was a finalist in the same category for The Other Americans. The event will be followed by an audience Q&A and book signing with both authors. 

Headline Event: An Afternoon with Jesmyn Ward

Saturday, Feb. 29, 4–5:30 p.m.
Ward, two-time winner of the NBA for Fiction—in 2011 for Salvage the Bones and in 2017 for Sing, Unburied, Sing—will give a reading, followed by a conversation hosted by Amherst College alumna and The Common editor-in-chief Jennifer Acker ’00. The event will be followed by an audience Q&A and book signing with Ward.

Writing the White House: An Insider’s Account

Sunday, March 1, 2020, 1–2:30 p.m.

Obama aide Ben Rhodes, author of the best-selling memoir The World As It Is, and his Random House editor Andy Ward ’94, will participate in a conversation with The Atlantic’s Cullen Murphy ’74, part of an ongoing series of editor-author conversations in memory of Richard Todd ’62, renowned editor, writer and founding member of The Common’s editorial board. The event will be followed by an audience Q&A and book signing.

Additional LitFest 2020 events include conversations with local poet Karen Skolfield, whose new collection Battle Dress investigates the life of a female U.S. soldier; a Spoken-Word Slam for Amherst College students; and free public tours of the Emily Dickinson Museum, adjacent to the Amherst campus. The festival is organized by the Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Amherst College, The Common and the Emily Dickinson Museum.

More than 20 renowned writers—including Mark Bowden, Michael Chabon, Jennifer Egan, Masha Gessen, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stacy Schiff and Zadie Smith—have traveled to campus for LitFest since its inception in 2016. Many of those writers were recruited for the event as a result of a partnership between Amherst College, The Common and the NBF Presents program. The NBA authors who have participated in the initiative over its five years include Lauren Groff ’01 (nominated for Fates and Furies in 2015 and Florida in 2018), Angela Flournoy (nominated for The Turner House in 2015) and Brandon Hobson (nominated for Where the Dead Sit Talking in 2018), to name just a few.

About LitFest 

In addition to welcoming prestigious writers to campus, LitFest aims to illuminate Amherst’s distinguished literary history and the tradition of creative writing at the College, as well as the extraordinary resources and opportunities available for current and prospective students, scholars and others. These opportunities include chances to study with renowned faculty and alumni authors; the College’s award-winning literary magazine, The Common, and its Literary Publishing Internship that teaches participating students editorial skills and the ins and outs of publishing; extensive holdings of manuscripts related to Emily Dickinson, Richard Wilbur ’42 and other authors and poets in the College’s archives; and the College-owned Emily Dickinson Museum in downtown Amherst and Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Read more at amherst.edu/go/writingcollege.