Literary musing and gatherings: Amherst College host its ninth annual LitFest this weekend








Staff Writer

Published: 02-23-2024 9:55 PM

Amherst College has sent many a successful writer into the world, or brought them in to teach: David Foster Wallace, Robert Frost, Richard Wilbur, Robert Stone, Lauren Groff, Chris Bohjalian, Charles Mann and many others.

That legacy will be celebrated again this weekend when LitFest, the college’s annual literary festival, returns for its ninth iteration, bringing acclaimed and up-and-coming writers to campus to talk about their craft and celebrate fiction, nonfiction, poetry and more.

With a number of events taking place Feb. 23-25 on campus, this year’s guests include Justin Torres, the 2023 National Book Award winner for fiction (“Blackouts”); Ed Yong, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer for The Atlantic; and, in a bit of a departure, Aparna Nancherla, a 2005 Amherst graduate and a comedian, writer and actor.

Also appearing will be Natasha Trethewey, a former poet laureate of the United States (2012-2014) and Pulitzer Prize winner, and Ilya Kaminsky, a Ukrainian-American poet who’s been a finalist for a National Book Award and a semifinalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.

The events are free and almost all are open to the public, including a discussion on Feb. 23 at 5 p.m. in Johnson Chapel that will include Torres, Paul Harding (the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction), and Amelia Worsley, assistant professor of English at Amherst.

The festival is sponsored in part by The Common, the college’s literary magazine, and a number of interns with the journal will give readings on Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. in Frost Library along with three “Amherst Alumni” authors: Lisa Biggs, Blair Kamin and Anne Pierson Wiese.

LitFest started as a collaboration between The Common, the college and the National Book Foundation, which presents the annual National Book Awards and also brings nominees and winners of those awards to colleges to speak. (That program is called the National Book Awards on Campus.)

Additional sponsors of this year’s LitFest include the college’s Center for Humanistic Inquiry and the Emily Dickinson Museum.

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LitFest concludes on Feb. 25 at 5 p.m. in Johnson Chapel with a conversation between Nancherla and Jennifer Acker, Amherst class of 2000 and the editor in chief of The Common.

Nancherla, who in 2017 was named one of Rolling Stone’s “50 Funniest People Right Now,” has written for shows such as “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” acted in a number of TV series, and has now published “Unreliable Narrator: Me, Myself, and Imposter Syndrome,” a memoir and essay collection that touches on her struggles with depression and anxiety.

As the New York Times wrote about her in a profile last fall, Nancherla is “expert at turning … pain into punchlines,” relating how the comedian told one audience that she’d “been on so many different meds that at this point I’ve basically donated my body to science.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at