Minimal Ersatz: André Aciman and The Common in the City

At this year’s The Common in the City celebration (hosted by the Amherst, MA-based journal and held on the seventh floor of NYU’s august Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute), commoners and royalty alike gathered to hear live jazz, bid on justifiably-pricy artwork, and listen to André Aciman read from his new novel Harvard Square, a novel that speaks to the intersection of place and identity.

1. The Common Editor Jennifer Acker, contributor Amy Brill 2. Beats: NYC Hot 3

Aciman — who’s published both fiction and memoir — opened with a note on his uneasy relationship with autobiographical writing. “Once you write something,” he posited, “you don’t know if you made it up or if it happened.” His excerpt introduced listeners to the conman-like Kalaj, who, says Aciman, has no education but is “an encyclopedia of notions.” With a keen ear for the well-crafted rant, Aciman charmed the crowd with Kalaj’s manic take on American exceptionalism and excess, with our mad needs for what he calls “jumbo ersatz.”

1. Matt Weiland, Paul Morris & André Aciman 2. Emma Patterson, Jody Klein (Brandt & Hockman) & Maya Ziv (HarperCollins)

The line became the night’s de facto catch phrase, but the party’s tone was one of humility and community, not hubris. “One odd thing about the lit world is that you can work with people for many months and still never meet! An event like this confronts that,” said Sonya Chung, The Common’s Associate Editor. “It’s an odd challenge, especially for a publication so focused on place.”


–Jake Zucker is the Editorial Assistant for Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and wears sunglasses on the net.

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