The Common in the City

1. The Common Issue 01’s iconic red cover. 2. Sarah Greenblatt and George and Janeen Carabetta, friends of The Common.

I met Jennifer Acker, editor of literary journal The Common, at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball in 2011. Then, The Common had one issue to its name, a powerhouse with a fork on its red cover. Any upcoming events for the journal at that point were to be held in Amherst, Massachusetts, where The Common, and Acker, and are based. She promised that a New York party was a future order of business.

1. Gabriele Wilson of Gabriele Wilson Designs, responsible for all of The Common covers, with Christian DeBenedetti, man behind, and Knopf editor Diana Coglianese. 2. Nishi Shah, Jen Acker’s husband, and NYU professor David Velleman.

1. Acker and her fans. 2. More fans.

Acker is a woman of her word. Friends and fans gathered at 20 Cooper Square on Wednesday to toast The Common’s first year of publication. It was as elegant a birthday party as any New York debutante could hope to be thrown. Trays of coupe glasses brimming with pink something moved around the room. Cocktail dresses and ties outnumbered jeans and tees. More than one person commented that it felt a little like the wedding reception for your favorite couple — with one Ted Conover assuming the role of best man. More on that soon.

1. Acker and Ted Conover enjoy a pre-podium laugh. 2. Caroline Shepard, fellow Electric Lit lady Courtney Maum, and Rob Spillman, co-founder and editor of Tin House.

1. Before the mayhem. 2. Crowd.

The Common is still young, but it has an old soul. It’s dedicated to publishing writing and images that evoke a sense of place and time — as so many seminal authors are known to do and have done. The Common’s pages have been graced with fiction from Fiona Maazel and Lauren Groff, poetry from Mary Jo Salter and Tom Sleigh, and, yes, an essay from Ted Conover, also a member of the editorial board. It was he who gave Jen Acker one of the most glowing introductions I’ve ever heard, kicking off the night’s short podium program. Acker shared a few revelations from year one of publishing The Common, and introduced Stephen O’Connor, who read from his piece “Double Life,” of The Common Issue 03. If you have the chance to hear O’Connor read, please do it. His story was rich and salty, including but not limited to a boy who claims to have slept with his sister, a girl who claims to be a sharpshooter of dogs (this thankfully turns out not to be true), and descriptions of Fire Island vivid enough to make you feel the sun beat down on your brow. O’Connor also has a terrific arsenal of New York accents.

1. NYU VP Kitty Bridges with Amherst alums Alison Thaler and Alan Yuhas. 2. Actor Andrew Kelsey repping the goods of the evening.

1. Ted Conover. 2. Jennifer Acker.

Up until now, this is all sounding like a very lovely and normal literary event. Were it to stay that way, guests would have continued to mingle and slowly trickled out after the reading. Instead, in O’Connor’s words, “I’ve never opened for a band before. This is a first.” The band was The Dog House Band, a.k.a. an ensemble of rock stars who masquerade by day as famous writers. David Gates sings. Sven Birkerts plays guitar. James Wood plays the drums. Did you get that? In case not, again: James Wood. Plays. The. Drums.

1. Stephen O’Connor reads from his piece, “Double Life” in The Common’s latest issue. 2. The Dog House Band!

1. There you have it. James Wood on the drums. 2. Dance on, Jennifer Acker. You deserve it.

No good birthday party is complete without some shameless dancing. What happened there shall stay there, but suffice to say that certain silver fox writers have got some serious moves. If this was only The Common’s first New York party, we should all hold our breath and pray for invites to the sweet sixteen.


– Kai Twanmoh lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan. She is sometimes here.

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