The Millions

I Have to Write Differently Now: The Millions Interviews Jennifer Acker

Jennifer Acker is one of my dearest friends, so I was thrilled to have the chance to interview her about her debut novel, The Limits of the World. Acker and I have been exchanging writing since our mid-20s, so I come to this interview having read multiple drafts of her book, a multi-generational story centered on Urmila and Premchand Chandaria, emigrants from the Indian-enclave of Nairobi. Like many immigrant parents, they are confused by the choices of their American son, Sunil, who has become, of all things, a PhD candidate in philosophy. They also don’t approve of his girlfriend, Amy, who, unbeknownst to them, is actually his wife. Multiple family secrets come to light over the course of Acker’s novel, which also tells the story of the Chandaria family’s ancestral migration from India to East Africa.

Acker began writing the novel in graduate school, and then spent several years revising it. While working on her novel, she founded the literary magazine The Common, which is now a publication of Amherst College, and which Acker edits, full-time, working with student interns. Although both the magazine and her novel have been met with acclaim, there have been a lot of bumps in the road. Her novel was almost accepted for publication a number of times, an experience which, if you’ve ever been through it, can feel more devastating than an open-and-shut rejection. Acker has also spent the past few years dealing with a chronic illness, ME/CFS, sometimes known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which can leave her exhausted for weeks, and sometimes months. But through focused, efficient efforts, she has continued to edit The Common, and to find time for her own writing projects.

Acker lives in Montague, a small town in Western Massachusetts that is close to Amherst College. She visits New York City often, and travels whenever she can. When I spoke to her over the phone, she was on vacation in Arizona, soaking up some sun before a busy spring of book promotion.

I’d like to start with the story of how your book came to be published. Because I know, as your friend, that you had a lot of near-misses, and I think for readers, it would be a really interesting story—and I personally need the refresh, because

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