Leila: Hi, Rahat! We’ve escaped the office for a little bit to talk about why exactly we’re here at NER this summer. We’re having this conversation on the swingset across the street from the NER house. So, you’re from New York, a more exciting city than Middlebury—why did you decide to spend your summer here?
Rahat: I spent last summer at a big (and very cold) Manhattan office where I had to leave a very heavy sweater hung on the back of my chair. My cubicle was right by the coffee so every morning I overheard conversations about people’s kids. The job was great, but I realized that summer that too much screen time was a real thing. Also I don’t recommend taking the subway in the summer—I hated my commute. I needed more green, more warmth, and to be around the environment that Middlebury, VT, creates.
Leila: And how would you describe that environment? Has Middlebury lived up to that ideal this summer?
Rahat: I think I was looking for community. Not necessarily to be a part of it, but to be around it and to witness it. I love what the town has to offer this summer. I love the diversity the language schools students bring. And I love that Carolyn, Eli, and Marcy are such buddies! It’s nice to hear them laughing and to have Gemma the pup around.
Leila: I love Gemma!
Rahat [laughs]: And I think Middlebury has definitely shown me its more vibrant colors this summer. It seems like a totally different space in the winter and during the school year, when I kind of trap myself in the library. It’s nice to be out more and I’ve been spending so much money at the Vermont Book Shop. What about you? Why are you here this summer?
Leila: I’m from a small, rural, New England college town, so for me the draw of being here was less about changing up my physical surroundings and more about filling my summer days with a specifically precious cast of people. And NER fits into that really well, because working here is an opportunity that I’d only have by being in Middlebury. I knew that I wanted to do something with books this summer, and so NER is the perfect way to combine my interests of reading, promoting the accessibility of literature, and drinking coffee all day long!
Rahat: And what are you doing between cups of coffee? How’s the rest of your summer unfolding?
Leila: I’m also working at a retail store in town, and that’s been a super interesting way to learn more about the community of Middlebury beyond the college. Thanks to my coworkers’ tips, I’ve found new swimming spots, outdoor concerts, farmer’s markets, and rummage sales, and an amazing Ethiopian food truck. I’ve also been able to run on my favorite trails when they’re not covered in ice, and I spend a lot of nights involuntarily watching horror movies with my housemates.
Leila: I always lose the movie night vote 5-1, and I’m like, “Midsommar is great but have you guys ever heard of rom-coms?”
Rahat [cackles]: What’s it like living off campus?
Leila: It’s been a ton of fun, and I love being able to engage with the college while still maintaining a sense of independence. Resources like the library and tennis racket rentals are still available to me, but at the end of the day I get to come home to a full house and a kitchen that doesn’t close at 7:30! How is your summer going when you’re not in the office?
Rahat: I’ve been reading a lot. Powering through books and buying more. I’ve also been having friendship versions of summer flings. It’s been exciting getting to know people I don’t normally hang out with during the school year. I met an alum who came back to Vermont to write before she finishes up her second year at an MFA program and it was great to have another person to write with.
Leila: I’m so impressed by how much reading you do on top of all the pieces we look at for the journal!
Rahat: Sis, I’ve gotta find some way to justify the money I’ve spent on books.
Leila [laughs]: Is there a particular work you’ve read in NER that’s stuck with you this summer?
Rahat: Oh, there’s this really great piece by Kim McLarin in NER 38.1. The essay’s titled “Eshu Finds Work” and it’s about her journey with depression as a writer and a woman of color. I’ve been on a mental health reading binge since I read McLarin’s essay. Is there an NER piece you’d recommend if you were trying to convince someone to subscribe to the journal?
Leila: Ooh, that story sounds really good—I’m going to read it as soon as we get back inside. One of my favorite pieces from the magazine is a short story by Janet Towle called “Modal Window”, published in NER 39.2. I think it captures the distinct power of writers really well—the way they can create all of these tiny, vivid worlds for our imaginations to run off into.
Rahat: Did you have any NER exposure before deciding to apply for this internship?
Leila: Yeah, I first looked at the journal my freshman year. I was struck by how fresh and experimental a lot of the published pieces were, and I could tell that the editors at NER were making an effort to champion new and underrepresented voices. That’s a huge factor in why I chose to do this internship: I wanted to see firsthand how literary journals can function as instigators of social change.
Rahat: And we’ve seen just how diverse the pieces can be during our submissions reading group! Being able to peek behind the scenes of a literary journal has been really enlightening. It’s quite a process from the moment a piece gets submitted, then categorized, and eventually read, whether or not it gets published. NER is expanding my perception of what’s possible for writers.
Leila: So are the reading groups your favorite part about being an NER intern?
Rahat: While I love reading the submissions, my favorite intern task is actually editing audio and putting the podcast together. I’m really proud of what we came up with for the next episode in the Vermont Writers Series. I feel like a different part of my brain is coming to life with this new skill.
Leila: Yeah, I totally get that—I had no idea how much creativity and playing around with sound levels goes into making a podcast! That kind of hands-on work is super different from what I do during the school year, when I’m mostly just reading and writing essays for my comparative literature major. Do you feel like your IGS South Asia major fits into your passion for literature, or has this summer been a break from the norm for you, too?
Rahat: Honestly, I haven’t touched my major in a minute. This summer feels like a continuation of the work I’ve been doing since the spring. I took three creative writing classes, one being my independent study. In the other two classes, we’d discuss our writing in a workshop style, which prepared me for the reading group we’ve been a part of this summer.
Leila: You’ll never get tired of discussing other people’s work! Okay, my final question for you: give me two truths and a lie.
Rahat: Yikes, an ice breaker. I’m in an anthology published by Tin House. Uhh, I’ve been arrested for jumping a turnstile. And . . . my face has been on a Times Square billboard.
Leila: Hmm . . . These are tough ones. If I had to guess, I’d say that the lie is being arrested for jumping the turnstile? I don’t know, that seems so dramatic of the MTA . . . like, go fix a train. Was I right?
Rahat: Yaas. You go.
Leila: Wow, I’m impressed by your truths! Okay, let me think . . . all right, here you go: I’ve eaten shark meat and thought it tasted like pork; I’ve been to both Disneyland and Disneyworld two times, and threw up on a ride each time; and I memorized the life cycle of a salmon when I was nine years old.
Rahat: You did not eat shark meat. That’s crazy!
Leila: I did eat shark! I’d never lie about that.
Rahat: Then it’s gotta be the Disneyland thing. I feel like if you go once you’d never go again.
Leila: You got me—I’ve actually never stepped foot on Disney soil.
Rahat: So you’re saying these swings are the wildest ride you’ve ever been on?
Leila: Yeah, I’m honestly feeling that roller-coaster-stomach . . . let’s go back inside.