The 9th Annual PEN World Voices Festival is almost here. If you’re in the NYC area then you definitely should try to attend some of the events. It’s my favorite kind of literary festival: one that highlights authors from foreign countries whose work is available to us only through the act of translation.
The PEN Literary Safari is not to be missed. Author readings are hosted in the studios of the legendary artist community known as the Westbeth Artist Housing. Last year I heard Elias Khoury read from his novel As Though She Were Sleeping (crowded into a small room with dozens of other attendees – a classic New York experience), and caught the tail end of Wojciech Jagielski answering questions about his book The Night Wanderers: Uganda’s Children and the Lord’s Resistance Army. This year’s authors include Michal Ajvaz, Nadeem Aslam, Dror Burstein, Gillian Clarke, Mia Couto, Natalio Hernández, Nick Holdstock, Randa Jarrar, Jaime Manrique, Margie Orford, Jordi Puntí, Noémi Szécsi, Kho Tararith and Padma Venkatraman – with more names to come. The PEN Literary Safari takes place on Friday, May 3rd at 6:30PM.
Braver is thee theme of the 2013 Festival. “Events throughout the week will focus on individual bravery in settings as diverse as Guantanamo, Burma, and Palestine. Expert panels will examine writers’ impact on political transformations in recent global hot spots and in a variety of other contexts.” They had me at Guantanamo.
Another highlight of the festival will be a reimagining of the “Invisible Symposium” initiated by the European School, a group of dissident Hungarian artists in 1947. Seeking solidarity with the rest of Europe, the European School mailed a set of questions on art and politics to fellow artists, writers, and philosophers; their answers were then collected and published as an imagined dialogue. For PEN’s inaugural Invisible Symposium, sixteen intellectuals from around the world—including Margaret Atwood, Garry Kasparov, Naomi Klein, Julia Kristeva, Ai Weiwei, Shirin Ebadi, and Cornel West—have been invited to answer a set of questions on modern democracy. Their responses will be molded into a cohesive script which actors will perform in a staged reading at the Festival, as if the respondents were gathered in the same room to argue their opinions. The result will be a dramatic virtual dialogue among some of the most extraordinary minds of our time.
I just got back from Washington, D.C. – where I saw the Ai Weiwei exhibit “According to What?” at the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden. That, and the documentary “Never Sorry”, have converted me. Count me a fan. So to say that I’m excited to see him that he’s taking part in the symposium, even in absentia, is the understatement of the year. (Quick side note: I’ll be posting some more photos of the exhibit over the weekend).
A partial schedule of events are posted at the PEN America website. I recommend checking back regularly. If last year was a gauge, they’ll be consistently updating and adding events in the weeks approaching the actual festival.