On other blogs

The Words Without Borders Book Clubs are back, with a new one devoted to Robert Walser's The Assistant, translated by Susan Bernofsky with a little bit of help from PEN.

Also, the great Luc Sante, who contributed the photograph we used to adorn Etgar Keret's story "Myth Milk" in PEN America 8, has contributed a short piece (with songs) to the wonderful MP3 blog Moistworks, which is connected in some way to the excellent literary magazine Open City.

Sante's own blog, from which the illustration above is taken, is also not to be missed.


World Voices continues; also, Bolaño

Next Tuesday, June 10th, at 7 pm, at Housing Works Used Books Café, PEN World Voices presents the first installment of year-round programming with a special evening of conversation and reading by Uwem Akpan (pictured right). Uwem, a Nigerian writer who now teaches at a Jesuit seminary in Zimbabwe, will read from his debut story collection, Say You're One of Them, and then speak with Anderson Tepper of Vanity Fair.

Uwem (whom you can read online in The New Yorker), read once before at a PEN event, with Nam Le-- whose great (and much deserved) reviews you may have seen lately.

Also, more and more of the audio from World Voices 2008 is becoming available at PEN.org, so you can catch up on the events you missed (or make sure so-and-so really said that). Check back here for updates.

This is World in Translation Month, apparently, and PEN.org is celebrating with new features each week. So, if you aren't one of the lucky ones who received 2666 galleys, you can read some older Bolaño ("Dance Card," from Last Evenings on Earth and Other Stories)

And if you're in Los Angeles this weekend, visit PEN at BookExpo America.


Notes on a Wednesday

After discovering that Barack Obama is a fan of Philip Roth (and David Grossman), Jeffrey Goldberg asked readers for "a couple of paragraphs describing what a Philip Roth-influenced Obama White House would look like." And he's picked a couple of winners.

Rumbles have been brewing in the usually peaceful worlds of literary magazines and literary translation. I'm looking forward to the "mini-manifesto" from VQR editor Ted Genoways.

I'm also looking forward to Franzen's answer.

Our editor, M Mark, is headed to Jamaica this week to participate in the Calabash Literary Festival, which aims to "transform the literary arts in the Caribbean." She'll be joining PEN America 8 contributor Chris Abani, among other great authors, and will be featured on a panel about editing collections.

And the PEN Literary Awards ceremony was a treat. PEN.org should have audio soon. (Photo below by Beowulf Sheehan; that's Jonathan Ames among the winners.)


Ozick headlines PEN reading @ KGB Bar (5/20)

Cynthia Ozick, winner of this year's PEN/Nabokov Award, will read at 7 PM on Tuesday, May 20, at KGB Bar, along with Alex Mindt (Bingham finalist) and Theresa Nelson (Naylor Fellow), in a celebration of the PEN Literary Awards. The evening will be hosted by Elissa Schappell, the chair of the PEN Awards Committee and a co-founder of the great magazine Tin House.

Update: Margaret Jull Costa, who won the PEN Translation Prize for her rendition of The Maias by Eça de Queirós, will also be there.

This event is free and open to the public.

PS. Speaking of Ozick, her recent review of Lionel Trilling's fiction, noted by Scott Esposito, is typically astute.


David Grossman on Israel and Myth

PEN America 8 features a conversation about re-writing myth called “In the Beginning,” with David Grossman, Milton Hatoum, Anne Provoost, and Jeanette Winterson, moderated by Colum McCann. Early on, Grossman (pictured left, in a portrait by Beowulf Sheehan) tells a wonderful story:
Many years ago, when I put my eldest son to bed, I told him, “This is the longest night of the year.” It was the 21st of December. At first light the next day he burst into our room, covered with sweat, and shouted, “Dad, Mom, it’s over! This night is over!” He was like Adam, the first man on Earth, wandering through an endless night, not knowing if the sun would rise again—and how relieved he must have been when the sun rose. The year after that, he told his younger brother, “This is going to be the longest night of the year”—and he said it with an air of indifference. He had found shelter in science and empirical experience. I could not help thinking of him as exiled from the primal, the more loaded feelings one has without this buffering shell, this armor of science and knowledge.

I am sure that my child will eventually look, as we are all looking, for this primal night, when we wandered alone. We look for it in legends, in stories, in myths.
Grossman told this story in April 2006. A few months later, the younger son in the story was killed in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, three days after Grossman—along with Amoz Oz and A.B. Yehosua—held a press conference calling for a cease-fire. Uri Grossman was in a tank struck by a Hezbollah missile.

Grossman spoke of his son’s death in his Freedom to Write Lecture, delivered one year after the conversation quoted above (both events were part of the World Voices festival). I thought of it again while reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s cover story in the current Atlantic Monthly, which divulges that Grossman has finished a novel “about an Israeli soldier, a tank commander, who goes to a big military operation,” and whose “mother has a kind of premonition that he’s going to be killed.” She refuses to “be at home when the army comes to announce the death of her son,” so she “starts a walk across Israel… and she tells the story of her son’s life.” Grossman started writing the novel just before Uri began his military service. According to Goldberg, the novel will be published in Israel this spring, and Goldberg believes it “could have a seismic effect on Israelis, who have, in their 60th year of independence, grown tired of losing their sons to war.”

(Also at The Atlantic, Goldberg interviews Barack Obama, who says that he can “remember reading The Yellow Wind [Grossman’s “exposé of the occupation and its demoralizing effects on Palestinians, and on the Israelis who enforced it”] when it came out,” and that his “intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.”)


Pictures (and a story) from the festival

Funny story: At the short stories event last week, after the readings and the panel discussion, there was a question and answer session. A woman strode to the microphone and lambasted the assumption, which she felt had been reiterated by some of the panelists that afternoon, that the short story is a less important form than the novel. She mentioned having some experience with the form, as well as with novels and films, but no one-- including those on the panel and those who have written (quite thoughtfully, I might add) about the event-- seemed to realize that the woman speaking was Annie Proulx. (In fact, as she walked past my row and back to her seat, a well-meaning audience member sitting by the aisle bucked her up with an encouraging, "Good job," which I thought was awfully nice.)

So check out Beowulf Sheehan's terrific portrait on the left, and watch for her at a literary event near you. (I also appreciated Proulx's generosity in reading, beautifully, work by Aidan Higgins at the big Town Hall event.) And enjoy his lovely portraits of Michael Ondaatje, center, and Rian Malan, too. All these pictures-- and many more from the festival-- have been added to Flickr.

In other news, Paul Verhaeghen, who translated his own Omega Minor into English and won the Independent Foreign Fiction prize, is donating the money to the ACLU, as announced on his blog and reported by Three Percent. His reason: so that the ACLU can use that money "in their legal battles against torture, detainee abuse, and the silence surrounding it." The ACLU has worked closely with PEN in many of its Freedom to Write campaigns, which you can read about here.


World Voices coverage

Two key online venues: the World Voices blogs over at PEN.org, and the MetaxuCafé roundtable: PEN World Voices.

Also, the first audio is already up: Mia Farrow and Bernard-Henri Lévy on the crisis in Darfur; moderated by Dinaw Mengestu.

Update: Over at The Millions, Garth Risk Hallberg has a nice write-up of last night's Town Hall readings: "A crowd representing all ages, income brackets, and nationalities basking in the brilliant comedy of a Hungarian literary genius: isn't this why one moves to the big city?"

And another good write-up of the event, this one from James Marcus.