Benefit recap

Last night, a varied lineup of terrific writers celebrated the journal and helped us raise money to keep it going. The benefit was recorded, and I’ll link to the audio here after it becomes available. In the meantime, here’s a short recap.

After an introduction from M Mark, the journal’s editor, Francine Prose and Lydia Davis began the evening by reading translated pieces from PEN America 6: Metamorphoses: Prose read “Canned Foreign,” by Yoko Tawada, translated by Susan Bernofsky, and Lydia Davis read “Borges and I,” by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by James Irby. Both Prose and Davis are terrific readers, and they each captured the sly intelligence and wit of their respective readings.

They were followed by Edward Albee and Sarah Ruhl, who together read a comic scene from Petr Zelenka’s play Theremin that was published in PEN America 8: Making Histories. Albee introduced Ruhl as a “fine American dramatist,” then added, “I also write plays,” before launching into his spirited interpretation of Léon Sergeivich Theremin.

Albee and Ruhl were followed by Ron Chernow, who commented briefly on the PEN Prison Writing Program before reading a lyrical excerpt from “Hook Island Traveler,” by Chris Everley, which is in our most recent issue.

Nathan Englander and Deborah Eisenberg came out together -- in symbolic honor of PEN’s commitment to fostering literary fellowhip -- and read pieces by George Saunders (“Realist Fiction”) and Etgar Keret (“Rachamim and the Worm Man (An Evil Story),” which will be in issue #10), two smart and funny writers whose conversation with each other was published in Making Histories.

To close the evening, André Aciman read from “Baghdad, Damascus, Atlanta,” an essay by Ahmed Ali, and Anthony Appiah read two poems by Fady Joudah before thanking everyone for coming and making an eloquent argument for the importance of PEN’s mission and the journal’s role in forwarding it.Great thanks to all the readers and everyone who joined us.


Benefit on Tuesday, and other news

A reminder: André Aciman, Edward Albee, Anthony Appiah, Ron Chernow, Lydia Davis, Deborah Eisenberg, Nathan Englander, Francine Prose, Sarah Ruhl, and others will be at Cooper Union this Tuesday at 7 p.m. Readings from PEN America will be followed by a reception. We'd love to see you there.

Tickets here, full info here.

If you have not already signed the petition to free Liu Xiaobo -- prominent dissident writer and former president and current board member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, who has been detained since December -- please consider doing so.

Margaret Atwood, a Vice President of International PEN, has pulled out of an international book festival in Dubai, after the festival director cancelled the formal launch there of The Gulf Between Us, "a romantic comedy by the English writer Geraldine Bedell which is set in a fictional Gulf emirate." The book features a gay relationship, and the festival director believes it "could offend certain cultural sensitivities."

The Best Translated Book Awards have been announced. Tranquility by Attila Bartis, translated from the Hungarian by Imre Goldstein and published by Archipelago Books, won the fiction award, and the nod in poetry went to the wonderfully titled For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut by Takashi Hiraide, translated from the Japanese by Sawako Nakayasu and published by New Directions.

Also at the Open Letter blog, Chad Post notes this story, via Language Log, about the 20-year prison sentences given to two men in Kabul for publishing a translation of the Quran in an Afghan language without including the original Arabic verses. The owner of the print shop that published the book received 15 months in months in prison, which he has already served, reduced from an original five-year sentence.

Update: Jane Ciabattari, PEN member and NBCC president, talks with M Mark, the editor of PEN America, here, on the occasion of the benefit and the awarding of the NBCC's Sandrof award for lifetime achievement to PEN American Center.


Our contributors elsewhere

Rabih Alameddine, whose most recent book, The Hakawati, depicted -- among many other things -- the return of a Lebanese-American man to Beirut to see his dying father, contributes to the Granta series devoted to writers and their fathers. Rabih's conversation with Aleksandar Hemon ran in PEN America 9: Checkpoints, along with an excerpt from The Hakawati. In fact, their conversation was, along with Fady Joudah's poems, one of the inspirations for the issue's title:
HEMON: This idea of keeping death at bay with narration—its model is The Thousand and One Nights. And it suggests that storytelling is an affirmation of life. And I mean the basic fact of life—if you can tell stories, you are alive.

ALAMEDDINE: Yes. We are both from what I call “death on the shoulder” cultures. Many of my relatives saved themselves by entertaining people with guns. You get stopped at checkpoints; one cousin of mine knew she was going to die so she started talking to them. “I grew up in such and such a village,” and so on. She started telling her story very quickly—and they let her pass.

Continuing on this theme: The New York Times book blog Paper Cuts recently suggested a reading list devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, over at the VQR blog, Michael Lukas suggests some literary additions, including books by PEN America contributors Etgar Keret, David Grossman, and Mahmoud Darwish.

And in the Guardian, Pankaj Mishra seconds the Grossman recommendation. You can read Grossman's Freedom to Write lecture, from the 2007 World Voices Festival, here.

(Photo of Alameddine, above, by Beowulf Sheehan.)


Later this month...

A couple days after our benefit (now on Facebook; tickets here), the Festival of New French Writing (February 26-28) will take place at NYU. An eclectic group of major French writers in one-on-one conversations with leading American writers -- and it's all free.

A few highlights:

Emmanuel Carrère
& Francine Prose; Marie Darrieussecq & Adam Gopnik; David Foenkinos & Stefan Merrill Block; Bernard-Henri Lévy & Mark Danner; Abdourahman Waberi & Philip Gourevitch; Olivier Rolin & E.L. Doctorow; Marjane Satrapi & Chris Ware.

Pictured left: Henri-Levy, Darrieusecq, and Marie N'Diaye.

More info at www.nyu.edu/info/fas/ms1176.