World Voices, ideological exclusion, and other news from PEN

On Wednesday, the program for this year's World Voices festival, Evolution/Revolution, will be unveiled. Stay tuned. (And save the dates: April 27 - May 3.)

On Tuesday, an Appeals Court will hear a challenge to the exclusion of Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan from the U.S. Ramadan was invited by PEN to the 2006 World Voices festival, but was not allowed in the country (picture to the right shows the 10-minute video he sent in his place). PEN has joined 59 other organizations in sending a letter to members of the Obama administration urging an end to the practice of refusing visas to foreign writers, intellectuals, and activists based on their ideas and political views.

The letter (PDF) calls on Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to abandon ideological exclusion, which was prevalent during the Cold War and which was revived by the Bush administration after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. That practice, in the opinion of PEN, violates the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens to engage with a full range of information and ideas. The letter notes the damage done to America’s reputation during the Cold War by excluding such writers as Gabriel García Marquez, Mahmoud Darwish, Pablo Neruda, and (as mentioned before on this blog) Doris Lessing.

Lastly, the online translation slam that's part of PEN.org's annual translation feature has generated some nice commentary (scroll down; and thank you, Chad Post, for helping to spread the word). Inspired by live translation slams that have been big hits at the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival and also at PEN World Voices, the online translation slam juxtaposes two “competing” translations of a single work. For the inaugural installment, translators test their linguistic and literary mettle on 暮色, a poem by Chinese writer Xi Chuan. Check it out.

Update: Some more details about Ramadan, courtesy of PEN's Freedom to Write director, Larry Siems: Ramadan was able to travel freely to the United States up until 2003, the last time at the invitation of Bill Clinton. He was on his way to accept a tenured professorship at Notre Dame when he learned his visa had been cancelled. The government first said he'd been excluded under a Patriot Act provision denying entry to those who "endorse or espouse terrorism." The government has since withdrawn that claim and offered a series of other explanations.


Our next issue, and other notes

Things have gotten busy here as we finish our tenth issue. It’s going to be full of great stuff, including:

    An excerpt from the funny, smart, and heartbreaking play “Autobiography of a Terrorist,” by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, whose memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free comes out this month. Read a short interview with Saïd (via Maud Newton).

    New fiction by Lydia Davis, Guillermo Fadanelli, Petina Gappah, Etgar Keret, and Hari Kunzru; conversations featuring Umberto Eco, Adam Gopnik, Michael Ondaatje, and Annie Proulx; and much, much more.
Meanwhile, have a look at this article in The National about Saudi Arabian fiction, in which PEN America contributor Yousef Al-Mohaimeed is discussed at some length (via the indispensable Literary Saloon).

And, lastly, watch the complete video of our benefit reading, now up at YouTube. All the readers are terrific, in my biased opinion, but I’ll make two recommendations in particular: Edward Albee and Sarah Ruhl reading from Theremin (12 minutes in), and Nathan Englander reading George Saunders (26 minutes in). Enjoy.


More Etgar Keret

The Israeli writer and filmmaker Etgar Keret, who has attended two World Voices festivals, is a favorite of PEN America -- just last week I mentioned his conversation with George Saunders (from PEN America 8: Making Histories) after Deborah Eisenberg read a story of Etgar's (which will appear in PEN America 10) at our first-ever benefit.

Now, Words Without Borders is discussing Etgar in advance of the next Conversation on Great Contemporary Literature, which will focus on his work and feature internationally acclaimed Hebrew translator Miriam Shlesinger in conversation with prolific essayist and novelist (and cinephile) Phillip Lopate (who is on the advisory board of PEN America). The event is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 5th, at Idlewild Books in NYC.

They'll also be hosting an online book club and are looking for readers to tell them their favorite Keret story. Send submissions to blog@wordswithoutborders.org.

And you should also read Etgar's recent contribution to The New York Times Magazine, pointed out by Maud Newton and Laila Lalami (who, like Etgar, appears in Making Histories).

(Photo above by Beowulf Sheehan.)