PEN Forum on Iran: July 15, 7 pm

On Wednesday, July 15, PEN American Center will co-sponsor a forum on Iran with The New York Review of Books and the 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center.

Shaul Bakhash, a leading expert on Iran and frequent contributor to the NYRB will moderate a panel featuring Roger Cohen, who recently returned to the U.S. after covering the Iranian elections for The New York Times; Haleh Esfandiari, who directs the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and who was imprisoned in Iran in 2007; and Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

More details below.

PEN American Center, The New York Review of Books and 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center




With Shaul Bakhash, Roger Cohen, Haleh Esfandiari, and Karim Sadjadpour

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

With traditional media shut down, it is increasingly difficult to follow events on the ground and behind the scenes in Iran. What is happening in heavily censored Iran today? And where are today's events taking this country of 70 million people (two-thirds of whom are under the age of 30)? Do not miss this extraordinary opportunity to hear real stories from the streets of Iran and a discussion led by experts on the future of this complex country.

WHO: Shaul Bakhash, Roger Cohen, Haleh Esfandiari, and Karim Sadjadpour

Wednesday, July 15, 2009, 7:00 p.m.

WHERE: 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center, 1395 Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street

TICKETS: $15/$8 for students with ID, PEN members, and NYRB subscribers, www.smarttix.com or call 212 868 4444.


Our contributors elsewhere

James Wood -- whose essay “Virginia Woolf’s Forgetful Selves,” appeared in our first issue -- reviews Shahriar Mandanipour’s novel Censoring an Iranian Love Story in this week’s New Yorker. Mandanipour’s book, which has not been published in Iran, is, in Wood’s words,
not simply prohibited by censorship but made by it. For Mandanipour, the censor is a kind of co-writer of the book, and he appears often in this novel, under the alias of Porfiry Petrovich (the detective who chases Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov). We see him squabbling with Mandanipour, chatting to another Iranian writer, plotting alternative stories for Dara and Sara, striking out offensive phrases, and finally falling in love with Sara.

Mandanipour hinted at the story of Dara and Sara in a talk, “The Life of a Word,” published in PEN America 8: Making Histories.

Petina Gappah, whose story “Rosie’s Bridegroom” appears in our latest issue, also has a story in issue 8 of A Public Space, entitled “The Mupandawana Dancing Champion.” Both stories are available online. You should also check out Petina’s blog.

Jeremy Schmall, whose poem “The Functioning Synapse Papered Over” appears in our latest issue, has written an essay about poetry and capitalism for HTML Giant.

Finally, Toni Morrison talks about free expression and the essay collection Burn This Book, which she edited, and which was published by HarperStudio in conjunction with PEN American Center.


Happy Bloomsday from Colum McCann

Mark Sarvas points to a lovely op-ed by Colum McCann, in which Colum describes reading Ulysses cover to cover for the first time, after “dipping into the novel for many years, reading the accessible parts, plundering the icing on the cake.” As he made his way through the novel, his grandfather, whom he barely knew, came alive in his mind as a contemporary of Leopold Bloom’s:
The man whom I had met only once was becoming flesh and blood through the pages of a fiction. After all, he had walked the very same streets of Dublin, on the same day as Leopold Bloom. I began to see my grandfather outside Dlugacz’s butcher shop, his hat cocked sideways, watching the moving “hams” of a young girl. I wondered if he had a penchant for “the inner organs of beasts and fowls.” I heard him arguing with the Citizen in Barney Kiernan’s pub. I felt him mourn the loss of a child.
This is something Colum has been pondering for a while; though he hadn’t read Ulysses straight through before, Leopold Bloom has long struck him, I think, as the sort of fictional character who seems more real to some of us than others who actually lived. As he said in a conversation we published in PEN America 8: Making Histories:
On June 16th, 1904, Leopold Bloom walked around Dublin. My great grandfather walked those same streets, but Leopold Bloom is much more real to me now than my great grandfather, whom I never met. Sometimes the characters we create are more real to us than the six and a half billion people in this world whom we haven’t yet met. Do you think that fiction writers might be the unacknowledged historians of the future?
Or, as he says in today’s op-ed: “Fiction gives us access to a very real history. Stories are the best democracy we have. We are allowed to become the other we never dreamed we could be.”

That need to “become the other” is something Colum discusses in his terrific conversation with Michael Ondaatje, which we published in PEN America 10: Fear Itself. And Colum’s own capacity for empathy is evident throughout his new novel, Let the Great World Spin, which we excerpted in that same issue, and which is eagerly anticipated by many (it comes out next week).

The excerpt we published is not online, but you can read the book’s opening chapter here -- and you can listen to Colum and others read from that opening here.


Twenty years since Tiananmen

The Tiananmen Square Massacre -- in which pro-democracy dissidents were forcibly removed from a public square in Beijing after several weeks of peaceful protest -- took place on June 4, 1989. A number of websites are commemorating the anniversary.

Three Percent has posted part of the prison memoir of Liao Yiwu, who composed a famous poem, “Massacre,” condemning the government’s actions. (Translated excerpts of the poem are included in this piece by Bill Marx, written for PRI's “The World.”) He distributed the poem underground and was arrested.

Liao’s memoir was translated by Wen Huang (the recipient of a grant from the PEN Translation Fund), who also translated Liao's amazing, Studs Terkel-inspired book, The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories of China from the Bottom Up, which has recently come out in paperback. Portions of The Corpse Walker appeared in The Paris Review, which has also posted the speech Liao planned to deliver at a gathering in 2007 of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, accepting their Freedom to Write Award. He was detained en route; another award recipient and one of the event's organizers were placed under house arrest. The event was canceled.

Wen Huang has also translated Liao’s interview with Wu Wenjian -- a painter who, as a nineteen-year-old, denounced the violence of June 4, and then served seven years in prison -- and an excerpt from the prison memoir of Wang Dan, another student protester arrested once after the Tiananmen Square protests and again in 1995 for “conspiring to overthrow the Communist Party.” Those translations are both available at Words Without Borders.

Wang Dan is quoted in this report from The New York Times about the surrender yesterday of Wu’er Kaixi, a leader of the Tiananmen Square protests, after two decades in exile. “His action is kind of an expression of anger and protest,” Wang Dan says. “Maybe this is his only way to return to China. For all of us, this is the only way.”

The New Republic has collected some of their reporting both from 1989 and from the lead-up to the Summer Olympics in Beijing, when they compiled profiles of Chinese dissidents. That was also when PEN launched its China Campaign, which is ongoing, and which you can read about here. You can sign the petition to free Liu Xiaobo, co-author of a manifesto calling for greater freedoms and democracy in China, here.

And you can see some amazing photos from the gathering in Tiananmen here.

Update: Hua Hsu, blogging for The Atlantic Monthly, notes the closing of blogs and the disbarring of lawyers just in time for the anniversary -- and also links to this alternate history in which the democracy movement of 1989 prevails.