DeLillo et al read torture memos, 10/13

On October 13, PEN American Center will team up with the ACLU to stage a public reading of recently-released government files—memos (like this one: PDF), declassified communications, and testimonies by detainees—documenting acts of torture carried out on behalf of the U.S. government since September 11, 2001. Tickets are on sale here.

The event is part of an ongoing effort by writers associated with PEN to call attention to and reflect on these abuses. Among the participants are writers Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, Eve Ensler, and Art Spiegelman. They will be joined by former U.S. interrogator Matthew Alexander, former CIA officer Jack Rice, ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh, and the artist Jenny Holzer.

I'll be sharing more news about this project in the future; in the meantime, full details for the October 13 event are below.

When: Tuesday, October 13
Where: The Great Hall at Cooper Union, 7 East 7th St., NYC
What time: 7 p.m.

$15/$10 for PEN/ACLU Members and students with valid ID at www.smarttix.com. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.

(The note card pictured above is explained here; click on the photo to enlarge. The lines on the card are from "To Be Human," a short piece by Anouar Benmalek published in PEN America 10: Fear Itself.)


This Sunday: Brooklyn Book Festival

The day after tomorrow, PEN will (as in years past) spend a September Sunday at the Brooklyn Book Festival, a wonderful event full of bookish people and organizations of all kinds.

PEN also has a public program at the festival, which we're co-sponsoring with Tin House. Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia will feature readings (from this new anthology of new Russian fiction) by Dale Peck, Francine Prose, Anya Ulinich (whose excellent and much-discussed story "The Nurse and the Novelist" was in PEN America 9: Checkpoints), and Vadim Yarmolinets. Also, Emily Gould, who has written about Russian-American writers for Russia! magazine, will interview Rasskazy contributor Dmitry Danilov about the literary scene back in the mother country.

: New Fiction from a New Russia

Sunday, September 13
Brooklyn Borough Hall and Plaza: Brooklyn Heights, NYC
What time:
1:00–1:50 p.m.

Free and open to the public.

This event immediately follows "Name that Author," a game of literary trivia sponsored by the National Book Critics Circle in which I'll represent PEN America and attempt to carry on PEN's proud trivia tradition by dethroning last year's champion, Brigid Hughes of A Public Space.

Hope to see you Sunday.


Reading for Labor Day

PEN America 10: Fear Itself features excerpts from Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, by Studs Terkel, who, a few years before he died, contributed a tribute to John Steinbeck to PEN America 4: Fact/Fiction. The issue’s title, of course, came from the Depression era, and the issue was inspired in part by the growing sense of anxiety brought on by the current economic crisis.

As we read through Terkel’s book, we discovered that Roosevelt was by no means the only person talking about fear. “The Depression left a legacy of fear,” says Larry Van Dusen, a labor organizer, a point also made by a twenty-three year-old named Marshall, whose parents had lived through the Depression. “People haven’t felt unfearful since,” Marshall says—
Fear of Communists, fear of people living in sin, fear of the hippies—fear, fear, fear. I think people learned it from the Depression. Money brings security, that was the idea. But it turned out to be just the opposite. If you have a great big house, that meant you had to be fearful again: somebody might rob you. If you had a great big store, you had to be fearful now that there’s gonna be a riot—and everything in your store would be stolen. See, money brings more fear than security.
There’s more in the issue—and much more in Terkel’s book, which is a fascinating read. You might also check out these two excellent pieces from Poetry magazine about the Federal Writers’ Project and Kenneth Fearing (one of them by PEN America contributor Robert Polito) and an interview Mark Athitakis did back in April with David Taylor, about his book Soul of a People: The WPA Writers’ Project Uncovers Depression America.

Taylor’s book isn't the only WPA-inspired project of late: there’s also Mark Kurlansky's The Food of a Younger Land, which draws on the work of a “number of writers, including Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, and Nelson Algren,” who, as part of the Federal Writers’ Project, “were dispatched all across America to chronicle the eating habits, traditions, and struggles of local people. The project, called America Eats, was abandoned in the early 1940s because of the World War and never completed.”

And then there’s State by State, a WPA-inspired collection of essays about each of the United States, featuring such PEN America contributors as George Packer, Ha Jin, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, and many more.

The poster pictured above was itself produced by the WPA, and can be found at this wonderful website.

Happy Labor Day.