Festival highlights: New European Fiction & War

This year, there will be two World Voices events at Le Poisson Rouge, where PEN America had its own launch party back in October. It’s a fun space, right in the middle of Greenwich Village, and both these events look terrific.

The first—which will take place at noon on Saturday, May 1—is centered on Best European Fiction, an anthology published by Dalkey Archive that got a lot of attention earlier in the year. The event also reunites Aleksandar Hemon (who edited the anthology) and Colum McCann (who will write the preface to next year’s Best European Fiction), two PEN America favorites whose conversation in The Believer I highlighted a few weeks back.

As I understand it, the event will start with a conversation between Colum and Sasha about the state of fiction in Europe. Then three contributors to the anthology (Naja Marie Aidt, valter hugo mãe, and Jean-Philippe Toussaint) will read from their work before talking with Hemon about fiction in their respective countries (those would be Denmark, Portugal, and Belgium).

War” will bring together Deborah Amos, Philip Gourevitch, Arnon Grunberg, Sebastian Junger, and Daniele Mastrogiacomo. Amos covers Iraq for NPR; Gourevitch has written about war in Rwanda, Iraq, and elsewhere; Grunberg is a novelist who has visited Iraq several times in the last few years; Junger’s war reporting has been collected in a new book simply titled War, which will be published in May; and Mastrogiacomo is an Italian journalist who, in 2007, was kidnapped along with the journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi and a driver, Sayed Agha, while covering the war in Afghanistan.

These five writers will discuss the difficulties and the responsibilities entailed in reporting on wars around the world.


Utne Independent Press Award nomination (and the “Top Quark”)

Two pieces of happy news to share. First, PEN America has received its first Utne Independent Press Award nomination, in the category of international coverage. We face stiff competition from last year’s winner The New Statesman, plus The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Middle East Report, NACLA Report on the Americas, The New Internationalist, Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, and The Walrus. It’s great to be in their company.

Second, Tomasz Rozycki’s guest post about “Scorched Maps,” a poem of his published in PEN America 10: Fear Itself, was selected by Robert Pinsky for the “Top Quark,” celebrating the year's best blog writing in arts & literature. Here’s what Pinsky said about Rozycki’s piece:
Tomasz Rozycki’s poem “Scorched Maps”—translated by Mira Rosenthal into real lines of poetry in English: I will remember this poem about memory and Rozycki's commentary (same translator) on it. The image of the past and its losses as “subterranean” is familiar. Re-imagined in “Scorched Maps,” the image regains its emotional force: the seeker face-down and speaking to the earth, and the earth along with the lives it contains responding, “vast and wild around my head.”
PEN America contributor Amitava Kumar received second prize for his short-short story “Postmortem,” which, Pinsky said, “has also entered my imagination in a way I will not forget. ” And Lydia Kiesling received third prize for her review of Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, a review published by The Millions. Congratulations to Lydia, Amitava, Mira, and Tomasz.


Festival highlight: Opening Night

Most World Voices events are free, but a few do cost money and require tickets—which often sell out.

Among these is the opening night reading, which this year features a particularly eclectic group of readers, from Salman Rushdie to Patti Smith—plus Mohsin Hamid, László Krasznahorkai, Andrea Levy, Yiyun Li, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, Sofi Oksanen, Atiq Rahimi, Alberto Ruy-Sánchez, Andrzej Stasiuk, and Miguel Syjuco.

In keeping with the last couple of World Voices Festivals, each of these readers will read in his or her own language, with the English text of the reading scrolling on a giant screen behind them. You can hear the poetry of the original—and still know what the readers are talking about (and appreciate the work of their translators, too).

This year, the “Opening Night Extravaganza” will be held in the beautiful reading space at the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center.

Readings from Around the Globe: Opening Night Extravaganza

When: Wednesday, April 28

Where: 92nd Street Y, Unterberg Poetry Center, 1395 Lexington Avenue, New York City

What time: 8–9:30 p.m.

Tickets: $20/$15 PEN Members and Poetry Center subscribers; www.smarttix.com or (212) 868-4444. For Member discount code, please contact Lara Tobin at lara@pen.org or (212) 334-1660 ext. 126.

Co-sponsored by 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center


Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Richard Price, Patti Smith, Salman Rushdie, Roddy Doyle, Melvin Van Peebles...

...as you may have heard, those are just a few of the participants in this year’s PEN World Voices Festival. My favorite reply to the newly unveiled lineup comes from Mark Sarvas: “the organizers appear to have outdone themselves,” he says, adding, “it’s enough to tempt me into thinking about a trip east to cover this one for all my loyal readers.” I hope we see him soon.

Much more in this space over the next few weeks, of course; in the meantime, a few notes before the weekend:

* As noted earlier this week in The New York Times, PEN and the ACLU are teaming up with Slate to sponsor a conversation with Tariq Ramadan and others, held at Cooper Union in New York on April 8. This will be the first U.S. appearance for Ramadan since he was barred from entering the country by the Bush administration.

* Yousef Al-Mohaimeed’s novel Muniras Bottle was written up recently in Arab News (via The Literary Saloon). The novel was excerpted in PEN America 9, earning the magazine its first Pushcart Prize. Here’s what Annie Proulx has to say about the book:
Munira’s Bottle is a rich and skillfully crafted story of a dysfunctional Saudi Arabian family. One of its strengths lies in its edgy characters: Munira, a sultry, self-centered, sexually repressed woman; Ibn Al-Dahhal, the bold imposter who deceives and betrays her; and Muhammad, her perpetually angry and righteous brother, a catalyst who forces the events. Western readers will welcome it for its opening door into Arab lives and minds.
(You can read a conversation about “Books that Changed My Life” featuring both Proulx and Al-Mohaimeed in PEN America 10.)

* Tomorrow we’ll find out how much Robert Pinsky liked Tomasz Rozycki’s piece about “Scorched Maps,” a finalist for The Quark. Among the other finalists is PEN America contributor Amitava Kumar.

* There’s no online announcement yet, but PEN America has received its first Utne Independent Press Award nomination, in the category of international coverage. More on that soon.


Links: Kiarostami on Panahi, Cole on Yoo, and more reality hunger

Check out the great new feature on literature in translation up at PEN.org—including the latest online “translation slam.”

Abbas Kiarostami, probably Iran’s most esteemed living filmmaker (his films include Taste of Cherry, among many others), has written a letter calling “for the release of Jafar Panahi and Mahmoud Rasoulof, two directors recently detained by the authorities” in Iran. (PEN is currently lobbying for free expression in Iran along with five other organizations; learn more here.)

Kiarostami sent the Persian-language text of his letter and an English translation to a New York Times blog, The Lede, through Hooman Majd, author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ (and a contributor to PEN America 10: Fear Itself). You can read it here.

David Cole has written a long post about John Yoo and the torture memos for the excellent blog of The New York Review of Books. Cole, a professor of constitutional law, has been covering this story in detail for some time (he also participated in both the New York and Washington, D.C. versions of “Reckoning with Torture”) and will have a longer version of this piece in The NYRB’s next issue.

Progress has been made in the fight for reader privacy, despite some recent setbacks.

David Shields’s Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, excerpted in PEN America 11: Make Believe, continues to provoke reflections on writing, reality, fiction and more; this week, James Wood responds to the book in The New Yorker.

Tomasz Rozycki’s guest post here on the blog is now a finalist for “The Quark,” a prize for the best blog writing of the year. The winner will be decided by Robert Pinsky.


Livestream of tonight's event + other links

If you can’t make it to tonight’s event, “Reckoning with Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the ‘War on Terror’,” in Washington, D.C., you can watch it live here at 7 p.m.

The Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, “whose work has consistently challenged the country’s social strictures, especially as they pertain to women,” was reportedly arrested along with his wife, his daughter, and 15 dinner guests, at his home on Monday night. (Via. Read about PEN’s Iran campaign, “Our Society Will Be a Free Society,” here.)

Sam Lipsyte’s new book The Ask is getting great reviews all around; you can listen to him read from the hilarious Home Land over at PEN.org.

Lastly, the excellent blog 3 Quarks Daily is awarding their annual prizes for “the best blog writing in the areas of science, philosophy, politics, and arts & literature.” Tomasz Rozycki’s guest post about his poem “Scorched Maps” is a nominee in the latter category; you can vote for it here (but only once!). The finalists will be judged by the American poet Robert Pinsky.


Liao Yiwu detained in China

As has been reported in The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, and elsewhere, the writer Liao Yiwu was detained at an airport in Sichuan Province on his way to Germany to attend lit.Cologne, one of the largest literary festivals in Europe.

Liao Yiwu is a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) and the author of the internationally acclaimed book The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up, which was inspired by the oral histories of Studs Terkel. The English translation by Wen Huang was partly funded by a grant from the PEN Translation Fund, and chapters of the book were published in The Paris Review. You can listen to Paris Review editor Philip Gourevitch read from the book here, and you can listen to Katie Fishman reading an essay by Yiwu, “My Enemies, My Teachers,” here. (Update: Gourevitch writes about Liao’s detention for the “News Desk” blog at The New Yorker.)

According to the Times, Liao “had been warned in recent days not to attend the Festival, but insisted on exercising his right to travel freely. He was held at a detention center and questioned by police for three hours before he was permitted to go home. He is now under house arrest.”

After the Tiananmen Square protests, Liao wrote an epic poem, “Massacre,” and recorded himself reading it. The poem got him four years in prison. This is the thirteenth time he’s been detained by the Chinese goverment.

In an email to PEN American Center, Liao said: “Words alone cannot express my outrage. I’m a writer and never considered myself a political dissident. But Liu Xiaobo was right when he said, ‘To gain and preserve your freedom and dignity, there is no other way except to fight.’”

(The drawing of Liao Yiwu above, done over a newspaper article about his writing, is by Larry Roibal; click to enlarge.)