Don't miss: The 'Chindia' Dialogues

Coming up this weekend: Asia Society will bring 20 leading authors and critical thinkers from China and India to NYC to engage in vital literary and cultural dialogue, as part of the inaugural Asian Arts & Ideas Forum: The 'Chindia' Dialogues. Here are two events not to miss:

Friday, November 4, 12:30-2:00 PM
Free. No reservation required.
Featuring Siddhartha Deb, Yu Hua, Murong Xuecun, and Zha Jianying
©2011 Asia Society
Literary reporters bear witness to the effects of modernization – from massive internal migration and the commercialization of culture to the ravages of corruption and environmental degradation – with novelist/essayist Yu Hua (China In Ten Words); author and media critic Zha Jianying (Tide Players, and a participant in PEN's 2011 World Voices Festival event: China in Two Acts)Siddhartha Deb, who survived a stint as a “cybercoolie” at a call center in Mumbai to write The Beautiful and the Damned; and China’s pioneering cyber novelist-turned-investigative journalist Murong Xuecun (best-selling novel, Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu), who reported on a mafia-style “direct-selling” pyramid scam in Jiangxi that exposed the inequities in China's capitalistic development. Moderated by Orville Schell, Director of Asia Society’s Center for U.S-China Relations. 

Asia Society is located at 725 Park Avenue at 70th Street (directions)│212-517-ASIAwww.AsiaSociety.org/artsandideas

Thursday, November 3, 6:30-8:00 PM
Tickets purchasable here. $15 (non-members), $12 (students/seniors), $10 (members)
Jonathan Spence (L) and Amitav Ghosh (R).
©2011 Asia Society
One of India’s best known writers, Amitav Ghosh, joins leading Chinese scholar and Sterling Professor of History at Yale Jonathan Spence to discuss Ghosh’s landmark historical novel, River of Smoke (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, October 2011), the Sino-Indian relations during the Opium Wars, and the relevance of the legacy of capitalism and colonialism to Asia’s emerging role in the 21st Century. Introduced by Orville Schell, Director of Asia Society’s Center for U.S.-China Relations. 
Asia Society is located at 725 Park Avenue at 70th Street (directions)│212-517-ASIAwww.AsiaSociety.org/artsandideas

For a complete list of 'Chindia' events, visit Asia Society's Calendar 


Brian Dettmer: Solo Show in Chicago

If you happen to be in the Chicago area between Nov. 4 through 20, don't miss Paper Back, Brian Dettmer's solo show at the Packer Shopf Gallery:

Here's a quotation from Brian's artist's statement:

The book’s intended function has decreased and the form remains linear in a non-linear world. By altering physical forms of information and shifting preconceived functions, new and unexpected roles emerge. This is the area I currently operate in. Through meticulous excavation or concise alteration I edit or dissect communicative objects or systems such as books, maps, tapes and other media. The medium’s role transforms. Its content is recontextualized and new meanings or interpretations emerge.

Brian's art graced the cover and inner pages of PEN America: The Good Books. Learn more about his surgical processes by watching this CBS Evening News report and by reading "Postmodern Deconstruction" from The New Yorker.

New Members New Books

Tonight PEN will be welcoming its newest members at PowerHouse Arena. Among them are poets Sandra Beasley, whose poem "Unit of Measure" is a must-read, and Terrence A. Hayes, a judge of this year's PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry. Also, check out an interview with new member Teju Cole on his novel Open City, and an excerpt from frequent Festival participant, Peter Godwin's The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe.

PEN Contributors Featured at AAWW Literary Festival

The Asian American Writers Workshop Literary Festival happened this weekend, and some of PEN America’s favorite authors were honored!

Frequent contributor Jessica Hagedorn received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Check out her response for issue 14’s forum.

Favorite poet Kimiko Hahn, recipient of the 2008 PEN/Voelker Award for Poetry, was honored for her collection Toxic Flora.

Check out Amitava Kumar’s essay, “A Collaborator in Kashmir” from PEN America Issue 10, and support him at the festival this weekend—his book A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb won the nonfiction award.

For more information about the prizewinners and the festival click here


(credit: Marion Ettlinger)


The Good Books

Selections from PEN America 14: The Good Books are now online! Here are a few of things you can check out over at PEN.org:

Forum: The Good Books
Welcome to the World's Greatest Book Swap: writers sharing books that they love--what could be better? We were blown away by the thoughtful responses we received, and by how many! Over fifty writers participated in our virtual swap. We've posted a few, with more to come. For now, have a look at Maurice Berger on Roland Barthes's Mythologies and Barack Obama; Srikanth Reddy on Chinese Tales and translating a translated translation; Rabih Alameddine on The Book of Disquiet and the many heteronyms of Fernando Pessoa.

The 1986 PEN Congress, 25 years later
We culled through almost 3,000 pages of previously unpublished transcripts to bring you highlights from a literary event spearheaded by Norman Mailer and featuring Arthur Miller, Nadine Gordimer, Gunter Grass, Toni Morrison, Czeslaw Milosz, and many more. (Check out Rhoda Koenig's long write-up of the event in New York Magazine for some of the glamor and gossip surrounding the '86 Congress.)

Among the pieces we included is one we call "From Voice to Voice," in which remarks by Saul Bellow touch off responses from Allen Ginsberg, Nadine Gordimer, Susan Sontag--but enough with my name-dropping, go
have a look yourself. And make sure to read "From the Floor," too, in which Grace Paley and Margaret Atwood protest the under-representation of women writers at the Congress (and Norman Mailer offers his perhaps inflammatory rebuttal).

World Voices
The issue also features fiction, poetry, and essays by some of the participants in this year's PEN World Voices Festival, including Marcelo Figueras, Asaf Schurr, Najat El Hachmi. And there are three essays from Finding the Words, an anthology compiled by our sister chapter PEN Canada: Pasha Malla & Moez Surani assemble an "Ethical Code for Writers," Alain de Botton revisits places of unexpected inspiration in "On Writing," and Madeleine Thien ghost-hunts through Cambodia and Vietnam in "Photocopies of Photocopies: On Bao Ninh."

What's the sound of a sword cutting into a book? A book being sliced? Paper falling? ZAK, SHAKA, BARA BARA. Check out Book, a great comic by Yuichi Yokoyama with awesome onomatopoeic translations by Taro Nettleton. There's more book slicing and dicing to be seen in the sculptures of Brian Dettmer (our wonderful cover artist), and some quotation re-appropriation by Jenny Holzer.

As usual, you can find all of this and more if you subscribe to PEN America or purchase a copy of the journal.


Don DeLillo's Short Stories

Earlier this week, The Millions reported that Don Delillo would be releasing his first ever collection of short stories this November, The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories. The stories are drawn from the years 1979-2011; many of them first appeared in Esquire, The New Yorker, and Harper's. (You can see a full list of Delillo's short fiction here.)

Among the stories is "Human Moments in World War III," which was reprinted in PEN America 13: Lovers after DeLillo received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction last year (the story first appeared in Esquire in 1983).

The story was accompanied by
PEN Q&A with DeLillo, in which he talks about Bellow, American fiction, technology, the role of the writer, and more. You can read the opening of "Human Moments in World War III" here; the Q&A is


Praise for Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

In The New York Times Book Review this past Sunday there's a great piece by August Kleinzahler, "Rebirth of a Poet," which praises Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's translation of Songs of Kabir. More so than his predecessors, Mehrotra manages to "[capture] the ferocity and improvisational energy of Kabir's poetry."

Kleinzahler includes quotations from the poems "Friend" and "It's a Mess," both of which were included in PEN America 11: Make Believe, and read by Paul Auster during the issue's launch party.

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra was a recipient of a PEN Translation Fund Grant in 2009, the same year that he was nominated for the chair of Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford, alongside Ruth Padel and Derek Walcott. (Here's a Times article about the unusually controversial race.)

The PEN Translation Fund provides grants to support the translation of book-length works of fiction, creative nonfiction, drama, and poetry that have not previously appeared in English or have appeared only in egregiously flawed translation. Read more about PEN's Translation Committee here.

If you haven't already, check out the online feature for PEN America 11: Make Believe. You can purchase the issue and any of our other issues, or become a subscriber, by clicking here.

(Photograph of Arvind Krishna Mehrotra courtesy of The Telegraph.)


The Great Global Book Swap

The launch event for PEN America 14: The Good Books is now online. Colum McCann kicked it off by reading Rabih Alameddine’s lovely contribution to the forum, in which Rabih imagines bringing The Book of Disquiet to a hotel in Lisbon.

After Colum’s reading, I spoke to Leila Aboulela, Nathacha Appanah, and Rahul Bhattacharya about the books each of them would bring to their own imaginary book swaps. Leila brought Tayeb Salih’s The Wedding of Zein (which she has read multiple times in both Arabic and Englishsometimes wanting to read it in one language, sometimes preferring the other), Nathacha brought Beyond Despair, three lectures by Aharon Appelfeld (who, as Nathacha noted, was born in what is now the Ukraine with German as his first language but chose to write in Hebrew), and Rahul brought Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel García Márquez (Rahul’s reading of the book's conclusion was one of the highlights of the event).

You can watch the whole thing below:

You can also now order both the print edition and the Kindle edition of PEN America 14: The Good Books. Stay tuned for highlights from the issue, coming soon.


Friday event for PEN America 14: The Good Books

As I mentioned last week, the first copies of PEN America 14: The Good Books arrived in New York today. We'll have excerpts to read online after the festival is over, but if you're in New York, you'll find copies at select World Voices events -- including "The Great Global Book Swap," a reading and conversation we're holding on Friday in connection with the new issue.

For the Friday event, Leila Aboulela, Nathacha Appanah, Mario Bellatín, and Rahul Bhattacharya have chosen books they read in translation that meant a great deal to them as readers and writers. They will read short excerpts from their selections and discuss why they chose the books they did -- and we'll also discuss the larger subject of literature in translation around the world. Collectively, our Friday panelists have lived in France, India, Mexico, Mauritius, Qatar, Scotland, Sudan, and at least one or two other places as well.

This is a live version of our new issue's forum, in which over 50 writers (among them: Madison Smartt Bell, Amitava Kumar, Yiyun Li, Karen Russell, Lynne Tillman, and many more) imagine they've been invited to a great global book swap, and must bring one book in translation. There are many wonderful choices beautifully explained, and we'll be sharing a number of those pieces here and at PEN.org in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, I hope you can join us on Friday. Here are the full details:

When: Friday, April 29
Where: Scandinavia House, 58 Park Ave., New York City
What time: 2–3:30 p.m.

With Leila Aboulela, Nathacha Appanah, Mario Bellatín, and Rahul Bhattacharya
Free and open to the public. No reservations required.

Co-sponsored by Scandinavia House and
PEN America

Imagine you are invited to a great global book swap and have to bring just one beloved book originally written in a foreign tongue: what would it be? Join five eminent writers who have trotted the globe and lived everywhere from Mexico to Mauritius, India to Sudan, for a reading and a talk about the works of translation that enriched and changed their lives.


PEN World Voices next week!

Issue #14 of PEN America will arrive on Monday -- with copies going out to subscribers, PEN members, and bookstores shortly after -- along with news here about all the great stuff that's in it. In the meantime, a few highlights from the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, happening in New York City all next week.

These are ticketed events with limited seating, so if you're interested you should act soon. There are also many free events, next week; have a look at the whole schedule.


Revolutionaries in the Arab World

Wednesday, April 27, 7:30 p.m.
92nd Street Y, Unterberg Poetry Center

Hear from experts and on-the-ground bloggers how social media and citizen journalism galvanize the revolution. In the borderless world of the Internet, where revolutionary ideas spread at lightning speed, will other despotic regimes collapse? Which ones? And how does an autocracy transition into a democracy, and at what cost? Alex Nunns, editor of Tweets from Tahrir -- a collection of key tweets from the activists who brought heady days of revolution to Egypt in early 2011 -- will be joined by Palestinian author/journalist Rula Jebreal (Miral), blogger Issandr El Amrani (The Arabist), Moroccan writer Abdellah Taia, and Moroccan-Dutch writer Adbelkader Benali to tackle these urgent questions.

Tickets: $20/$15 PEN Members, students with valid ID.


China in Two Acts

Thursday, April 28, 7 p.m.
The Cooper Union, Great Hall

Born in Beijing and educated in the United States, New Yorker contributor Zha Jianying delivers unique insight into the rapidly changing world inside China, including the plights of the country's best-known artist Ai Wei Wei and Nobel peace Prize winner and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo. In a 30-minute presentation, Zha sheds light on the polarized political order and the cultural forces that are shaping the world’s most populous nation. Following Zha’s remarks, a panel of journalists and writers join her on stage for a lively debate of her assertions.

Tickets: $15/$10 PEN Members, students with valid ID.

Note: The Chinese governemnt has barred Liao Yiwu from attending the festival. Read more here.


Poetry: The Second Skin
Friday, April 29, 7:30 pm
92nd Street Y, Unterberg Poetry Center

An evening of poetry and music curated and emceed by Laurie Anderson. With a stellar line-up of international poets, including John Burnside (Scotland), Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaragua), David-Dephy Gogibedashvili (Georgia), Hasina Gul (Pakistan), Yusef Komunyakaa (US), Juan Carlos Mestre (Spain), Joachim Sartorius (Germany), and Pia Tafdrup (Denmark).

Tickets: $25/$20 PEN and PSA Members, students with valid ID.


PEN Translation grants: applications due February 3

Applications for grants from the PEN Translation Fund are due in two weeks. Grants range from $2,000 to $10,000 and support the translation of book-length works of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, or drama that have not previously appeared in English or have appeared only in an egregiously flawed translation.

In addition to financial assistance, grants from the PEN Translation Fund provide a good bit of publicity: recognition by the Fund has led on numerous occasions to a publishing contract. Translations supported by PEN grants have been excerpted in The New Yorker, Granta, The Paris Review -- and, of course, in PEN America.

February 3rd is also the deadline for most other PEN Awards. You can find out more information here.

Submissions for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, the PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Sports Writing, and the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Award are due by March 3rd.


Next week: Stoppard, Doctorow, DeLillo & the Belarus Free Theater

Just a few weeks ago, the members of the Belarus Free Theater were either in jail or in hiding. Now they are performing their play Being Harold Pinter as part of the Under the Radar Festival in New York. Soon they will be back in Belarus, where they will continue to risk the wrath of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, the man known as “Europe’s last dictator.”

On the eve of their return to Minsk, the Belarus Free Theater joins internationally-acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard, PEN American Center, and a stellar supporting cast for an evening celebrating artistic freedom and the courage of hundreds of writers, artists, journalists, and intellectuals targeted in Lukashenko’s latest crackdown following the nation’s flawed December elections.

Czech musician Iva Bittova and American actor Billy Crudup will join Don DeLillo, E.L. Doctorow, Tom Stoppard, and surprise guests for a farewell gathering featuring literature, music, and cocktail conversation about the power of art and the future of Belarus.

Viva the Belarus Free Theater

When: Wednesday, January 19, 7 p.m.
Where: Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, New York City
Who: Billy Crudup, E.L. Doctorow, Don DeLillo, Tom Stoppard, Iva Bittova, the Belarus Free Theater, and surprise guests

Tickets: $25. Visit lepoissonrouge.com.

All proceeds to benefit the Belarus Free Theater.

(Photograph of the Belarus Free Theatre performing in London taken by Keith Pattison.)