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PEN World Voices 2011: Quick Overview

This morning, PEN updated their World Voices page with info about this year’s festival, including a list of participants and a daily schedule listing all the planned events.

We’ll give this more coverage as the time grows closer, but for now, here are a few of the highlights from each of the days of the festival. (I’m just picking ones that jump out at me—there are many, many more worth checking out, and many, many more that we’ll highlight over the next month.)

Monday, April 25th

  • The Public Intellectual with Manuel de Lope, Peter Godwin, Pierre Guyotat, Thomas Lehr, Linda Polman, and Hervé Le Tellier; moderated by Michael Silverblatt.

For Ralph Waldo Emerson the public intellectual was the preserver of the past’s great ideas. For Edward Said, his or her mission was to advance human freedom through political engagement. Both believed the thinker’s interaction with a larger audience was vital. What has become of the public intellectual’s role in these modern times? Attend tonight’s event and you will find out.

(Would attend any and everything Michael Silverblatt participates in. And I’m dying to meet Hervé Le Tellier.)

Tuesday, April 26th

In this magnificent book left unfinished at his death, David Foster Wallace anatomizes contemporary American sadness and boredom by investigating its Internal Revenue System. The result: a hilarious, truthful, and embittered vision of late-model capitalism and its discontents.

(Silverblatt again. And DFW. And The Pale King, which I am anxiously anticipating. And Rick Moody, who isn’t the first author who comes to mind when I think of DFW, but is interesting in his own right.)

Wednesday, April 27th

  • The Next Decade in Book Culture with Morris Dickstein, Carsten Jensen, Fintan O’Toole, Cynthia Ozick, and Hervé Le Tellier; moderated by Jane Ciabattari.

The critic’s voice indelibly shapes the works we read. But in an age when readers are rapidly migrating to Twitter book clubs, literary web sites, and Amazon reader reviews, how will the critic continue to lead literary conversations? Join a conversation about the new power of the book review and the emergence of a unique reader experience in the age of the digital revolution.

(This is right in my sweet spot of interests. If we weren’t hosting an event in Rochester that same day, I’d definitely be there.)

Thursday, April 28th

Thursday features a number of “Working Day” events, which are open only to PEN Members, Festival authors, heads of cultural agencies, and press. If you fit one of these categories (I believe all passionate readers should qualify as press . . .), you can RSVP for any events by e-mailsing jessica [at] pen.org.

Authors today are fighting corporate censorship, homogeneity, and formulaic plotlines by defecting from big publishers to go D.I.Y. In the digital age, publishing has undergone a metamorphosis. With breakthroughs in e-books and print-on-demand, distribution is readily available to more individuals and organizations. This working session will examine how these changes affect the relationship between publisher and author, literature’s impact on culture, community building between readers, writers, publishers, and booksellers—and how these roles are now merging. Panelists include members of the Mischief + Mayhem publishing collective, “the book industry’s new danger brigade” (The New York Observer) and Open Letter Books.

(Do you know how long I’ve waiting to be on a panel with the word “revolution” in the title? I’m pretty sure this is a high school dream come true.)

And for all of you who don’t fit into the above “Working Day” categories, here’s another cool event to attend:

  • A Literary Safari: A Unique Experience with Abdelkader Benali, John Burnside, Mircea Cărtărescu, Manuel de Lope, Deborah Eisenberg, Marcelo Figueras, Jonas Hassan Khemiri, Michael Köhlmeier, Hervé Le Tellier, Daniel Orozco, Gunnhild Øyehaug, and Lynne Tillman.

Ever been on a literary safari? Explore Westbeth Center for the Arts Housing, the city’s oldest and largest artist community located in the heart of the bohemian West Village. With a map in hand, wander the hallways of this former industrial building, which was repurposed by renowned architect Richard Meier into 383 living and working lofts, and attend live readings in the homes of Westbeth residents by Festival participants.

(This sounds pretty fascinating, and like a truly unique PEN WV event.)

Friday, April 29th

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 Ireland to India, Latvia to Sudan, for a reading and a talk about the works of translation that enriched and changed their lives.

(This should be extremely interesting.)

One of the world’s most beautiful romance languages, Catalan, has a rich literary trove, unknown to most of the English-speaking world. A discussion of seminal 20th-century works, such as Llorenc Villalonga’s The Doll’s Room and Josep Pla’s The Gray Notebook, led by renowned Catalan literary historians and translators, will show you a treasure of literature you’ll wish you’d found sooner.

(Villalonga and Pla are two true classics, but hopefully this panel will also discuss Merce Rodoreda. And maybe Quim Monzo.)

Established writers and translators such as David Grossman and Susan Bernofsky go up against relative newcomers such as Julia Franck and Edward Gauvin in this contest naming the Best Translated Books from 2010. Sponsored by the Three Percent web site, this event will name the winners in both the fiction and poetry categories, with $5,000 cash prizes (underwritten by Amazon.com) going to the winning authors and translators. Hosted by Chad W. Post, and featuring a range of top translators and literary enthusiasts, this program will highlight great works of world literature now available to English readers.

(Jon Fine from Amazon.com will also be there, and I’ll update everyone soon on other authors/translators who will be participating . . . )

Saturday, April 30th

  • Best European Fiction with Aleksandar Hemon, Colum McCann, Iulian Ciocan, Frode Grytten, and Andrej Blatnik.

Revel in the spectacular story-telling of the celebrated anthology Best European Fiction. For 2011, editor Aleksandar Hemon and preface writer Colum McCann return to continue their discussion of European literature today, followed by readings and discussions with contributors from Moldova, Norway, and Slovenia.

(This was a really interesting event last year, and is sure to be so again.)

  • Word from Asia is a special series of panels highlighting literature from the following countries:

Korea with Young-ha Kim and Bruce Fulton;

Japan with Joshua Beckman, Rebecca Brown, Hiromi Kawakami, Minoru Ozawa, and Motoyuki Shibata; and,

Pakistan with Hasina Gul, and Fahmida Riaz; moderated by Waqas Khwaja.

Vladimir Sorokin, considered by many to be the next Roberto Bolaño, is one of Russia’s most accomplished and well-regarded novelists and dramatists. English translations of his masterpieces, Ice Trilogy and Day of the Oprichnik: A Novel, arrive in bookstores this year. Listen to Sorokin discuss his work with young literary star Keith Gessen, editor-in-chief of the celebrated journal n+1.

(Keith is a great speaker/translator/moderator/writer/magazine publishers so I’m sure this will be an hour and a half of brilliant fun. Especially since Sorokin is such a controversial Russian writer. Both the Ice Trilogy and Day of the Oprichnik are just coming out, and I’m looking forward to finding the time to read both.)

As in previous editions of the festival, Instituto Cervantes hosts a panel on the state of affairs in contemporary Spanish-language fiction. A distinguished group of novelists from both sides of the Atlantic will examine the situation of Latin American, Spanish, and Catalan literature, looking into the complex relationships among these rich traditions today. With the participation of Marcelo Figueras (Argentina), Enrique Serna (Mexico), and Teresa Solana and Manuel de Lope (Spain). Moderated by Eduardo Lago, novelist and executive director of the Cervantes Institute.

(I heart Spanish literature. As can be discerned from our endless Spanish literature coverage—Granta’s “22 Days of Awesome”—and by the number of Spanish authors Open Letter is publishing.)

Sunday, May 1st

Enjoy an afternoon of poetry readings with Brooklyn-based publisher Ugly Duckling Presse. Four handmade poetry broadsides featuring the poets’ work will be available for free along the length of the High Line. Presented in partnership by Friends of the High Line and the Ugly Duckling Presse.

(Go Ugly Duckling Presse!)

PEN Translation Committee Chair Susan Bernofsky teams up with intellectual property attorney Erach Screwvala to discuss intellectual property issues in literary translations and their implications for both the business and the artistic sides of the translator’s work. They are joined by three prominent translator-authors from Poland, the Czech Republic/Spain and Israel who will report on the status of the ownership of artistic works internationally, and reflect on the culture of translation in their respective countries.

(This very well could turn out to be the most interesting event of the festival.)



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