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Eating Enough to Keep Drinking [PEN Receptions]

Totally stealing this title from Geoff Dyer via Joshua Furst, so thanks to both of you . . . But it really is the perfect description for what the first couple days of the PEN World Voices Festival was for me.

My PEN experience started at 5:30am, when I picked up Thomas Pletzinger and Ross Benjamin from their hotel in Rochester (they were here for our last official RTWCS event of the season) so that we could all catch the same 7am JetBlue flight.

Along the way we talked about odd regional prononciations—in Rochester, the town of Chili isn’t pronounced “chill-e,” but rather “chi-lie,” an in Central Illinois, it’s “pay-ru,” not “peru.” But anyway, we made it through the airport with a lot of laughs and little trouble, and I was able to make it to NY just in time to catch the end of the opening “Working Day” session and participate in the “Publishing Revolution Is Here!” panel. (More about that later.)

Post that panel though, the cocktail reception part of PEN kicked in . . . First it was off to the German Book Office reception, which was held in their new swanky Spring St. loft. I might be making this up, but the GBO had to move out of the consulate while some remodeling is taking place. I believe the German government realized that the consulate doors violated German fire code or something like that. And this door-widening process is going to take three years or something.

In years past, there has always been a strong contingent of German authors at the festival. But for whatever reason, the only one in 2011 was Joachim Sartorius, who used to be the head of the Goethe Institute Worldwide. He’s also a poet and has translated Malcolm Lowry and William Carlos Williams into German.

And yes, there were really good pretzels (and mustard!) at the reception, and Josh Furst’s expert mustard-dipping technique helped us all feel full enough to down a few glasses and head to Brooklyn for the Five Dials launch party.

Five Dials is a fun, free, cool, literary magazine published by Hamish Hamilton every so often. (I’m not convinced there’s a regular schedule, which is totally cool with me.) We’ve written about it before, and will so again, especially since editor Craig Taylor was so nice and let me drink a lot of his wine and beer.

And although it could come off as a bit cheesy, one of the cool things about this event was the pomp and circumstance surrounding “hitting the send button” on issue 19. See, since each issue of Five Dials really is emailed out to over 15,000 subscribers, their launch parties are a bit more literal than some other magazines. So, following the readings—all of which were about parenting, all of which were very funny, all of which made me both question and rejoice in my parenting skills, and one of which namechecked Rochester, NY and Eastman Kodak—there was a countdown, and the send button was pushed, instantly sending issue 19 into my iPhone.

That was a great party . . . It seemed like every young literary figure Craig had run into over the past week had crowded into the 826 Brooklyn storefront (where they sell superhero gear) to booze it up and exchange quips. Afterwards, a group of us, including New Press editor Sarah Fan, Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! author Mark Binelli, and Ecco editor Matt Weiland, went off for a nightcap and to talk about books about weeds, the trickiness of corporate publishing, an amazing oral history of London that’s coming out sometime soon, and other related bookish matters.

No food was consumed at the Five Dials party.

In the morning, my first event was drinks and lunch at the Norwegian Consulate’s apartment, which, as you might guess, was damn impressive. The rooftop terrace was bigger than my bedroom and contained more barbecue grills (1). And yes, there was wine. There’s always wine.

There were four Norwegian authors in this year’s festival: Tomas Espedal, Frode Grytten, Gunnhild Oyehaug, and Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold, whose novel, The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am, is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive.

Later that same day, I attended the annual reception at the Cervantes Institute, where Salman Rushdie always gives a rousing, thoughtful speech about the importance of the festival, and more drinks are had by all. This truly is one of the best moments of PEN World Voices—a perfect opportunity to meet a number of the authors in an outdoor courtyard that’s stunning. (Even when it’s raining. And as Rushdie said, every year it’s raining during this party.)

It was at that festival that I finally met Najat El Hachmi, who is here in Rochester for an event tonight, and talked to Joshua Mandelbaum from Words Without Borders about microdonation fundraising ideas . . .

I ate a few croquettes at that event, but that was about it.

From there, I hustled off to the Bowery Poetry Club for the BTBA event (more in another post), where I had a drink in anticipation of having to stand onstage in the glaring lights and mispronounce a bunch of names. (Thank you Central Illinois and Rochester for priming my ineptitude.)

Afterwards? The Bowery kicked us out, so we took the party elsewhere . . . and elsewhere . . .

Anyway, I think Argentine author Sergio Chejfec summed it all up best when he asked if membership in PEN included a special discount card for beer. It really probably should.



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