Shaun Randol and JK Fowler got a chance to sit down at Spain Restaurant in Manhattan to talk about some of the differences they noticed between PEN 2010 and Left Forum 2010, note some of the highlights of the event and offer suggestions for PEN 2011.
It is a daunting task to write a synopsis of an event led by men with wit as sharp as Christopher Hitchens and Salman Rushdie. PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature 2010's final event, held in the auspicious Great Hall of Cooper Union, was supposed to be the site of a talk given by Sherman Alexie on the artistic, political and economic responsibilities of writers in the digital age but due to unforseen circumstances, he was unable to host the closing plenary.
On Sunday, May 2nd in Le Skyroom at the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF), audience members were graced with the thoughtful poetics of author Elias Khoury in a conversation moderated by Neil Gordon (novelist, literary editor, reviewer and professor of literature at Eugene Lang College of The New School University in New York City).
Saturday's poetry event co-sponsored by PEN and the Poetry Society, the oldest poetry organization in America, showcased five poets from four continents reading selections of their poetry to a small crowd in the intimate Grand Gallery of the National Arts Club near Grammercy Park in Manhattan. Of little to note other than the poetry itself, I have included some poems from each author in the order that they presented their works during the course of the night. Have a read and click on their names under the "panelist's bio" section to read more from each of these amazing authors.
I'm at Union Square, just having left the Great Hall at Cooper Union. Union Square East is divided between two camps: on the side furthest from the park stand the anti-immigration crew, far lesser in number to the pro-immigration group standing across the street. The park and surrounding areas are packed with people protesting on Labor Day the continually-dwindling rights of workers within these United States. Most protests center on the recent anti-immigration law passed in Arizona.
The yawning Great Hall of Cooper Union. Saturday, May 1st, 2010. The Hall is surprisingly empty for the three big names about the grace the stage. Banter and name-dropping occurs in the front row, the publishers of van Niekerk come up to me and we trade some information about The Mantle. The curtains are swept to the left and out steps K. Anthony Appiah, dressed from head to toe in black: a black necktie, vest, a black silk stripe down the sides of each leg and black loafers. He looks absolutely refined, head held high, papers clutched to his chest with long slender fingers tightly wound.
To start things off, a segment from the beginning of The Secret Gardens of Mogador: Voices of the Earth by Alberto Ruy-Sánchez:
First Spiral: The Sleepwalker's Quest for a Voice
1. Dawn breaks, slowly . . . and it was as if the light were singing
It was in Mogador the hour when lovers rouse, their dreams still entangled between their legs, behind their eyes, in their mouths, filling their empty hands.
War. What is it good for? Writing. PEN World Voices Festival lined up two war-themed panels on the afternoon of April 30, one featuring a bevy of novelists, the other filled with a squad of journalists. Politics remained resolutely to the side of the two discussions. No talk about whether the Iraq invasion was a good or bad idea, no discussion as to whether or not overthrowing oppressive regimes with violence is necessary. Panelists across sessions have been witness to conflict, and they have used it for inspiration in writing. But why? And how?
Prison writing is an ambiguous term, one that lends itself to the image of a tattered prisoner huddled in the corner of a dank cell in a forgotten prison in a small American town, writing on a soiled notepad and well-cordoned off from the rest of society. But this perhaps romantic notion of the writer while imprisoned quickly gave way Friday night to the harsh realities of writing as one of the last remaining links to sanity for the incarcerated in a system which practices and inflicts anything but.
In an age of digital domination, where the future of the book is uncertain, a panel entitled "Blogs, Twitter, the Kindle: The Future of Reading" and PEN World Voices Festival confronted the impact of new technology on our current understanding of, as well as engagement with, both writer and their writing. For a panel of writers, such technology has the potential to intimidate. Yet, the panel of five was surprisingly mixed.