Programming Highlights for 15th Anniversary Edition of United States’ Leading International Literary Festival Include Events with Bridgett M. Davis, Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, Rodrigo Fresán, Sue Halpern, Isabella Hammad, Mohammed Hanif, Sheila Heti, Christos Ikonomou, Shiori Ito, Marlon James, Édouard Louis, Ma Jian, Emiliano Monge, Scholastique Mukasonga, H.M. Naqvi, Joyce Carol Oates, Tommy Orange, George Packer, Inês Pedrosa, Philippe Petit, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Arundhati Roy, Sonia Sanchez, Elif Shafak, Dani Shapiro, Pajtim Statovci, Kara Swisher, Miriam Toews, Colm Tóibín, Tara Westover, Liao Yiwu, Shoshana Zuboff, Raúl Zurita, and many more …
PEN America presents the 2019 PEN World Voices Festival: Open Secrets (May 6-12), focusing on the dissolving boundary between the public and the private in the literary, cultural, social, and political realms. A flowering of the genres of literary memoir and personal testimony has been accompanied by increased digital avenues for story-telling, revelation, and exposé before both designated and public audiences. Movements like #MeToo and continuing reports of abuse within religious organizations have demonstrated the political velocity of deeply personal revelations, surfacing suppressed experiences and forcing society-wide reckonings. Personal narratives and individual stories have become catalysts for social change.
Meanwhile, the digital revolution has enabled political micro-targeting and the leveraging of personal data in insidious ways that have the power to reshape attitudes, buying habits and even democratic decision-making.
In 60+ events in dozens of venues across New York City, the 15th anniversary edition of the festival will gather fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, translators, thinkers, and activists to discuss what we withhold and what we reveal, and the opportunities and dangers inherent in the rapid reconfiguring of the public and the private.
Arundhati Roy (b. 1961)
Yesterday PEN America announced highlights of the 2019 PEN World Voices, including its keynote speaker, an author whose work as an artist and activist has had a profound global resonance—the 1997 Man Booker Prize-winning author and activist Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, My Seditious Heart). She will deliver this year’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, and will be joined in discussion by Siddhartha Deb (winner of the PEN/Open Book 2012 prize for The Beautiful and the Damned) on May 12.
Chip Rolley, Director of the PEN World Voices Festival and Senior Director of Literary Programs at PEN America, says “Presenting Arundhati Roy as the keynote speaker of this festival is nothing short of a dream come true for me. Throughout her illustrious writing career, encompassing fiction of arresting lyricism and essays of incisive urgency, Arundhati Roy has been one of the most valiant defenders of the rights of both the individual and the collective. She caps a week of events that confront our society’s fast-evolving approach to personal narrative, exposition, and exposé. Our participants include some of the most potent exemplars of how social norms governing gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality have been up-ended by the sheer force of personal stories entering the public sphere. The festival offers audiences a ringside seat in witnessing the power of narrative in changing the world.”
PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel says, “The voluntary surrender of privacy in return for convenience, access, and human connection is fast reshaping expectations of what remains personal. As digital technologies steamroll forward, we aim through this Festival to hit the pause button to examine why these borders are being redrawn and how writers, creators, thinkers, and individuals can influence what aspects of our lives remain truly our own as well as how to shape narratives once they enter the public sphere.”
PEN America President Jennifer Egan says, “PEN World Voices offers an annual occasion for writers, artists, and intellectuals to pool resources for a weeklong exchange of creativity and ideas. In our era of global and national discord, such collaboration is essential—both as a refuge and a way forward. We hope that this year’s exceptional line-up, applied to a timely theme, will prove revelatory for participants and audience alike.”
Amidst a surge in new platforms of communication, people have harnessed the mobilizing power of personal stories; exciting new voices have emerged and established authors have been emboldened to explore new territory. In It Happened to Me (May 11), Édouard Louis(Who Killed My Father), Scholastique Mukasonga (The Barefoot Woman), Pajtim Statovci(Crossing: A Novel), Grace Talusan (The Body Papers), journalist and filmmaker Shiori Ito(Black Box), and poets Romeo Oriogun and Paul Tran—all of whom have, in their work, embraced the often-liberating effect of disclosure—will present an evening of powerful testimony. On May 10, Shiori Ito, poet Gerður Kristný (Bloodhoof), Miriam Toews (Women Talking), Anne Summers (Unfettered and Alive: A Memoir), and journalist Rachel Louise Snyder(No Visible Bruises) will speak of why we need to bring domestic violence into the public realm, and how they’ve done this in their own writings, in Intimate Terrorism. In Secrets and Lives,memoirist Dani Shapiro (Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love) and Bridgett M. Davis (The World According to Fannie Davis) will share the secrets that defined their families (May 12).
Open Secrets will also include those who have boldly undertaken the dangerous—and monumentally important—work of exposing the abuses they themselves have experienced at the hands of governments. Thirty years after the Tiananmen Square Protests, the festival will feature Rise Up: Tiananmen’s Legacy of Freedom and Democracy (May 7), a celebration of the dauntless courage and youthful defiance that challenged China’s authoritarian establishment, spotlighting and honoring those who continue to fight for freedom around the world today. Participants will include Ma Jian, Tiananmen Square student protest leaders Zhou Fengsuo, Wang Dan, and Fang Zheng, poet, novelist, musician, and documentarian Liao Yiwu, musician Martha Redbone, and more. In a return of a bravura event from last Festival, Ma Jian, Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, Egyptian PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award recipient Ahmed Naji (Using Life), author and PEN International President Jennifer Clement (Gun Love), Ukrainian poet Marianna Kiyanovska (The Voices of Babyn Yar), and Russian poet Kirill Medvedev (It’s No Good: poems/essays/actions) will participate in this year’s Cry, the Beloved Country, offering eloquent accounts of the struggles in their respective countries, in their original languages with simultaneous translation on screen (May 9).
After Raúl Zurita’s imprisonment by the Pinochet regime in 1973, the legendary poet of resistance chronicled atrocities committed against the Chilean people, including attacks on their language; on May 8, Zurita will read his poetry, and join poet Norma Cole and poet/translator William Rowe in conversation. On May 9, in Essex Hemphill: Remembering and Reimagining, author/activist Darnell L. Moore (No Ashes in the Fire); writer, poet, and playwright Timothy DuWhite; interdisciplinary artist, performer and writer Ni’ja Whitson, and filmmaker and writer Michelle Parkerson will pay homage to Essex Hemphill, the incisively political poet who gave voice to the experiences of black gay men in America during the 1980s and 1990s.
Digital technology has the potential to democratize global politics, empower activists, and facilitate free speech, but recent events have also shown us how technology can also exert a sinister influence on democratic practices. In Orwell’s China (May 8), exiled Chinese-born novelist and dissident Ma Jian (China Dream) and journalist Leta Hong Fincher (Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China) will speak with Chip Rolley, addressing the heightening surveillance culture, police state, and attacks on feminism in China. Digital technology has also, of course, abruptly reshaped our personal lives; featuring Niviaq Korneliussen (Last Night in Nuuk) and Gabriela Wiener (Sexographies), Love in the Time of Tinder will look at how literature depicts the tumultuous digitized terrain of modern love and sexuality (May 7).
Highlights of the 2019 PEN World Voices lineup of challenging and enlightening contemporary writing include recent examples of some of literary fiction’s richest offerings from the U.S. and abroad. In Women Uninterrupted, Elif Shafak (Three Daughters of Eve), Inês Pedrosa (In Your Hands), and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and PEN America President Jennifer Egan(Manhattan Beach) will speak about writing unforgettable fictional female characters (May 11). Acclaimed Latin American authors Rodrigo Rey Rosa (Severina) and Rodrigo Fresán (The Invented Part) will discuss their work in The Library of Borges (May 7). Resonances—moderated by PEN World Voices co-founder Esther Allen—will feature Niviaq Korneliussen, Bridgett M. Davis (The World According to Fannie Davis), Gabrielle Bell (Everything Is Flammable), and Willivaldo Delgadillo reading passages from their own works as well as writing by authors who influenced them (May 9).
A festival that transcends genres and media, PEN World Voices will feature living legend Philippe Petit (On the High Wire)—who famously walked between the roofs of the Twin Towers in 1974; he has, in the words of Mikhail Baryshnikov, achieved “a precise balance of chaos and creativity,” and will share what it takes to do this with fellow artist Elizabeth Streb in Artists of the Air (May 7). George Packer (The Atlantic, former New Yorker staff writer) has written Our Man, a compelling biography of Richard Holbrooke, arguably the last great American diplomat, which he will discuss with PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel in A Very American Diplomat(May 7). On May 10, PEN World Voices will feature the New York premiere screening of Kirill Serebrennikov’s film Leto, following Kino co-founding singer-songwriter Viktor Tsoi on his early journey from underground experimentation towards Soviet Union-wide stardom. With the film touching on Soviet censorship in the 1980s, and Serebrennikov currently under house arrest in Russia, the event will, on multiple levels, serve as a tribute to uninhibited creativity in the face of institutional oppression. In Countering Colonialism: A Queer Ritual of Healing, PEN World Voices turns toward yet another expressive form: queer Nicaraguan performance artist Elyla Sinverguenza will present their new work, Saint Peter Goose/Duck Pulling, reimagining a violent hyper-masculine ritual as a healing act (May 11).
On May 8, Soledad Castillo and Gabriel Méndez—who, through the oral history initiative Voice of Witness, shared their stories of border crossing to escape manifold horrors at home—will speak with the platform’s co-founder, acclaimed author Dave Eggers (The Parade), and the organization’s executive director Mimi Lok, in My Story, My Journey, My Freedom.
PEN World Voices’ Next Generation Now series of events for children and families this year includes the fun and fabulous Drag Queen Story Hour (ages 3-8, May 11) featuring Miz Jade, as well as the creative workshop Spellbound Theatre: Today I Will Be Fierce! (for children up to age 8, May 11), featuring story time with Nidhi Chanani (illustrator of I Will Be Fierce!).
PEN America will announce additional programming—featuring Sue Halpern, Isabella Hammad, Mohammed Hanif, Sheila Heti, Christos Ikonomou, Marlon James, Emiliano Monge, H.M. Naqvi, Joyce Carol Oates, Tommy Orange, Sonia Sanchez, Kara Swisher, Colm Tóibín, Tara Westover, Shoshana Zuboff, and many more—as the Festival approaches.
Photo credits: post header photo, ©Jamie Dedes; Arundhati Roy courtesy of Augustus Binu under CC BY-SA 3.0 license; Susanne Nossel in 2014 courtesy of PEN American Center
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.