PEN America International Festival Convenes Writers of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Journalism; Featured poets include Danez Smith and Jamila Woods

Poet Danez Smith reading at Split This Rock 2018, Washington, D.C. courtesy of Slowking4 under GFDL 1.2

On Wednesday, May 4, Danez Smith perform for this Festival from their latest poetry collection, Homie, sharing their perspectives on seeking joy, intimacy, acceptance and safety from discriminatory violence in America. Danez is a member of the Dark Noise Collective, an assemblage of poets and performers of color with a mission to amplify spoken word artists who explore race, religion, gender, queerness, hip-hop culture, and radical truth-telling in their art. After the performance they will talk about the potential of their art to celebrate race, the body, and identity politics.

Among the other Festival poets are: Mahogany L. Browne, Roya Marsh, Porsha Olayiwola, Jamilia Woods, Abdulla Pashew, Oksana Zabuzhko, Ben Okri, and Tatiana Voltskaya.

PEN America shares the highlights of its 16th Edition of the United States’ Leading International Literary Festival, bookended by an opening night event featuring Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay, and Jia Tolentino in Conversation with Rebecca Traister and a closing performance by Jon Batiste, Suleika Jaouad, Zadie Smith and Tara Westover

Acclaimed authors, writers and poets Including Andrés Barba, Ishmael Beah, Mahogany L. Browne, Lydia Davis, Amitav Ghosh, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Hunter Harris,  Jeremy O. Harris, Yuri Herrera, Jill Lepore, Sara Mesa, Lynn Nottage, Ben Okri, Elif Shafak, Jenny Slate, Danez Smith, Brandon Taylor, David Treuer, Jeanette Winterson, Jamila Woods, and other participants in venues around New York.

PEN America presents the 2020 PEN World Voices Festival: These Truths, celebrating literature’s deep illumination of cultural, historical, political, and emotional truths in a complex moment when “truth” is destabilized by the constant undermining of a common set of facts, “objective” histories are being interrogated and upended, and radical candor about lived experiences is fueling powerful social movements. This festival brings together fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, translators, thinkers, and activists for an array of conversations, interviews, readings, and musical performances on this infinitely prismatic subject.

Chip Rolley, Director of the PEN World Voices Festival and Senior Director of Literary Programs at PEN America, describes arriving at this year’s theme: “The crisis in truth in the American political sphere and a hallowed phrase from the U.S. Declaration of Independence were the jumping-off points for a festival that ultimately celebrates truth-telling on a wide range of topics and in myriad forms. We urgently need to hear the deeper truths afforded by literary fiction and by poetry, for literature to engage with contested histories and memory, and for journalists, historians and other non-fiction writers to present the world as it really is, to contest the fabrications served to us on an almost daily basis.”

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel says, “At a moment when we can rely on government officials neither to tell nor to face the truth, citizens must step into the breach. Truth-tellers such as investigative journalists, the courageous women behind the #MeToo movement, and the risk-everything whistleblowers attesting to government wrongdoing are driving the discourse while facing unrelenting attacks. Against this norm-defying backdrop, PEN America is proud to convene some of the world’s most transformative writers and thinkers in a show of force on behalf of complexity, facts, and veracity.”

Jamila Wood’s Album Cover for Legacy! Legacy!

On May 4th, soul-singer, song-writer, poet and recording artist behind LEGACY! LEGACY!, an album that draws inspiration from James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, and other great authors, Jamila Woodswill will present at this Festival. Jamila’s work focuses on themes of Black ancestry, Black feminism, and Black identity, with recurring emphases on self-love and the City of Chicago. After her performance at the Festival, she will talk about the potential of art to celebrate race, the body, and identity politics, offering a message of self-love and healing justice.

The 2020 PEN World Voices Festival opens May 4 with three compelling truth-tellers—Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay, and Jia Tolentino—speaking with Rebecca Traister at The Town Hall about how women’s lives have been shaped by historical forces, religious and political dogma, today’s resurgent misogyny, and societal and personal gaslighting, that most cunning undermining of lived reality.

On May 6 at the Great Hall at Cooper Union, Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of The 1619 Project*, delivers the festival’s annual keynote address, the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, given in recent years by Arundhati Roy (2019) and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (2018). Hannah-Jones discusses her journalistic mission to reframe how we understand our nation, the legacy of slavery, and the unparalleled role Black people have played in U.S. democracy.

Public Domain

*The 1619 Project is an ongoing project developed by The New York Times Magazine in 2019 with the goal of re-examining the legacy of slavery in the United States and timed for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia. It is an interactive project by Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for The New York Times, with contributions by the paper’s writers, including essays on the history of different aspects of contemporary American life which the authors believe have “roots in slavery and its aftermath.” It also includes poems, short fiction, and a photo essay.[2] Originally conceived of as a special issue for August 20, 2019, it was soon turned into a full-fledged project, including a special broadsheet section in the newspaper, live events, and a multi-episode podcast series.

The New York Times has said that the contributions were deeply researched, and arguments verified by a team of fact-checkers in consultation with historians. Civil War historians Gordon S. Wood, James M. McPherson and Richard Carwardine are among many who have criticized the 1619 Project, stating that the project has put forward misleading and historically inaccurate claims.

Like Hannah-Jones, bestselling author David Treuer (The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee) offers a powerful counter-narrative to a monolithic history—in this case, rebutting conventional wisdom about Native American experience (May 5 at Brooklyn Historical Society). In an event entitled The Last Archive, on May 7 at Symphony Space, celebrated historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore (These Truths: A History of the United States) interrogates a question at the heart of this year’s festival: How do we find the truth in the age of Google and “alternative” facts? Amitav Ghosh, Terry Tempest Williams, Maja Lunde, and Emily Raboteaucome together May 9 at the AIA Center for Architecture to consider the role of the writer in a society that denies science and the everyday realities of extreme weather amidst impending apocalypse.

Other events underscore the truth-telling potential of the creative act. On May 6 at the Center for Fiction in Brooklyn, Booker Prize-winning novelist Ben Okri discusses his latest book, The Freedom Artist, which imagines a society where the disappearance of books and diminishment of literacy have led to the creation of a dystopia devoid of truth. On the heels of her Netflix comedy special Stage Fright, Jenny Slate will speak with Vulture writer Hunter Harris about her unclassifiable, keenly personal book Little Weirds (May 6 at the New School). On May 7 at Center for Fiction, Turkish-British writer-activist Elif Shafak and literary critic and Literary Hub Executive Editor John Freeman explore how words themselves have been used to misrepresent and distort reality, and how they can be reclaimed. Also on May 7, at Symphony Space, playwrights Jeremy O. Harris (Slave Play, Daddy, and Black Exhibition) and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage (Sweat, Ruined, and Intimate Apparel) discuss their impulse to expose uncomfortable, often hidden truths about race, class, and sexuality in American society.

PEN America President Jennifer Egan says, “A festival of writers, artists, and intellectuals affords a tonic opportunity to explore pressing topics from creative and unexpected angles. The offerings in “These Truths” include an evening melding dystopian fiction and West African music; a Russian queer poetry reading; and a cross-generational discussion between prominent Mexican novelists about how art can reclaim and subvert cultural stereotypes—to name just a smattering of auspicious events.”

You can visit the PEN AMERICA WORLD VOICES FESTIVAL WEBSITE for complete details and to purchase tickets. 

This post is courtesy of Wikipedia, PEN America, Amazon, and The 1612 Project, 

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. The organization champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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A New Report from PEN America Warns: Epidemic of “Fake News” Poses Looming Threat to Free Expression

The spread of “fake news” is reaching a crisis point, PEN America warns in its new report,  Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth. The comprehensive, 100+-page report evaluates the array of strategies that Facebook, Google, Twitter, newsrooms, and civil society are undertaking to address the problem, stressing solutions that empower news consumers while vigilantly avoiding new infringements on free speech.

Coming from the leading US free expression organization, the PEN America report argues that even though most “fake news” is protected by the First Amendment, its proliferation creates a flood of disinformation that imperils open expression writ large and demands a concerted response.

“Fake news is mendacious publication gone viral in the digital age,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, citing the organization’s 1948 Charter which commits PEN to “oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortion of facts for political and personal ends.”

“That most fraudulent news may be protected by the First Amendment doesn’t mean it isn’t corroding our discourse and, ultimately, our democracy,” said Nossel. “When the public loses its bearings in terms of what’s true or false, it shakes the foundations that make freedom of speech valuable.”

Faking News rates the range of fact-checking, algorithmic, educational and standards-based approaches being taken to counter the proliferation of fake news.  The report identifies sound methods that merit investment, and sounds a warning bell for tactics that risk suppressing controversial speech, such as giving government new powers to regulate or calling on social media companies to block specific content entirely.

The report comes out as tech giants Facebook, Google, and Twitter are being called to Capitol Hill to testify about how their companies’ platforms and technologies were used by Russian actors in an effort to sway the 2016 presidential election. Arguing that these companies—which are many Americans’ primary channels for news consumption—must play a critical and transparent role in curbing the spread of false news, the report spells out a series of specific strategies that center on empowering news consumers with access to fact-checking initiatives and news literacy programs.

In Faking News, PEN America also sets out a News Consumers Bill of Rights and Responsibilities outlining what consumers should expect from the outlets and social media platforms that convey news and how they can protect themselves and others.

In addition to the report, PEN America will host a public panel discussion about “fake news” on October 13 at the Newseum in Washington, featuring Nossel, NPR Editorial Director Michael Oreskes, executive director of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center Lata Nott, media critic Rem Rieder, and George Stanley, award-winning editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Newseum’s Gene Policinski.

The report is available here.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. The organization champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible

Nothing “so called” about the world’s journalists: seventy-eight died in 2016 to bring us accurate reports and important information

"Len Ganeway" by Derek Wernher (in Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina) Statue by Derek Wernher
Man reading a newspaper by Derek Wernher (in Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina) Statue by Derek Wernher

There are some institutions that are necessary to support healthy democracies … public libraries, good public education, freedom to assemble, free speech …. and a free press that is allowed to carry-out its moral mission with impunity. While our occupational cousins – professional journalists – are coming under attack from certain quarters, there are dedicated journalists who brave dangerous territory, horrible work and living conditions, and long stays away from family and friends to bring us important information, correct and timely reports. Many end up with PTSD. They are often physically wounded, maimed or killed in torn and sometimes out-of-the-way-places that politicians and oligarchs wouldn’t fly over much less dare to set foot to ground.

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] reports today that in 2016 seventy-eight journalists (representing a diversity of counties, races, genders and religions) died to bring us accurate news reports. CPJ investigates the death of each journalist to confirm the motive. It reports that among the seventy-eight killings the motives for forty-eight are confirmed. Among the seventy-eight are also two media workers and twenty-eight journalists for whom the motive is unconfirmed. The deaths have been by murder, crossfire, or  while covering dangerous assignments. Beats covered in 2016 were:

4% Business
19% Corruption
17% Crime
13% Culture
17% Human Rights
38% Politics
4% Sports
75% War

According to the CPJ the numbers are rounded up and the percentage is over 100% because many covered more than one beat. The chart belongs to the CPJ and is protected under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.

Journalists at work in Montreal circa 1940s
Journalists at work in Montreal circa 1940s

I would also submit at this time that discussions of fake v true news are too simple and among other things they don’t often acknowledge the reader’s responsibility for careful selection, analyses, sharing and wide reading. Anyone who clicks on “click bait” for example, those links that start with “you wouldn’t believe what happened next” or ” he was walking down the street and …”  are accessing sites for sales and marketing not news outlets. On Facebook these are rife on the roll to the right of the screen. Shared posts on Facebook or Twitter or other social media like blogs should not be our primary sources of news information.  Conspiracy theories, satire, comedy “news” media and news aggregates (v. original stories) are not reliable resources nor are news sources that are partisan and consistently confirm our biases, whatever they may be.

Among the more balanced and accurate news outlets are: AP and Reuters news agencies, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, The Washington Post print news, and the BBC and NPR for broadcast media.

If we want our news outlets to hire the very best journalists and to fund in-depth research and reporting, we must use them, pay for them or donate to them as appropriate. I’m pleased to see that so many people are now subscribing to the New York Times in an effort to help keep this, the premier American newspaper, afloat.  The New York Times was founded in 1851. It has been in continuous publication since then and is widely considered to be “the newspaper of record” for the United States of America.

The video below is of Christiane Amanpour’s 2016 Burton Benjamin Memorial Award Acceptance Speech. She addresses the responsibilities of journalism and journalists in the context of a post-truth post-values era.It’s about fifteen minutes. There’s good substance here, much to chew on.  If you are reading this feature from an email subscription, you’ll have to link through to the site to view the video.

Photo licensing: Reading the newspaper header photograph is under CC BY-SA 2.0 license; Canadian journalists by Conrad Poirier from Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, reference number P48,S1,P23104 Public domain


noble delights …

Though you were worn and blistered from rummaging for truth and meaning, still you searched for parables. You disinterred rhapsodies. You fractured the dictionary freeing every word for your odyssey. The dove’s lamenting spoke to you of ancient stories. The gusty wind taught you grammar. Dancing phonemes tantalized your ears and tickled your throat.

Finally, you found meaning neatly nestled between language and myth. You razed the walls that bound your soul and deftly breached the rubble with poetry. Celebrate the noble delights. Yours for your victory. Ours for the love of your lines.

He who draws noble delights from sentiments of poetry is a true poet, though he has never written a line in all his life.” George Sand, (1804-1876), French novelist and memoirist, The Haunted Pool (1851)

© 2015, prose poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo courtesy of morgueFile