“Mr. Kushner squeezed a New Yorker profile-length introduction to Mr. Albee into his alotted three minutes, including a brief recap of Sunday night’s episode of Mad Men (it name-checked Mr. Albee) and running only ten minutes over.

“You’re talking too long!” a heckler from the squirming audience eventually told Mr. Kushner. But, in accepting the award, Mr. Albee also demonstrated PEN’s mission to fight the censorship of writers.

“That was a very good three minutes,” Mr. Albee said, looking rakish in mustache and brown leather blazer. “Since I’m allotted five I’ll only go on eighteen.”

After applauding PEN, “an organization that does you honor by honoring you,” Mr. Albee honored himself by interviewing himself about his career, playing both the role of Mr. Albee and an invisible journalist he’d just met, a young fellow named Tommy.”

(via Tony Kushner and Edward Albee Go Long at PEN Literary Gala | The New York Observer)


Jennifer Egan: How to Create Your Own Rules

What shapes a novel beyond its beginning, middle, and end? Does structure trigger narrative? Author of 2011’s genre-defying, A Visit From The Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan has said of her process, “I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s the price you pay for doing something different every time.” The Pulitzer Prize–winning Egan explores the role of structure in writing and reading, sharing her perspective on the “rules” and her process in bending them.

This event took place as part of the 2012 PEN World Voices Festival.

Co-sponsored by The New School for Social Research
Rushdie Brings PEN Festival to Close -

A wonderful post in the NY Times on the close of the PEN World Voices festival.

“The PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature ended Sunday night on a traditional note, with a lecture by the Indian-born novelist Salman Rushdie, the target of an ayatollah’s fatwa in 1989, about the freedom to write. In recent years the festival has experimented with offerings that blur the distinction between literature and other forms of art or entertainment, and this year was no exception: the 37 scheduled events included one on Wednesday at the Metropolitan Museum in which three writers recited texts over a live musical performance by the Kronos Quartet and another on Saturday night that had five authors giving a thematic reading called “Messiah in Brooklyn” as they stood amid an installation at a gallery called the Invisible Dog Art Center.”


Herta Müller and Claire Messud in Conversation

May 4, 2012 | 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center | New York City

In her first New York appearance in over a decade, after a reading from her forthcoming novel The Hunger AngelHerta Müller is interviewed by another literary titan, Claire Messud. This event took place as part of the 2012 PEN World Voices Festival.


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Marjane Satrapi in conversation with New Yorker art editor Francoise Mouly.

The PEN World Voices Festival event included a screening of Satrapi’s new film Poulet aux Prunes (Chicken with Plums), based on the graphic novel of the same name.

Co-sponsored by The Museum of Modern Art

Image © Susan Horgan / PEN American Center

Betsy Mead: Panopticon

Panopticon: a prison envisioned by English thinker Jeremy Bentham in which guards could keep constant watch over prisoners…with the subjects perpetually unsure whether they are being monitored or not.

This description does not seem to align with the democratic world and its strong beliefs in freedom of speech and freedom of press. The idea of surveillance 24/7 may more readily spark a comparison with Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany or any fantastical science fiction world.

It may be more widespread, albeit less visible, than you think.

On Saturday, May 5, a panel of experts gathered to discuss the intrusion of authority in our society and how that has, or will, affect an individual’s ability to express him, or herself. Catherine Crump of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, Russian author Ludmila Ulitskaya and several others were in attendance to debate key issues about the increasing elusiveness of total privacy.

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PEN Festival Panel Gives Christopher Hitchens Mixed Grades -


The PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature kicked off Monday night with a panel discussion about the life and work of Christopher Hitchens. Billed as a “tribute” to the writer, the promotional materials for the event said it would engage with this question, among others: “Did the man and his methods overshadow his ideas?” But even that wasn’t full preparation for a decidedly mixed evaluation of Mr. Hitchens’s legacy, which prompted a firm defense of the writer by a famous friend to cap the evening…

"There's so much to say...": Writings from the Domestic Workers United Workshop


On Saturday, May 5, I attended a powerful and moving panel by members of the Domestic Workers United, moderated by poet and activist, Mark Nowak.  Titled ‘There’s so much to say…,” the event, at the PEN World Voices Festival 2012, gave voice to and showcased the writings of participants who’d completed a poetry workshop with Nowak, meeting Saturday mornings at the Domestic Workers United office, in downtown Manhattan, over the course of five months.

         Nowak, a 2010 Guggenheim fellow, and the author of Coal Mountain Elementary and Shut Up Shut Down has conducted similar workshops in collaboration with a number of labor unions.  On Saturday, he began the panel by screening a short documentary about a workshop he’d led in South Africa with workers at the Pretoria Ford plant.  The video segment ended with the choral poem, “Oh! What a Life!” written by six of the Ford workers.

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Salman Rushdie: The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture

Novelist and PEN World Voices Festival founder Salman Rushdie examines the many faces of censorship in contemporary society and the role of the author within a climate of forced silence and intolerance.

This event took place as part of the 2012 PEN World Voices Festival.

Judith Benét Richardson: Herta Müller: CAN LITERATURE BEAR WITNESS?

This extremely crowded event in a small room of Deutsches Haus in Washington Mews could certainly have been held in a larger venue, but was riveting to those who managed to squeeze in the doors.

The dramatic-looking Müller, who in her photos can resemble a Japanese noh actor, revealed her personal side as an impassioned partisan of language and truth.

The Nobel speech, which she read, is posted on the Deutsches Haus website and I believe a video will be also. Though she made intellectual points, the thoughts were grounded in imagery which dramatized her stories.

When we arrived, the words on the screen were:

When we don’t speak,/we become unbearable,/and when we do,/we make fools of ourselves./ Can literature bear witness?

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Writers discuss Gregor von Rezzori’s Bukovina Trilogy

With Michael CunninghamDeborah EisenbergDaniel Kehlmann, and Edmund White; moderated by Edwin Frank

In the early 20th Century, what is now Chernivtsi, Ukraine was Czernowitz, Bukovina, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the birth place of the dazzling writer Gregor von Rezzori. For Rezzori, this city was a place full of color and laughter, but also of terrible uncertainty and latent violence, a polarity captured in his Bukovina trilogy Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, The Snows of Yesteryear: Portraits for an Autobiography, and An Ermine in Czernopol.

Some of today’s finest writers discussed Rezzori’s lost worlds and enduring works at the 2012 PEN World Voices Festival.

Best European Fiction 5/5/12

Aleksandar Hemon was a wonderful moderator for this interesting group of writers, as he takes so seriously the idea that we must read works from other countries, translate them, discuss them, and understand where they are coming from.

Róbert Gál from Slovakia, Nöelle Revaz from Switzerland and Patrick Boltshauser from Lichtenstein each in their own way, made us see the rewards of making this effort. Appropriately enough, we met at the New School, in a classroom.

Gál studied philosophy for many years and prefers to write aphorisms. Hemon joked with him about the impossibility of publishing a book of aphorisms in Slovakia and reaching readers. Gál said that for this reason he embedded his aphorisms in a novel and published in English; he feels philosophy is useful to any writer, as it is the art of asking questions.

Noëlle Revaz wrote WITH THE ANIMALS in a kind of invented French with “mistakes,” to forge her identity as a Swiss writer. Some French readers believed she was writing in a Swiss dialect. She travels widely in Europe and teaches at a bilingual Institute, which  helps to enlarge her world.

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