A fiery exchange between Salman Rushdie and a political heckler, a former Onion writer filling in for a former U.S. Military Commissions prosecutor, live drum music, and some stellar readings were all part of a compelling opening night event of the 9th Annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature.
The theme of this year's festival is bravery and tonight's opening night readings at Cooper Union set forth a rather spirited tenor. A man who was protesting PEN America's recent appointment of Suzanne Nossel as their new Executive Director disrupted the start of the event by heckling the introductory speakers. Instead of forcing him to leave, the PEN staff showed their respect for debate and free speech by asking the man to remain quiet for the readings after he had been allowed to say his piece (and distribute flyers explaining his dissent). While Salman Rushdie and he exchanged some heated words, the activists/heckler did stay to watch the rest of the show silently. With that intro, the PEN Festival showed that it's an open forum for political discourse. The remainder of the event showed that the Festival means to celebrate both political and creative bravery in literature. Hosted by former Onion writer and current best-selling author, Baratunde Thurston (who stepped in for the absent speaker Lt. Col. in the Army Reserve Darrel Vandeveld to do a dialogue with Lt. Col. in the U.S. Air Force David Frakt about the trial of Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad), tonight's readings were performed by a group of writers diverse in national background and literary style. From Native American writer Joy Harjo's tuneful poetry to Caribbean writer Earl Lovelace's humorous prose, the evening's literary performers all confidently voiced the passion, resilience, and defiant power that literature is capable of in all its engaging forms.
This year's festival is off to a bold start and I'm looking forward to a week of fantastic literary events. I've highlighted several upcoming happenings below but make sure to visit PEN's website for the Festival's full schedule and ticket info.
Kissing the Sword: A Prison Memoir by Shahrnush Parsipur
Friday, May 3rd at Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU.
Obsession: Joy Harjo on Time
Friday, May 3rd at The Standard, East Village Hotel.
Watching the Meter: Poetry from the Taxi Drivers Workshop
Saturday, May 4th at Joe's Pub.
All That’s Left to You: Palestinian Writers in Conversation
Saturday, May 4th at The New School. Moderated by Judith Butler.
Literature: The Lock and Key
Saturday, May 4th at The Public Theater. With Shane Bauer and Laura Secor.
Obsession: Naomi Wolf on Truth
Saturday, May 4th at The Standard, East Village Hotel.