All too often, literary events lack substance. Writers called upon to discuss their books end up discussing their lives (this is what ‘the audience’ wants). Friends interview each other with the rigor of a publicist. And sometimes the charade of ‘literary discussion’ is altogether eschewed for a grab-bag session of nostalgia, jokes, aw-shucks banter.
I say that by way of context. Or rather contrast. For this past Thursday, I attended a literary panel discussion that was not only very enjoyable, but also very edifying. Indeed, I left with a feeling of exhilarated gratefulness that only the best professors provoke. The writers were humble, funny, passionate, engaging. And New Yorkers will have the chance to see a lot more of them this week! Because the panel discussion, titled “Resonances,” was only the opening event of the 2016 PEN’s World Voices Festival. If its standards are anything to go by, we are in for some great literary programming.
Founded in 2005 by the Michael Roberts and noted translator Esther Allen, the World Voices Festival has since established itself as America’s premier literary event. It was created to promote international literature, and its short history has featured a rather amazing list of writers including Orhan Pamuk, Nadine Gordimer, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Ryszard Kapuściński. And the festival is known not just for its literary heavyweights and political commitments—in 2013, Salman Rushdie interviewed the then-imprisoned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei over a video call—but also for featuring off-beat events like a ‘translation slam’ (hosted by the Believer magazine) and musico-literary performances at the MET. READ MORE…