Posts filed under 'PEN World Voices Festival'

Dispatch: “Resonances” Event at the PEN World Voices Festival

Ratik Asokan reviews an event from the PEN World Voices Festival in New York City.

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 commitmentsin 2013, Salman Rushdie interviewed the then-imprisoned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei over a video callbut also for featuring off-beat events like a ‘translation slam’ (hosted by the Believer magazine) and musico-literary performances at the MET. READ MORE…

Translator’s Profile: Susan Bernofsky

Q&A with Susan Bernofsky, translator from the German and Director of Literary Translation at Columbia University.

Susan Bernofsky directs the literary translation program in the School of the Arts MFA Program in Writing at Columbia University. She has translated over twenty books, including seven by the great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Hesse’s Siddhartha and, most recently, The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck. Her many prizes and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship this year, as well as the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Prize and the Hermann Hesse Translation Prize. She blogs about translation at


Asymptote: Describe your current/most recent project. Why is it cool? What should we know about it?

Susan Bernofsky: I’m working on a gorgeous and bizarre novel about polar bears by Yoko Tawada called ETUDES IN SNOW. It’s a three-generation story inspired by the short, tragic life of Knut, the baby polar bear born in the Berlin zoo in 2006, but that’s just the jumping-off point for her novel. It’s really a book about identity (national, species, etc.) All the main characters in the book are polar bears, and are described in their physicality as polar bears, but at the same time they move in human society, without any acknowledgment that there might be a contradiction here. The grandmother character, born in the Soviet Union, becomes a writer. As an author of polar bear extraction, she’s an ethnic minority. She later emigrates to Canada, from where her daughter returns to Europe, landing in East Germany, where she takes a job at a circus and experiences the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s a funny, sad, moving book.