Join us for Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah’s first U.S. appearance since his momentous Nobel Prize win last October, when the Swedish academy lauded him for “his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.” An author of 10 critically acclaimed novels, including Paradise (1994), Gravel Heart (2017), and Afterlives (2020), Gurnah has been amplifying, rewriting, and centering subjugated histories for the entirety of his career. His vital writing chronicles an Africa on the brink of change while drawing light on the legacies and consequences of European colonialism. This very special opening night event celebrating Gurnah’s body of work features readings, performances, and conversation with Booker Prize shortlisted novelist Nadifa Mohamed and others. ASL interpretation provided by Pro Bono ASL.
Archives often replicate and preserve the biases of history: the narrow lenses that designate significance have led scores of famous men’s reputations to completely eclipse their partners’—even when it was these very partners who helped publicize their stories. Such was certainly the case with Captain James Cook, the seafaring explorer whose well-known journals were heavily edited by his wife Elizabeth. “A surprising and touching novel about the loss of children; about a ruined union between a man and a woman; and, above all, about the inadequacy of facts in helping to understand people” (Haarlems Dagblad) Anna Enquist’s The Homecoming depicts Elizabeth’s life in her own right and centers her in the archive outside of her husband’s ambitions. Join the award-winning Dutch author in conversation with PEN World Voices Festival curator Louise Steinman for a virtual author interview that is not to be missed.
Somali British writer Warsan Shire was awarded the inaugural Brunel International African Poetry Prize and served as the first Young Poet Laureate of London. She is the youngest member of the Royal Society of Literature and is included in the Penguin Modern Poets series. The celebrated collaborator on Beyonce’s Lemonade who, in her poetry, “conjures up a new language for belonging and displacement” (The New Yorker) will be joined in conversation with National Book Critics Circle Award-winning poet Morgan Parker—a “dynamic craftsperson” of “considerable consequence in American poetry” (The New York Times), who “explores how identities are constructed, not only through the prism of race but also through historical legacies and pop culture” (Time Magazine). These two titans of contemporary poetry will read their work and discuss family, diaspora, trauma, resilience, and Shire’s latest collection of poems, Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, which she describes as “songs for the refugee.” Booksales by Reparations Club.
In PEN America’s annual Freedom to Write Index, Iran and Turkey consistently rank among the top ten countries that repress writers. Azerbaijan, meanwhile, continues to harass its most prominent writer. Why are these countries so frightened of their own writers? What specific obstacles do writers face in these countries? How do they communicate with audiences at home, and why is their writing of importance to an international audience? Hear Turkey’s Ahmet Altan read from his prison memoir I’ll Never See The World Again; Azerbaijani novelist Akram Aylisli read from his trilogy Farewell, Aylis, part of which was publicly burned in 2013; and Iranian feminist writer and activist Narges Mohammadi discuss her book White Torture, which contains interviews with political prisoners about the experience of solitary confinement. Translators Frieda Afary, Yasemin Çongar, and Katherine E. Young discuss the special challenges of bringing these and other writers who live with repression into the worldwide political and literary conversation. The discussion will be moderated by Nayereh Tohidi, Professor Emerita of Gender and Women’s Studies, California State University, Northridge.
In a 2018 lecture, PEN Ukraine President Andrey Kurkov said that “democracy is not eternal if it is not supported and not monitored daily, if we do not appreciate our rights and freedoms, and if we don’t react to every attempt of the authorities or individual political forces to restrict these rights and freedoms.” Since then, Kurkov has maintained that it is the role of writers, journalists, academics, and public intellectuals to protect our freedom to write, protest, and fight for a free press. In recent months, he—along with the Ukrainian people—have embodied that very spirit and offered inspiration to all who value and struggle for freedom around the world. Kurkov will deliver this year’s Arthur Miller Lecture, which will be followed by an interview with novelist Gary Shteyngart and Q&A. ASL interpretation provided by Pro Bono ASL.
Join poets from across the world for a momentous and far-reaching evening of poetry, from the debut work of Maori poet Tayi Tibble, who announces herself in Poukahangatus as a major new voice, to the exquisite lyricism of Paul Tran (All the Flowers Kneeling). They are joined by Greek poet Phoebe Giannisi (Cicada), Japanese novelist/poet Mieko Kawakami (All the Lovers in the Night, Breasts and Eggs), St. Lucia-born Ontario writer and editor Canisia Lubrin (The Dyzgraphxst), and Chilean poet and novelist Alejandro Zambra (Chilean Poet, Multiple Choice), for an unforgettable night of readings and reflections on the gift of poetry. The special evening will be hosted by award-winning poet and facilitator Jon Sands (It’s Not Magic). ASL interpretation provided by Pro Bono ASL.
One of the leading voices in experimental Spanish-language fiction” (The New York Times), celebrated Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin discusses writing as an extension of both the body physical and the body politic with David Shook, translator of the brand-new English translation of Beauty Salon, the allegory of plague that brought Bellatin his cult status for his singular literary vision. Written in 1994, this work of “unstoppable momentum…” that many have interpreted in relationship to the HIV/AIDS epidemic “lays bare the capacity of illness to ravage the body and strip the individual of identity” (BookForum) and speaks with disquieting immediacy as the globe reels from COVID-19. This conversation will be moderated by interviewer, curator, and Founding Executive Director of Onassis Los Angeles Paul Holdengräber. ASL/LSM interpretation provided by ProBono ASL. Co-presented with The Broad.