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Announcing the 2013 PEN World Voices Festival

The World Voices Announcement first appeared on the Arts Beat blog section of the The New York Times on February 19, 2013, by Larry Rohter. 

With Salman Rushdie returning as chairman, the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature will bring more than 100 writers from around the world to New York City to discuss both their art and politics this spring, from April 29 through May 5. One major theme of this year’s edition of the festival, the ninth, will be the notion of bravery in those realms, with panel discussions and other events honoring writers who have shown courage in their lives and work.

An opening night reading will set the tone, with Ursula Krechel of Germany, A. Igoni Barrett of Nigeria, and the Cambodian-American novelist Vaddey Ratner, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide, reading from works of their own about the notion of bravery. Other writers scheduled to participate in later events include Pierre Michon from France, Claudio Magris from Italy, Eduardo Galeano from Uruguay, and three American writers with roots in the former Yugoslavia: Aleksandar Hemon, Charles Simic, and Téa Obreht.

As is usually the case, PEN has scheduled events that focus on literary creation in societies that have experienced political stresses. Haiti and South Africa are two of the countries that will have dedicated events, and for the first time ever, the festival has organized a panel on Palestinian literature, moderated by the philosopher and critic Judith Butler.

A panel called “Bravery in Poetry” is also planned, on May 2, with well-known literary figures talking about poets whose writing they think exemplifies courage, and then reading from that poet’s work. Paul Auster is scheduled to talk about George Oppen, who moved to Mexico during the McCarthy period, while Mary Karr will speak about Zbigniew Herbert, the Polish poet who resisted both Nazi and Communist rule. Other speakers include Edward Hirsch, who will talk about Joseph Brodsky, the Russian-born poet who migrated to the United States after persecution by the Soviet authorities, winning the Nobel Prize in 1987 and becoming United States poet laureate in 1991.

In recent years, the festival has sought to broaden its appeal with less-formal events, or “series that will engage audiences with literature in new and active ways,” as PEN calls them. On May 4, a panel of New York City taxi drivers will read original writing created at a series of workshops, and a “literary safari” on May 3 will allow audiences to wander from apartment to apartment in the Westbeth artists’ community for readings by residents and other writers.