PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature: The Insider’s Scoop!

by Jon L Peacock
Associate Alumni Representative, 2012-2013
Alumnus of Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY

It’s that time again! This year’s Annual World Voices Festival, brought to you in New York City by the good people at the PEN American Center, spans the week of April 30th through May 6th, 2012. PEN (poets, playwrights, essayists, editors, and novelists) American is a part of an international community that fights for the freedom of speech and literary art, especially in highly censored areas of the world. They made people aware of the censor-related incarceration of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo well before he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. This not-for-profit organization has continually endeavored to keep the channels of speech and expression open to all who wish to use them since its inception in 1921.

This year’s World Voices Festival features over a hundred writers, editors, publishers, and academics from every spectrum of writing and every corner of the world, coming together to participate in readings, panels, discussions, and events that range from prison writing to graphic novels. Some highlights of participants include, but are certainly not limited to, Margaret Atwood, Steve Bell, Yusef Komunyakaa, Tony Kushner, Anne Waldman, Colson Whitehead, and the most recent Poet Laureate, Philip Levine. You’ll be surprised who I didn’t mention! The closing act, on Sunday May 6th, is always the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, this year given by none other than Salman Rushdie, the founder of PEN World Voices Festival. Believe it or not, this is his first year giving the closing lecture!

As a sporadic PEN volunteer for the past four years, I can tell you how amazing it is to see the convergence of such amazing, beautiful, sometimes tragic literary voices. Their stories are inspiring, even surprising, and almost all participants enjoy staying after the formal events to chat with audience members. One year I met actor James Franco, who gave a staged reading of a work-in-progress with fellow actor Parker Posey. Another PEN event I was fortunate to speak with Chinua Achebe as his Things Fall Apart celebrated its 50th anniversary. I do not say this to boast (not entirely), but to let you all know of the wonderful adventures that await you at this Festival! Most events are free, and almost all of the paid events are $20 and below.

The official site for all information you’ll need is www.pen.org/festival. If you can, check out the events. If you’re feeling frisky, e-mail them and see if they need another volunteer. I’ll be volunteering once again, so you may see me behind the scenes getting water here or setting up the audio there. Say hi if you do!

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