2014 Opening Letter
Ten years ago, in 2004, Salman Rushdie, then President of the PEN American Center, had the idea of initiating an international literature festival in New York City—something which hadn’t existed before. An event which would bring audiences together with writers from around the world, offering first-hand cultural and political experience from different countries and offering a vantage point from which to develop a deeper understanding of the intellectual landscape around the world.
This is the ideal we still hold. Post 9/11 New York needed a feeling of connectedness and creative input from international writers, public intellectuals, journalists and philosophers to restore its dignity and energy.
And after 10 years here we are: celebrating PEN World Voices Festival’s 10th anniversary in the same sentiment, but in a form which has evolved and grown over a decade. As the only international literary festival in the U.S, and the only festival with a human rights focus, in the course of the last ten years we have presented over 1500 writers and artists from 78 countries, speaking 56 languages. Building on the Festival’s reputation this year’s line-up reflects our belief in literature as an essential art-form which has the potential to disturb even as it entertains, to find the revelatory amid the familiar, and, in the best cases to truly inspire.
It is with this in mind that in the first week of May, we will present a program ranging from literature to politics, from poetry to philosophy, all under the title On the Edge. This year we take inspiration from a long line of writers and artists who have dared to step out on to the edge, risking their careers and sometimes their lives, to speak out against the status quo.
We are bringing Adonis, Ivan Klima, Shirin Neshat, Boris Akunin, Adam Michnik, Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Rabih Mroue, Lydia Davis, and many others together in New York for readings, performances, discussion and debate.
This year we’re considering the historical ramifications of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the politics and ethics of surveillance, the importance (or unimportance) of the public intellectual in society, and the use of food as a political weapon.
We will present several events focusing on parts of the world from which receive scant attention, and whose artistic out-put goes largely ignored. We are producing Rabih Mroue’s touching, intimate and experimental theater piece from Beirut; introducing up-and-coming writers from former Yugoslavia; and presenting Gado, the popular political cartoonist who also spearheads XYZ, Kenya’s infamous weekly televised puppet show.
The 10th World Voices Festival is proud to present a leading voice of the Arab world, the Syrian poet, Adonis, along with one of Russia’s most distinct novelists, Boris Akunin, and Prague’s multi-award winning, Ivan Klima.
Following huge success in past years, we are once again offering our workshop series with writers including Francine Prose, Tracy K. Smith, Siri Hustvedt, John Freeman and Deborah Solomon.
Other returning Festival favorites are our late night Obsession series—co-curated this year by Dan Savage—and one of our signature events, the Literary Safari at Wesbeth Center for the Arts.
Regardless of which events you decide to attend, we very much hope that we can show the incredible richness and variety of the art of literature. Literature is about the zeniths and nadirs of our existence. Stories are all over us. We are literature.
Welcome to the 10th anniversary of the PEN World Voices festival!
Jakab Orsós, World Voices Festival and Public Programs Director
Salman Rushdie, Festival Founder
Peter Godwin, President
Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director