The 2021 PEN World Voices Festival convenes fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, translators, thinkers, and activists to honor the art of the possible and the power of storytelling to push boundaries, challenge inherited narratives, and give voice to hope, courage, and survival. In a year when division and bloodshed have been fueled by hatreds based on race, ethnicity, and religion, the Festival celebrates resilience and courage, and summons the powers of the radical imagination and literature as gateways to reckoning and reconciliation.
If you have any questions, please visit our FAQs. For a look back at the (fully digital) 2020 World Voices Festival and its suite of podcasts, videos, interviews, and musical playlists, please visit pen.org/worldvoicesdigital.
Opening Night: Tuesday, May 18
The People’s History: Writing the Wrongs
Nearly one year has passed since uprisings across the United States and around the world decried anti-Black violence. Amid the pandemic, surging anti-Asian hate crimes have led to a swell of activism within, and in support of, AAPI communities. In a riveting opening night conversation moderated by Maria Hinojosa of Latino USA, whose recent memoir Once I Was You intimately explored America’s ongoing immigration crisis, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Imbolo Mbue confront questions of how to reconcile our collective pasts, challenging and reframing contested histories underlying today’s inequities. 8pm ET/5pm PT
Wednesday, May 19
Thursday, May 20
Friday, May 21
Saturday, May 22
Arthur Miller Lecture: Richard Flanagan
Across his career, Tasmanian novelist and Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan has unearthed histories that are crucial to remember to avoid repeating. Flanagan closes this year’s festival with the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, delivering a profound meditation on the contagiousness of fear, the potentials and limits of literature to incite moral reckoning, and new, insidious modes of censorship that pose critical challenges to free expression. He will be joined in conversation by Alexandra Schwartz, an award-winning writer on arts and culture for The New Yorker. 8pm ET/5pm PT
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Other Festival Programming and Content
Power to the People: A World Voices Festival Reading List
The books in this reading list push boundaries and challenge inherited narratives. From Randa Jarrar’s exuberant cross-country memoir, to Robert Jones Jr.’s stirring novel about the love between two enslaved men, the voices and characters in these works interrogate where power comes from, while rejecting the systems of oppression they face.
The PEN Pod
Hear from Festival organizers and participants on their most recent work, the power of storytelling, and the ways in which literature and festivals like ours can bring global voices together.
- Special: Previewing the PEN World Voices Festival with Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf »
- Festival Day One: Masha Gessen, Ayad Akhtar, and the PEN World Voices Festival »
- Festival Day Two: Allison Markin Powell and Gabriella Page-Fort, and Bringing Translated Literature to Vast Audiences »
- Festival Day Three: Torrey Peters and Liberation Literature »
- Festival Day Four: Kawai Strong Washburn and Magical Storytelling »
- Festival Day Five: Brian Broome and Unapologetic Memoir »
As part of this year’s Festival, we visited some beloved bookstores to reconnect with the spaces that we’ve long respected and enjoyed as hubs for the literary community.
Worker Writers School 10th Anniversary Celebration & Book Release
On International Workers Day, May 1, 2021, we celebrated 10 years of partnership between PEN America and the Worker Writers School. In collaboration with Kenning Editions and Pilsen Community Books, we launched Coronavirus Haiku, the first anthology to come out of our longest-running writing program.
Indie Lit Fair
A virtual showcase of magazines and books published by independent literary publishers that resonate with this year’s festival’s theme, “Power to the People.”
Community & Regional Partners
Brazos Bookstore • Burdock Book Collective • Deep Vellum • Pilsen Community Books • Scuppernong Books • Skylight Books • Magic City Books • Strand Book Store • Word Up Community Bookshop
World Voices Festival Co-Chairs
Ayad Akhtar • Masha Gessen
World Voices Festival Curatorial and Producing Team
Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, Senior Director, Literary Programs
Nancy Vitale, Senior Manager and Producer, Literary Programs
Nicole Gervasio, Manager, Literary Programs and Festival
Jared Jackson, Manager, Literary Programs
Jenn Dees, Program Manager, Los Angeles
Viviane Eng, Assistant, Literary Programs
Jane Marchant, Program Director, Literary Awards
Jaime Gordon, Fellow, Literary Programs
Literary Programs Interns: Adji Diop, Anna Riddo, Kelila Weiner, Sevval Ercin, and Toni France
PEN America Committees
Translation Committee • Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee
PEN America Trustees
Allison Markin Powell • Amanda Sarasien • Dinaw Mengestu • Greg Pardlo • Jennifer Egan • Jennifer Finney Boylan • Paul Muldoon • Susan Choi • Tom Healy
PEN America Staff and Interns
Alec Sandoval • Alejandro Heredia • Caits Meissner • Christina Manubag • Dounia Benslimane • Florence Li • Gina Chung • Hannah Lee • Hannah Waltz • Isabel Celio • Julie Trébault • Margaret Flynn Sapia • Melissa Joskow • Michelle Franke • Patrick Raneses • Peter Henry • Polina Sadovskaya • Rachel Pryzgoda • Rachel Roseman • Rebecca Werner • Robert Pollock • Sandy Mui • Summer Lopez • Stephen Fee • William Johnson
World Voices Festival Event Producers
Alex Lisowski • Erin Maureen Koster • Maria Luisa Gambale • Maxime Verdiere • Nicole Press • Tiffany Hopkins
PEN Pops Producers
Nora Berman • Mike Gioia
Michael Lucio Sternbach
Graphic Design and Animation
María Lavezzo, Studio La Maria
World Voices Festival Box Office Manager