2021 World Voices Festival Hero Image

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.

Pre-Festival Event

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Worker Writers School 10th Anniversary Celebration & Book Release

Join us on International Workers Day, May 1, 2021, as we celebrate 10 years of partnership between PEN America and the Worker Writers School. In collaboration with Kenning Editions and Pilsen Community Books, we will be launching Coronavirus Haiku, the first anthology to come out of our longest-running writing program.

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Opening Night: Tuesday, May 18

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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 NguyenNikole 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

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Wednesday, May 19

The Stories Written into Our Bodies

The Stories Written into Our Bodies

The body and mind bear witness to, and absorb the trauma of, political unrest in the latest works from Lina Meruane, Grace M. Cho, and Mariana Enríquez. 12pm ET/9am PT
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Translating Hamilton: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

Translating Hamilton: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

Translator Kevin Schroeder joins with Sera Finale and Gen Parton-Shin to share the nuances of bringing ‘Hamilton’ to international audiences. 1pm ET/10am PT
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Graphics with Guts

Graphics with Guts

G. Willow Wilson, Brian Mitchell, and Aminder Dhaliwal craft graphic novels with the guts to rewrite history with Tochi Onyebuchi. 7pm ET/4pm PT
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Pleasure, Power, and Profanity: John McWhorter and Jeffrey Goldberg

Pleasure, Power, and Profanity: John McWhorter and Jeffrey Goldberg

Jeffrey Goldberg and John McWhorter examine our history with taboo language from the Middle Ages to today. 7pm ET/4pm PT
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PEN Presents: Jhumpa Lahiri with Maaza Mengiste

PEN Presents: Jhumpa Lahiri with Maaza Mengiste

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri discusses her new novel, Whereabouts. 8:30pm ET/5:30pm PT
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Love and Language: Keiichiro Hirano and Juliet Winters Carpenter

Love and Language: Keiichiro Hirano and Juliet Winters Carpenter

Bestselling Japanese novelist Keiichiro Hirano presents a lecture on love followed by a conversation with translator Juliet Winters Carpenter. 8:30pm ET/5:30pm PT
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Thursday, May 20

Transformation as Possibility in Queer Stories

Transformation as Possibility in Queer Stories

Queer literary luminaries Alison Bechdel, Torrey Peters, and Rivers Solomon discuss embodiment and transformation. 12pm ET/9am PT
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The Myth of Innocence: Coming of Age in America

The Myth of Innocence: Coming of Age in America

Naima Coster, Kirstin Valdez Quade, and Dantiel W. Moniz discuss coming-of-age stories that trace experiences of growing up as a person of color in America. 1pm ET/10am PT
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The Master’s Tools: The Art of Teaching Writing

The Master’s Tools: The Art of Teaching Writing

George Saunders, Matthew Salesses, and Rivka Galchen question the politics of teaching people how to tell stories. 7pm ET/4pm PT
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DREAMing on the Virtual Stage: Readings of Plays in Progress

DREAMing on the Virtual Stage: Readings of Plays in Progress

Emerging immigrant playwrights from DREAMing Out Loud stage their first plays with the New York Theatre Workshop and National Queer Theater. 7pm ET/4pm PT
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Mining History

Mining History

Fatima Shaik, Kaitlyn Greenidge, and Saidiya V. Hartman recover lost and untold stories from the early history of Black freedom in America. 8:30pm ET/5:30pm PT
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Friday, May 21

PEN Presents: Joy Harjo with Pádraig Ó Tuama

PEN Presents: Joy Harjo with Pádraig Ó Tuama

U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo talks about her newest musical album in light of her life and activism in the aftermath of the pandemic. 12pm ET/9am PT
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The Ties that Bind: Weathering Crises in a Globalized World

The Ties that Bind: Weathering Crises in a Globalized World

Yamen Manai, Jordi Nopca, and Kawai Strong Washburn discuss their latest works of fiction. 1pm ET/10am PT
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Verses on the Vanguard: Russian Poetry Today

Verses on the Vanguard: Russian Poetry Today

Russian poets and translators from PEN America’s Writers in Dialogue project reunite for a bilingual reading. 1pm ET/10am PT
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Narrative 4 Presents: The Power of Story Exchanges

Narrative 4 Presents: The Power of Story Exchanges

Filmmakers Brian Lindstrom and Jay Molina talk about poetry, film, and social justice in the new documentary, ‘Fire Through Dry Grass,’ with poet Hala Alyan. 5pm ET/2pm PT
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Blindness

Blindness

PEN World Voices Festival supporters receive exclusive access to ‘Blindness,’ a socially distant production at New York City’s Daryl Roth Theatre. 5pm ET
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On Revolutionary Love and Poetic Resistance

On Revolutionary Love and Poetic Resistance

Yusef Komunyakaa, Threa Almontaser, Edwidge Danticat, and John Freeman talk about collective repair. 7pm ET/4pm PT
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The Art of the Memoir

The Art of the Memoir

Authors Randa Jarrar and Mortada Gzar convene as memoir writers whose works trace selfhood within and against given, changing settings. 8:30pm ET/5:30pm PT
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Saturday, May 22

Writing Our Way Out: Reflections on Inheritance

Writing Our Way Out: Reflections on Inheritance

Debut authors Danielle Geller, Jamie Figueroa, and Linda Rui Feng discuss familial inheritance and loss. 2pm ET/11am PT
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Black Abundance and Radical Love

Black Abundance and Radical Love

Kiese Laymon, Robert Jones, Jr., and Brian Broome join in a conversation about writing multifaceted manifestations of Black masculinity and the power of radical love. 4pm ET/1pm PT
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DREAMing Out Loud Annual Public Reading

DREAMing Out Loud Annual Public Reading

DREAMing Out Loud's next generation of migrant writers joins Danyeli Rodriguez Del Orbe for a virtual reading at the World Voices Festival. 5pm ET/2pm PT
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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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World Voices Festival Reading List Featured Image

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.

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PEN Pops

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.

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.”

2021 Indie Lit Fair, Vol. I: Art and Storytelling

2021 Indie Lit Fair, Vol. I: Art and Storytelling

Honoring the art of the possible and the power of storytelling to push boundaries, challenge inherited narratives, and give voice to hope.
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2021 Indie Lit Fair, Vol. II: Truth and Courage

2021 Indie Lit Fair, Vol. II: Truth and Courage

A celebration of resilience and courage as we wrestle with inescapable truths about race in America.
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2021 Indie Lit Fair, Vol. III: Reckoning and Reconciliation

2021 Indie Lit Fair, Vol. III: Reckoning and Reconciliation

A desire to summon the powers of the radical imagination and literature as gateways to reckoning and reconciliation.
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Presenting Sponsors
Logos of presenting sponsors: Amazon Crossing, Amazon Literary Partnership, Horace Goldsmith Foundation, Institut Ramon Llull, Japan Foundation, Los Angeles, JKW Foundation, New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and Vilcek FoundationMedia Partners
Logos of media partners: Hudson Booksellers, The New Republic, and The Paris Review

Community & Regional Partners
Logos of community and regional partners: Asian American Writers Workshop, Austin Library Foundation, Community of Literary Magazines & Presses (CLMP), Dallas Literary Festival, Harriman Institute at Columbia University, Kenning Editions, Magic City Poetry Festival, Miami Book Fair, National Queer Theater, New York Immigration Coalition, New York Theatre Workshop, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI), and Word AllianceBookstore 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

Special Thanks

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

Production Team

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

Video Editor
Michael Lucio Sternbach

Graphic Design and Animation
María Lavezzo, Studio La Maria

World Voices Festival Box Office Manager
Michelle Cowles

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