2023 PEN America World Voices Festival: Day 3 Highlights
The third day of PEN America’s 2023 World Voices Festival on Friday featured food, feminism, and deep dives on history in 12 events packed with lovers of literature.
The festival is an annual celebration of international literature, this year featuring more than 100 writers from 27 countries in events across New York’s Greenwich Village and Los Angeles, with select events streamed online.
A SEAT AT THE TABLE: CULINARY & CULTURAL DELIGHTS
WOMEN TALKING: SARAH POLLEY AND MIRIAM TOEWS
Author Miriam Toews and director Sarah Polley hosted a screening of Women Talking, which turned from a novel to an Oscar-winning screenplay. The author and director discussed process of translating literature to a visual medium and the philosophical arguments at the center of the story.
STORIES THAT STAY: GRIEF, LEGACY, AND SEXUAL POLITICS IN FICTION
John Irving, author of The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider House Rules, and, most recently, The Last Chairlift, joined fellow novelist Charmaine Craig for a dialogue about the art of the novel and sexual politics.
DREAMING OUT LOUD: A PUBLIC READING
Students from DREAMing Out Loud, PEN America’s series of tuition-free writing workshops for emerging migrant writers in the U.S., founded by the award-winning Mexican novelist Álvaro Enrigue in 2016, gave voice to journeys toward hope, healing, and joy from around the world.
INDIA AT 75: WRITING FROM THE SUBCONTINENT AND THE FUTURE OF FREE EXPRESSION
Kiran Desai (The Inheritance of Loss), Geetanjali Shree (Tomb of Sand), Amitava Kumar (The Blue Book: A Writer’s Journal), Suketu Mehta (This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto), Zia Jaffrey (The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India) and moderator Raghu Karnad ( Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War) joined for a powerful conversation on writing from the subcontinent and the diaspora, and this pivotal moment in India’s history.
WOMEN WRITING WAR
DREAMING ON STAGE
Emerging writers presented new plays created under the instruction of playwright Victor I. Cazares.
INSURRECTION: THE STORY OF JANUARY 6TH
YELLOWFACE: R.F. KUANG IN CONVERSATION WITH ROXANE GAY
Award-winning and bestselling authors R.F. Kuang (Babel, The Poppy War) and Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist, Hunger) joined in conversation to discuss Kuang’s subversive and satirical new novel, in all its uneasy timeliness.
Kuang feared that she might have trouble publishing a novel that is in part an indictment of the publishing world. She delighted in writing about a character who envies and belittles a more successful writer.
“I think you have to put a piece of your heart in all of your characters, even the despicable ones,” she said.
GREEK LESSONS: HAN KANG IN CONVERSATION WITH KATIE KITAMURA
Han Kang, one of South Korea’s leading literary voices, joined the World Voices Festival for the North American launch of her new novel, Greek Lessons, in conversation with Katie Kitamura, author of Intimacies.
On writing about violence, Kang said, ““I just want to be vivid. I want to feel vivid and I just try to render the vividness into the sentences I write. It’s kind of a miracle that the readers can feel that vividness. It’s the miracle of language. Even though language is an impossible tool, sometimes it happens.”
SPIRITED AWAY – HAUNTED NOVELS
Acclaimed writers Namwali Serpell (The Furrows), Kevin Chen (Ghost Town), Joseph Han (Nuclear Family), and Samanta Schweblin (Seven Empty Houses) convened for a special event exploring and excavating the invisible forces, spectral presences, and haunting memories that shape and inform their fictional narratives.
The writers talked about ghosts or legacies from the past, and how they shape the world now and create compelling narratives.
“There is something absolutely amazing about what horror makes with our bodies,” Schweblin said. “The moment that you are starting to think, ‘Oh this is going to be horrible,’ it’s like a paradox. If you are reading a novel or short story, the more horrible you think this is going to be the more we love it. I love this feeling. When we confront this moment, it’s probably the moment when we as a reader pay the more interesting kind of attention. And I love it. So maybe my ghosts are this moment, are following this kind of attention.”