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[VIRTUAL] PEN Presents: A Reading in Solidarity with the Belarusian People

On August 9, 2020, Belarus, a small European country often referred to as “the last dictatorship of Europe,” erupted in protest following the results of a fraudulent presidential election. Over the last two months, the people of Belarus have taken to the streets to call for free and fair elections, with their peaceful efforts met with unspeakable police brutality, violence, and a slew of illegal detainments. Among those facing intimidation from Belarusian authorities is Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel Prize-winning author and president of PEN Belarus, who is a part of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s Coordinating Council. In solidarity with PEN Belarus and all Belarusian people, PEN America is organizing a reading of contemporary Belarusian literature by our Members and friends, including Masha Gessen, Ayad Akhtar, Jennifer Egan, and Valzhyna Mort.

This event is presented in collaboration with the Open Society University Network and City of Asylum.


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Books by tonight’s featured authors are available for purchase at City of Asylum Bookstore. All proceeds benefit City of Asylum Pittsburgh, a nonprofit committed to defending freedom of expression.


Ayad Akhtar headshot

Ayad Akhtar is a novelist and playwright. His work has been published in over two dozen languages. He is the winner of numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Akhtar is the author of American Dervish, published in over 20 languages and named a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2012, as well as Homeland Elegies, which was released in September 2020. As a playwright, he has written Junk, Disgraced, The Who & The What, and The Invisible Hand, which were met with critical acclaim. He joined the PEN America Board in 2015. He is the incoming president of PEN America.

Jennifer Egan headshotJennifer Egan is the author of several novels and a short story collection. Her most recent novel, Manhattan Beach, a New York Times bestseller, was awarded the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Her previous novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times book prize, and was recently named one of the best books of the decade by TIME, Entertainment Weekly, and several others. Also a journalist, she has written frequently for The New York Times Magazine—most recently about pregnancy and childbirth among opioid-dependent women. She is the president of PEN America.

Valzhyna Mort headshotValzhyna Mort is a poet and translator born in Minsk, Belarus. She is the author of three poetry collections, Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), Collected Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2011) and mostly recently, Music for the Dead and Resurrected (FSG, 2020). Mort’s work has been honored with the Lannan Foundation fellowship, the Amy Clampitt fellowship, the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry, and the NEA grant in translation. Mort teaches at Cornell University and writes in English and Belarusian.

Tatiana Zamirovskaya headshotTatsiana Zamirovskaya is a writer and a journalist from Minsk, Belarus who currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. Zamirovskaya is the author of three short story collections published by AST publishing house (Moscow). Her recent collection of metaphysical sci-fi stories, The Land Of Random Numbers (2019), was longlisted for the Russian National Bestseller Award and NOS Literary Award. Her first novel, The Deadnet, will be published in 2021 by AST/Elena Shubina Imprint. Zamirovskaya is a recipient of fellowships from Macdowell Colony and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Hanna Komar headshotHanna Komar is an award-winning poet and translator as well as activist based in Minsk, currently working at PEN Belarus. She has published two poetry collections: Fear of Heights in Belarusian and Recycled, a bilingual collection. Komar writes in Belarusian and translates her texts into English.

Bela Shayevich headshotBela Shayevich is a visual artist, writer, and translator best known for translating Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time. She also co-translated Soviet underground poet Vsevolod Nekrasov’s I Live I See with Ainsley Morse, which was published by Ugly Duckling Presse, and edited Victoria Lomasko’s Other Russias (translated by Thomas Campbell). Her drawings will be displayed at the Garage Center for Contemporary Art’s triennial in Moscow, beginning in June 2020.

Masha Gessen headshotMasha Gessen is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of 11 books, including Surviving Autocracy and The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, which won the National Book Award in 2017. Gessen has written about Russia, autocracy, LGBT rights, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump, among others, for The New York Review of Books and The New York Times. On a parallel track, Gessen has been a science journalist, writing about AIDS, medical genetics, and mathematics; famously, Gessen was dismissed as editor of the Russian popular-science magazine Vokrug Sveta for refusing to send a reporter to observe Putin hang gliding with the Siberian cranes. Gessen is a visiting professor at Bard College and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, a Nieman Fellowship, the Hitchens Prize, and the Overseas Press Club Award for best commentary. After more than 20 years as a journalist and editor in Moscow, Gessen has been living in New York since 2013.

Keith Gessen headshotKeith Gessen is a founding editor of n+1 and a contributor to The New Yorker and The London Review of Books. He is the editor of three nonfiction books and the translator or co-translator, from Russian, of a collection of short stories, a book of poems, and a work of oral history. He is also the author of a novel, All the Sad Young Literary Men.

About Open Society University Network

The Open Society University Network (OSUN) is a new global network of educational institutions that integrates learning and the advancement of knowledge across geographic and demographic boundaries, promotes civic engagement on behalf of open societies, and expands access to higher education for underserved communities.

About City of Asylum Bookstore

City of Asylum Bookstore is an independent bookstore committed to promoting works in translation and international literature. Founded in 2017 by the nonprofit organization, City of Asylum Pittsburgh, City of Asylum Bookstore is located in Pittsburgh, PA.