Just Press Play

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting millions of people’s lives in unprecedented ways, PEN America’s World Voices Festival launches a new playlist series with songs selected by some of our favorite authors from around the world.

Every week, Just Press Play brings the soundtracks of poets and novelists’ writing lives into homes and offices everywhere. From the balconies of Milan to the speakers of our smartphones, these playlists remind us all that music, like books, can connect humanity from a distance.

Bela ShayevichThis week Bela Shayevich, the visual artist, writer, and translator who is best known for translating Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time, provides a darkwave playlist with happy vibes: 

“Microbes of Love

“It’s always a good time to listen to Soviet darkwave, the underground sound of perestroika—angry and demonstratively mournful music that, through its dark catharsis, sometimes cracks into hope. But the songs I have chosen are more or less cheerful anyway—are they even darkwave? What wave is this? I have arranged them to spell out the following poem:

I love you, life
Microbes of love
I believe
I am flying

Allow me to
Vocalise in Rapide
Another one bites the dust
The star

“The star here is, of course, Freddie Mercury singing ‘Living on My Own,’—the ultimate quarantine theme song, a bittersweet anthem squeezing joy from another plague. You have to see the video. As always, pour one out for Freddie. (Then pour one in for Amanda Lear).”

Check out her playlist on YouTube today, and grab her translation, Secondhand Time, on Bookshop or Amazon

Bela’s Favorite: “Living On My Own” from Freddie Mercury


Bela 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.

Join us next week for a playlist from Chigozie Obioma, author of The Fishermen and An Orchestra of Minorities, both finalists for the Booker Prize.