The Sixth Annual PEN World Voices Festival came to a conclusion on Sunday. Playing to a full house at New York’s 92nd Street Y, 10 writers, from around the world, and noted internationally, took stage to read brief excerpts from their work.

Introduced by renowned novelist Salman Rushdie, a former president of the American PEN Center, and who also serves as chair of the Festival, were participants from Pakistan/Italy (Daniele Mastrogiacomo), Mexico (Alberto Ruy-Sanchez), China/United States (Yiyun Li), Philippines/Canada (Miguel Syjuco), Poland (Andrzej Stasiuk), Finland (Sofi Oksanen), Afghanistan/France (Atiq Rahimi), Pakistan (Mohsin Hamid), the United States (Patti Smith), and Rushdie, of India, now residing in New York.

All of the above have won major literary prizes and awards. Most read in their native tongue, in which case translations of their readings were projected onto a large screen at the rear of the stage.

In all, 40 countries and 150 writers were represented, at more than 50 events.

‘Short Stories: Past, Present, and Future’

Moderated by “The New Yorker” fiction editor Deborah Treisman, five writers of both short stories and novels discussed why, even after greats including Chekhov, Hemingway, Poe, and Nabokov, the short story often gets less respect, in terms of prizes and critical esteem, than does the novel.

According to Preston L. Allen (United States), someone said that the novel is a “loose baggy monster,” in that one can “go anywhere” with it, whereas Martin Solaris (Mexico) noted that in the short story, each word must be a stepping stone to the next. Yiyun Li (China/United States) commented that China has few examples, thus lacks a tradition, of short stories; they are termed “short little tales.”

Aleksandar Hemon (Russia/United States) noted that some people feel that the short story is merely preparation for a novel. In Western literature, however, a long tradition of the short story stems from the Bible and Torah, said Alex Epstein (Russia/Israel).

In sum, the panel felt that short stories are literary gems, and the genre will continue to thrive. An enthusiastic audience at the Scandinavia House presentation seconded the sentiment.

The Future of Journalism

A panel of top journalists discussed serious problems regarding the future of print journalism. Lewis Lapham (United States) author and editor emeritus of Harper’s Magazine said, “For the past 100 years, advertising sustained the newspaper business.” Now newspapers face problems with financing, audience, and language. Joris Luyendijk (Netherlands) who has worked in print, radio, and television, felt that print had become outdated and that journalism must look to combining media in order to survive. Foreign correspondent Mary Anne Weaver (United States) expressed concern that her former assignments of 25,000 words have been cut down to 6,000 words. She remarked that funding sources have dried up, and that only Bloomberg, Dow-Jones, and Reuters are still hiring foreign correspondents. Martin Pollock (Austria) claimed that his contacts in Eastern Europe permitted long pieces, but agreed that current technological advances are bringing about the need to look into other kinds of media.

New Plays From the Arab World

A two-day event of playreadings, some staged, was jointly presented by London’s noted Royal Court Theatre and the British Council. Begun in 2007, the Project worked with writers across the New East and North Africa. Emerging playwrights traveled to Damascus to work with playwrights April De Angelis and David Greig, adaptor of BAM’s present production of August Strindberg’s “Creditors.” After 18 months of workshops in three different countries, plays were developed reflecting contemporary life in their countries. Five were presented at the current PEN Festival, followed by a panel discussion, with representatives from the presenting organizations participating, along with Professor Marvin Carlson of CUNY. I was able to see two readings. “Withdrawal” by Mohammad Al Attar (Syria) featured a young couple who rent a room so they can spend time away from each of their families. She wants to become closer; he withdraws. The play emanates tension and mystery. In “The House,” by Arze Khodr (Lebanon), three siblings compete to either keep or sell the family house. Conflicts and complications erupt. Both the plays were compelling, not least because they mirror Western life closely, pointing out how similar we all are.

Event: ‘Face Off! Overcoming Barriers’

An offbeat panel of four prize-winning novelists and moderator Matt de la Pena discussed breaking through clichés of typical novel writing. Each author shared his or her own methods of avoiding banality. Janne Teller (Denmark) role-plays with her characters, tries to get inside their heads. Tommy Wieringa (Netherlands) dittoed her comment. His prize-winning “Joe Speedboat” involves a young boy. When an audience member asked how Wieringa could accomplish that, the author replied that he still has a young boy inside of him, in fact he has many characters inside of him.

David Almond (U.K.) works with an image that comes into his head; he doesn’t plan in advance. He likes working in different forms, such as plays and writing for young people. All have a different point of view, make different choices. He commented: “Writing is like playing.” Alina Bronsky (a pseudonym) (Russia/Germany) born in Russia, now makes her home in Frankfurt, Germany. Her novel, “Broken Glass Park,” deals with violence toward a woman. Moderator Matt de la Pena’s debut novel “Ball Don’t Lie” will be released as a film this year.

‘The Great Fire’—Shirley Hazzard With Richard Ford

Two eminent authors faced each other on the stage of New York’s 92nd Street Y on Friday, resulting in a spirited exchange of ideas, laced with humor. Australian novelist Shirley Hazzard, who has lived in the United States for sixty years, struck it lucky in her early years in New York. She had taken a boring day job, but knew she wanted to write. Sending her very first short story to “The New Yorker” magazine, she fully expected it to be rejected. But the story was accepted, and thus began an illustrious career. Interviewer Richard Ford, a longtime friend of Hazzard’s, told her, “You write sentences that stick in one’s brain.” Hazzard claimed to have received a fine education by virtue of traveling a lot, due to her father’s postings abroad. Hong Kong figured greatly in her warm memories. Author of prize-winning novels “The Transit of Venus” and “The Great Fire,” Shirley Hazzard stated that her goal is to be “fully expressed.” Annabel Davis-Goff read brief selections from her works.

Toni Morrison and Marlene van Niekerk

Best known for her novel, “Triomf,” a controversial depiction of post-apartheid South Africa, Marlene van Niekerk spoke about her latest work, “Agaat” with Nobel prize-winning author Toni Morrison. Morrison comments, “When a publisher sent me the 500-page ‘Agaat’ I didn’t want to read it. But when I started in I was immediately mesmerized by its beauty.” She exclaims to the audience: “You must read it.” Van Niekerk commented: “I cut another 300 pages.” The novel deals with an old, ill South African woman under the care of a black servant, and the subtleties of their relationship. Van Niekerk remarked that racism still exists to a degree in South Africa, and that one must work around it, at which point Morrison added, “To me, the least important thing about a person is his or her color.”

Ariel Dorfman in Conversation with Gabriel Sanders

Fittingly set in the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in downtown New York City, writer Ariel Dorfman discussed his peripatetic life and how it has informed his work. Born in Argentina and raised in the United States and Chile, Dorfman involved himself in Chilean politics, often placing his own life in jeopardy. Novels confronting his haunting memories include “The Empire’s Old Clothes,” “Desert Memories,” and his prize-winning memoir “Heading South, Looking North,” the basis for the documentary “A Promise to the Dead,” short-listed for the 2008 Oscars. His play “Death and the Maiden,” which won numerous awards including the Olivier, was adapted for film by Roman Polanski. Dorfman remarked: “I generally write about exiles coming back.” After many years abroad he became a U.S. citizen in 2004. “I thought I was a Jew by accident,” he said. “But I came to feel I have an ethical, Talmudic mind.” Of writing, he had a wonderful editor in a Mr. Maxwell, and “have internalized him when I write.” He added, “I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to craft a sentence to make a reader’s life more bearable.”

Anne Frank: The Diary, The Girl, and the Publishing Phenomenon

Moderated by New Yorker writer Judith Thurman, panelists discussed their upcoming books, which offer a different viewpoint of Anne Frank than previously known. Panelists were Francine Prose, fiction and nonfiction writer and a former president of the PEN American Center; and graphic book specialists, co-authors Ernie Colon and Sid Jacobson. Prose’s forthcoming “Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife,” reveals a greater complexity than the 15-year-old’s diary displayed. The Anne Frank estate permitted Prose to utilize a maximum of 6,000 words from Anne Frank’s original documents. Jacobson and Colon, perhaps best known for their “The 911 Report: A Graphic Adaptation,” have created a similar work regarding Anne Frank, picturing not only events from the Frank family’s daily life when in hiding in Amsterdam but later tragic developments. Colon remarked that young readers, particularly, respond well to illustrated material, and may then be moved to read more complex works. The three authors did detailed research and worked in close collaboration with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Both books will be published soon.

Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture and PEN World Voices Festival

The final event in the Sixth Annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature proved to be important in its scope and engrossing in its quality. Christopher Hitchens, visiting professor of liberal studies at The New School, has authored many books on political figures, including Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. His “God Is Not Great” was a No. 1 NY Times bestseller and National Book Award nominee. “Hitch-22: A Memoir,” will be released in June. Regarding self-censorship, when Danish cartoons portrayed suicide bombers arriving at the Pearly Gates, no news outlet would publish them due to fear of reprisal. Such fears have become contagious, Hitchens averred. Rushdie mentioned that Muslim countries prohibit the publication of most novels; “The 1001 Nights” is completely banned because of its sexual content. Both speakers expressed anxiety about the recrudescence of religion as a political force. Regarding the future of journalism, many big cities are becoming one-paper towns; the iPad and Kindle may be the wave of the future for newspapers to survive. Salman Rushdie, author of many prize-winning novels, and a former president of PEN American Center, noted that writers can be ambassadors and can publicize acts of terror. “Tyrants don’t like publicity,” he said. “They want to be liked.” Rushdie’s next book, “Luka and the Fire of Life,” will be released in November.