(New York)–PEN America today shares programming for the four-day 2022 PEN World Voices festival, gathering international visionaries in fiction, poetry, biography, translation, journalism, film, TV, and theater. Hosting the festival live for the first time since 2019, PEN America is building on the foundational aims of PEN World Voices to use literature and writing to bridge international divides and counter isolationism.  Like many historic PEN gatherings, this year’s World Voices Festival comes at a time of international crisis and will serve as a platform for writers to probe international schisms, foster dialogues that have broken down at the geopolitical level, and forge connections between writers and intellectuals as a counterweight to hostile standoffs. Crucial discussions will collapse geographical distance and bring together colliding perspectives, offering a response to a world connected by two years of shared crisis yet fractured by physical and political distances between us.

The festival will include a modern iteration of a historic PEN America-led conference, held at the 1939  World’s Fair and convened by Dorothy Thompson, the legendary journalist who led the organization. At that meeting, writer and international PEN president Jules Romains stated that writers are “an army without banners,” and suggested it was time for “the pen to fight the sword”—demanding writers take a stance against the atrocities unfolding in Europe. On May 13, 2022, in direct response to the invasion of Ukraine and other crises, the festival will convene an Emergency World Voices Congress of Writers discussing solidarity, free expression, and the role of writers amid times of upheaval. That evening, the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture will be given by PEN Ukraine President and acclaimed writer Andrey Kurkov, who has documented the horrors of the current war and the resilience of Ukrainians.

PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel said, “As powers across the world ride roughshod over facts in order to legitimize aggression and work their international will, PEN World Voices will aim to elevate truth and narrative as wellsprings of connection and insight. PEN’s founding 100 years ago was motivated by the idea that writers worldwide should stand shoulder-to-shoulder as bulwark against future wars. We are seizing the opportunity to gather writers in person at a time of global chaos to explore how that role can be galvanized to push beyond the imaginations of our political and business leaders in order to envision and lay groundwork for new futures. In the dialogues that comprise this festival, we’re given access not only to a panorama of the precarious world we’re in today—but also pathways towards hope, as we band together in search of potential directions society can move in.”

For the 2022 festival, PEN America has envisioned a focused, intimate, and immersive celebration of international literature and free expression that fosters community, cultural exchange, and collective forward-thinking in over 30 events.

PEN America Senior Director of Literary Programs Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf said, “PEN World Voices and PEN America’s advocacy for writers who are at risk, incarcerated, or in exile for their work around the world are fundamentally connected. The festival bridges global voices’ creative work and ideas across languages and borders, revealing storytelling and literature in translation as radical changemaking tools. We’re excited to see the 2022 curatorial committee’s collective ideation come to life in the many readings, debates, and conversations comprising this year’s festival.”

All New York events this year take place in and around one neighborhood, Greenwich Village, creating a salon-like hub for the exchange of ideas. By programming in a centralized location, PEN America gives attendees the opportunity to take in multiple conversations a single day. The festival also features three flagship events in Los Angeles, anchored by Warsan Shire, Suzanne Simard, and Mario Bellatin, at the California African American Museum, Huntington Gardens, and The Broad Museum, respectively. 

The festival kicks off with a special literary tribute to Abdulrazak Gurnah (May 11), making his first U.S. appearance since October 2021, when he won the Nobel Prize—recognizing his “uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents.” Author-to-author conversations include exhilarating pairings such as Jennifer Egan and Sheila Heti (May 12), David Grossman and Dara Horn (May 12), Mieko Kawakami and Leïla Slimani (May 13), and Gary Shteyngart and Alejandro Zambra (May 14).

Events intersecting numerous voices will examine literature in relation to sociopolitical and cultural issues. Highlights include discussions on climate change and the fiction that portends its repercussions (Alexandra Kleeman, Maja Lunde, and Tochi Onyebuchi, with moderator Emily Raboteau, May 12); Caribbean Diasporic experiences depicted in writing rife with history and folklore (with Curdella Forbes, Canisia Lubrin, and Emmelie Prophète, May 12); the renaissance of horror in a moment of social awakening (with Cherie Dimaline, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Iain Reid, and moderator Elamin Abdelmahmoud, May 12); sports writing’s wrestling with mental and physical health (Natalie Diaz, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, and Dave Zirin, with moderator Camonghne Felix, May 12); migrant crises and the stories that depict lives between borders (with Omar El Akkad, Yuri Herrera, Ousman Umar, Ofelia Zepeda,  and moderator Jean Guerrero, May 13); Indigenous sovereignty and reconciliation (with Deborah Taffa, Tanya Talaga, Tayi Tibble, and moderator Connie Walker, May 14); and much more. These gatherings also feature riveting readings, including an evening of poetry from around the world (emceed by Jon Sands, with Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Phoebe Giannisi, Mieko Kawakami, Canisia Lubrin, Tayi Tibble, Paul Tran,  and Alejandro Zambra, , May 13).

Confirmed participants in this year’s festival include Elamin Abdelmahmoud, Omar El Akkad, Eloisa Amezcua, Mario Bellatin, Destiny O. Birdsong, Sasha Bonét, Chloé Cooper Jones, Fatima Daas, Rana Dasgupta, Natalie Diaz, Cherie Dimaline, Kinsale Drake, Jennifer Egan, Anna Enquist, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Camonghne Felix, Aminatta Forna, Curdella Forbes, John Freeman, Rivka Galchen, Amy Gerstler, Phoebe Giannisi, David Grossman, Jean Guerrero, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Saidiya Hartman, Yuri Herrera, Sheila Heti, Katie Holten, Dara Horn, Mieko Kawakami, John Keene, Alexandra Kleeman, Susan Kuklin, Laila Lalami, Canisia Lubrin, Maja Lunde, Christopher Marte, Branko Milanovic, Nadifa Mohamed, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Eileen Myles, Tochi Onyebuchi, Meghan O’Rourke, Morgan Parker, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Emmelie Prophète, Emily Raboteau, Iain Reid, Jason Reynolds, Devyani Saltzman, Jon Sands, Sanaa Seif, Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, Warsan Shire, David Shook, Gary Shteyngart, Suzanne Simard, Leïla Slimani, Tracy K. Smith, Dana Spiotta, Louise Steinman, Benjamin Swett, Deborah Taffa, Tanya Talaga, Tanaïs, Tayi Tibble, Paul Tran, Ousman Umar, V (formerly Eve Ensler), Connie Walker, Barbara F. Walter, Kevin Young, Alejandro Zambra, Ofelia Zepeda, and Dave Zirin.

Tickets for the 2022 PEN World Voices Festival are on sale today. For a list of events, please visit pen.org/festival. Stay tuned for new programming and participants to be added.

The PEN World Voices Festival is proud to be supported by the National Endowment of the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, Amazon Literary Partnership, Amazon Crossing, and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. Media partners of the festival include Bookshop, The New Republic, The Paris Review, Guernica, Literary Hub, and Symphony Space. Our programming could not be possible without our community and regional partners at the National Queer Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, the Worker Writers School, Villa Albertine, and the Community of Literary Magazine & Presses. Special thanks to our bookstore partners at Skylight Books, Strand Book Store, Word Up Community Bookshop, Albertine Books, McNally Jackson, and Reparations Club.

About the Curatorial Committee

The 2022 World Voices Festival was curated by a curatorial committee chaired by PEN America Senior Director of Literary Programs Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf and including poet and translator Eloisa Amezcua; editor of Freeman’s John Freeman; writer, curator, and journalist Devyani Saltzman; and founder and former curator of the ALOUD series at the Los Angeles Public Library Louise Steinman

From the 2022 Curatorial Committee: “As we begin to emerge from the extreme loss and isolation of the pandemic, the value of empathetic exchange, gathering, and dialogue at this moment of intense human flux is so necessary. Language is as fluid as the oceans that connect one continent to another, and there are no borders when writers from across the world gather to share ideas, stories, and ancestral wisdom. PEN World Voices is an embarrassment of riches—a bounteous offering to the Republic of Imagination.”

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf joined PEN America in 2015 and is currently the senior director of literary programs. Prior to joining PEN America, she worked for more than a decade at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, where, as manager of public programs, she produced a year-round schedule of panel discussions, performances, film screening, and symposia spanning the history and culture of the global Black experience. She holds an MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and an MA in English Civilization from the University of the French West Indies.

Eloisa Amezcua is the author of From the Inside Quietly (2018). Her poems and translations are published in The New York Times Magazine, Poetry Magazine, The Kenyon Review and elsewhere. Her second collection of poems, Fighting Is Like a Wife, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press.

John Freeman is an executive editor at Alfred A. Knopf and founder of the literary annual Freeman’s. The former editor of Granta, he teaches in the MFA program at NYU and lives in New York City. He is the author and editor of a dozen books translated into more than twenty languages.

Devyani Saltzman was most recently Director of Public Programming at the AGO, the Art Gallery of Ontario, one of North America’s leading art museums. Saltzman was previously the Director of Literary Arts at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, as well as a founding Curator at Luminato, Toronto’s international multidisciplinary arts festival.

Louise Steinman is the founder—and was for twenty-five years the curator—of the award-winning ALOUD series at the Los Angeles Public Library. She co-directs the Los Angeles Institute of the Humanities at USC and is the author of three books In 2018 she received the Chora Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts from Metabolic Studio/the Annenberg Foundation.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org

Press Contacts

For more information, please contact Blake Zidell or Adriana Leshko at Blake Zidell & Associates, 917.572.2493, blake@blakezidell.com or adriana@blakezidell.com.