(NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES)– On May 10-13, PEN America will present the 18th annual World Voices Festival, its largest gathering to date of literary stars, visionaries, and great thinkers from around the globe. The festival takes place in downtown Manhattan with concurrent events in Los Angeles.

The festival will celebrate great writing and the power of storytelling against the current headwinds of attacks by those who seek to censor and silence. This gathering of writers from every part of the globe is a potent reminder—in fact, an antidote in an era of censorship—that books drive culture and identity, while empowering and transforming our lives. Tickets will go on sale the first week of April; the full schedule of 40 events will be available here starting in April, including some that are free.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a MacArthur “genius” grant honoree, will deliver the festival’s keynote, the annual Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, May 11 at the New School on the book bans and censorship sweeping schools across the United States. Coates’ Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power were among the 1,648 titles banned in the 2021-22 school year, according to PEN America’s Index of Banned Books. Coates’ work was also reportedly stripped from the College Board’s AP African American studies curriculum.

“America has long been haunted by men who considered ‘Freedom Of Speech’ a right reserved for a certain class. Indeed, this current effort to drive uncomfortable literature from the public square is as old as the slave codes, as old as the gag laws. And just as old are those who understand that true free speech cannot be divorced from freedom itself,” said Coates.

Founded by Salman Rushdie post-Sept. 11 to keep dialogue alive between the United States and the world, the festival will be concentrated in the New York neighborhood where it was launched 18 years ago, Greenwich Village, creating a salon-like hub for the exchange of ideas. Poised to welcome emerging audiences, many venues are steeped in this city’s literary past and present: Cooper Union, The New School, the Strand bookstore, and the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, among others.

Ayad Akhtar, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and PEN America president, is this year’s festival chair, with Marlon James and Ottessa Moshfegh as guest chairs. Each will curate a signature event: Moshfegh will explore what, if anything, writers owe to their audience, and James will discuss a novelist’s journey to and from their second novel. Akhtar will speak with Eboo Patel about sustaining creative expression in an environment of contentious debates.

Salman Rushdie was the creative and visionary force behind this festival 18 years ago,” said Akhtar, “and his inspiration remains our guiding principle, bringing writers from across the world together as an act of celebration and exchange. Threats to our intellectual climate and freedom are in ascendance here in the United States, as attacks on education, free speech, facts, open dialogue, even reason itself, have become daily news. This year’s festival, our largest gathering of writers ever, is our own act of jubilant defiance, a recognition of just how precious a gift literature is, and how worthy this gift is of our commitment to protect it.”

Headline events in New York include: a conversation on journalism and democracy between Jelani Cobb and Margaret Sullivan (May 13); a discussion on global inequality, unaffordability and poverty featuring Matthew Desmond (May 11), and a screening of Women Talking, followed by a conversation between Oscar-winning filmmaker-screenwriter Sarah Polley and Miriam Toews, author of the 2018 book that the film is based on (May 12).

The closing session (May 13) will bring together leading Black writers to explore art, history and the Black literary tradition through conversation, readings and musical performances. The “For the People” event at 8 pm at The Cooper Union will feature Mahogany L. Browne, Kaitlyn Greenidge , Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Kiese Laymon, Elizabeth Nunez, Imani Perry, Patricia Smith, and Tyriek Rashawn White

This year’s festival curators led by Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, chief of PEN America’s Literary Programming, and Sabir Sultan, associate director of the festival, are Devyani Saltzman, Eloisa Amezcua, Louise Steinman and Andy Tepper.

Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf said: “This spring, as we’ve done for close to 20 years, PEN America will celebrate the undeniable power of stories and the pleasure of showcasing the next literary stars alongside iconic authors. We will connect readers to great international and American writers, artists, leading journalists, scholars and intellectuals. Over four days, Greenwich Village will come alive with the most important issues we face today in terms of free expression.”

For the second year, the festival will convene a World Voices Congress of Writers. Closed to the general public, the Congress is a writer-to-writer conclave to address pressing issues and complex questions facing the literary community. Last spring’s Emergency World Voices Congress of Writers, prompted by Russia’s war on Ukraine and other global concerns, was held at the United Nations. It was a modern iteration of a PEN America-led 1939 conference convened by Dorothy Thompson, the legendary journalist and then PEN America’s president..

The festival kicks off Wednesday evening May 10 in New York with Moshfegh’s discussion exploring the relationship between author and audience. She will be joined by writers Min Jin Lee, Rachel Kushner, and Akhil Sharma. Below are brief descriptions from the program lineup::

New this year will be a series of WRITER-TO-WRITER conversations exploring an array of subjects

  • Ayad Akhtar and Eboo Patel will discuss how to support creative expression without sacrificing the dignity of individual identities and beliefs, within the broader context of sustaining a healthy pluralistic democracy, with diverse viewpoints.
  • Marlon James and Ben Okri, two Booker Prize winners, will talk about Okri’s work and his ideas of “existential creativity” in a time of global crises.
  • F. Kuang and Roxane Gay will discuss Kuang’s forthcoming novel Yellowface, a subversive, satirical look at diversity, racism and cultural appropriation in the publishing industry
  • Historians Stacy Schiff, author of The Revolutionary, a biography of Samuel Adams, and Heather Cox Richardson, author of the popular “Letters from an America: A Newsletter About The History Behind Today’s Politics,” will explore how historical analysis and interpretation shape the writing of history and biography.
  • Han Kang, a leading literary voice in South Korea and Booker Prize winner, and Katie Kitamura, will discuss Kang’s new novel about a woman who loses her voice, and seeks out learning Greek as a possible remedy.

FORUMS with novelists, nonfiction writers, visual artists, journalists and other subject experts will include topics such as :

  • AI and CHATGpt: The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz will moderate a discussion with Hari Kunzru, Elif Batuman and Meghan O’Gieblyn on the effects artificial intelligence and especially how CHATGpt may impact literature and art.
  • The War in Ukraine: Ukrainian writers and artists serving as soldiers will discuss Russia’s invasion from various perspectives with moderator Phil Klay; Artem Chapeye, a fiction writer fighting in the Ukrainian army ; Artem Chekh, who wrote a New York Times op-ed “I’m a Ukrainian Soldier and I Have Accepted My Death” now patrolling the Chernobyl exclusion zone; and poet/filmmaker Iryna Tsilyk, who fled under-fire Kyiv.
  • Democracy & Journalism: Prominent journalists Jelani Cobb and Margaret Sullivan (other panelists TBD) will talk about the challenges facing journalists and journalism’s role as a scaffold to democracy.
  • The Affordability Crisis: Pulitzer-Prize winning sociologist Matthew Desmond, author of the just-published Poverty, by America, with Alissa Quart, author of Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves from the American Dream, and Heather McGhee, author of The Sum of Us, discuss rising income inequality and the affordability crisis ranging from healthcare to housing with moderator Tressie M. Cottom.
  • Writing Trans Narratives Today convenes against the history of suppression, erasure and violence and the rise of hate speech, anti-trans legislation and censorship of LGBTQ stories and books in schools and libraries. Joining moderator Maya Gittleman will be James Hannaham, Geena Rocero, and Jeremiah Moss.


  • Tess Gunty, Rebecca Makkai, Sarah Thankam Mathews, and Amor Towles will look at the role of place in the novel.
  • Monica Youn, Courtney Faye Taylor and moderator Doug Kearney will discuss inventiveness in poetic forms.
  • Maggie Smith, Isaac Fitzgerald and Ashley C. Ford will explore how the resolution offered by a memoir’s end translates into the authors’ real lives.
  • Ruta Sepetys, Kyle Lukoff, Traci Sorell, Zetta Elliott and Padma Venkatraman will discuss how to write about difficult topics for children.
  • Marlon James, Garth Greenwell, Khaled Hosseini, Alexander Chee and Elif Batuman.will explore the journey to and from a second novel and the stakes for writers. 


  • The Indie Lit Fair: Co-presented in collaboration with the Community of Literary Magazines and Small Presses, the outdoor market of small presses will feature exciting new works from trailblazing publishers.
  • Dreaming Out Loud and Worker Writers School Readings: In two events, young immigrant writers and low-wage workers from PEN America’s free writing programs, will read their work.
  • Women Writing War: Featuring women who have or are reporting from the front lines of conflict, including the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, the second Nogorno-Karabakh war, and from the front in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa, and El Salvador. Participants are: Tamta Melashvili, Lusine Kharatyan, Marjan Moghaddam and Anna Badkhen.
  • Translation Slam: Curated by the PEN America Translation Committee, the slam will put competing translations of the same text side by side and invite translators, authors, and audience members to join in a lively critical debate of how each version meets its creative challenges. Participants include Kevin Chen and Maria Fernanda Ampuero.


  • John Irving will discuss his work and history of addressing social issues in fiction.
  • Featuring award-winning visual artist Tala Madani, Afghani women’s rights activist Crystal Bayat, multi-media artist and member of the Art/Culture/Action collective Nazanin Noroozi, Iranian poet-in-exile Nesar Mohammadi, and writer, filmmaker, and human rights activist Amir Soltani. The program will be co-presented by The Skirball Cultural Center, and will be followed by a reception.
  • Award-winning poet Camille T. Dungy, editor of the first anthology to bring African American environmental poetry to national attention, will explore how gardening can be inseparable from questions of family, history, race, nation, and power, in her new book SOIL: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden.
  • Reza Aslan and Franklin Leonard will discuss the polarized climate in the United States and around the world and its insidious impact on writers, scholars, and creators.

International writers will make up almost half of the total participants of this year’s World Voices Festival and represent the following 27 countries: Afghanistan, Argentina, Armenia, Canada, China, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Georgia, Germany, India, Iran, Jamaica, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, Sudan, Taiwan, Trinidad, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, and Zambia.

Media Contacts: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057; Blake Zidell, [email protected], 917-572-2493

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.