100 writers from 40 nations gather in New York, April 25–May 1
Events will take place on and around the High Line

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New York City, February 23, 2011—More than 100 writers from 40 countries will convene for the seventh annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, celebrating the transformative power of the writer’s voice—both on the page and as an essential element of public discourse. Chaired by Salman Rushdie, the Festival will take place in New York City, April 25–May 1 and will include panels, lectures, readings, one-on-one conversations, and storytelling. Nigerian author and 1986 Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka will deliver the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture on closing night. Festival participants will also include Laurie Anderson, Gioconda Belli, Harold Bloom, Deborah Eisenberg, Malcolm Gladwell, Hanif Kureishi, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Amélie Nothomb, Cynthia Ozick, Elif Shafak, Wallace Shawn, Vladimir Sorokin, Edmund White, and Irvine Welsh, among many others.

The World Voices Festival affirms PEN’s belief that our national dialogue must be enriched by a diverse and international range of voices, particularly in today’s rapidly changing communications environment. Launched in the wake of September 11, 2001 as one means of combating American cultural isolationism, the Festival addresses the pressing need to redefine—and reassert—the vital role of the public intellectual in framing and leading informed public discourse.

This year, the Festival has formed a partnership with The Standard, New York, and Friends of the High Line. The High Line will become both the literal and metaphorical spine of the Festival, with many events taking place on and around this Manhattan landmark and at the hotel. The Standard, New York, which rises above the High Line, will serve as the Festival’s hub. Friends of the High Line, the non-profit conservancy that maintains the park and cultivates a vibrant community around the High Line, has transformed this defunct railway into a glorious public park 30 feet above street level. Like the High Line itself, the Festival’s writers promise to provide audiences with a fresh, elevated perspective on the world.

“At PEN World Voices, New Yorkers have the chance to hear from writers from every corner of the globe,” said Festival chair Salman Rushdie. “What becomes clear is that the role of the intellectual varies tremendously from country to country. In tyrannical or authoritarian regimes, people turn to writers and intellectuals to serve as the conscience of those countries. On the other hand, in free societies, you have a country like France, in which the voice of the writer is at the center of politics—or a country like the U.S., in which the role of the intellectual has steadily declined. We now call on the public intellectual to have a much louder and more potent voice in American political life.”

This year the Festival takes its inspiration from the legendary—and highly contentious—PEN Congress that took place in New York in 1986. Newly appointed Festival Director Laszlo Jakab Orsos commented, “This event was not a genteel affair—you had Norman Mailer and Susan Sontag throwing elbows, and writers booing the Secretary of State. But by gathering together to discuss the state of the imagination, these outspoken intellectuals sparked a feisty debate about alienation, feminism, and our national identity, reasserting the power of the American writer’s voice. We want to crank up the volume again.”

In that spirit, PEN will convene a closed-door Working Day for its Membership modeled after the 1986 PEN Congress. Festival authors, public officials and the press will come together on April 28 to discuss a series of current political issues, framed by the day’s theme: The Writer’s Imagination and the Imagination of the State: Writers Respond to What’s Gone Wrong and How to Fix Things. At the day’s end, the participants will release a joint manifesto, drafted by one and signed by all—the first of its kind in the Festival’s history.

PEN President Anthony Appiah noted, “In a year when we have seen peaceful protests violently broken up in many nations, no one should need reminding of the continuing need for a vigorous defense of free expression or the importance of an open and public exchange of ideas. Our festival celebrates the connections between writers and readers across the world and serves as a powerful base from which to continue the struggle for freedom.”

2011 Festival highlights will also include:

Written on Water: Opening-night features readings with internationally acclaimed writers including Wallace Shawn, Giocando Belli, Liao Yiwu, Malcolm Gladwell, Hanif Kureishi, Vladimir Sorokin and others at Chelsea Piers Lighthouse.

China in Two Acts: New Yorker contributor Jianying Zha and a panel of Western writers debate the polarized, complicated and somewhat secretive Chinese cultural and political conditions at The Cooper Union’s Great Hall. The conversation will shed light on the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo’s position in the larger Chinese political and cultural setting.

• Three events at the New York Public Library with public intellectuals and prominent cultural figures including a one-on-one conversation with Harold Bloom and a discussion with Jonathan Galassi on Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. 1986 Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka, an outspoken critic of tyranny and a UNESCO ambassador, delivers the sixth annual Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture on closing night.

Stories on Disrepair: A night of storytelling with The Moth hosted by Salman Rushdie. Writers and other adventurers tell stories inspired by the idea of “What’s Gone Wrong,” borrowing the theme from the Working Day of the Festival at The Cooper Union’s Great Hall.

The New York Review of Books, Fritt Ord and PEN join forces to explore Russia’s current political, literary and overall cultural life in all its complexity. This event at the Morgan Library will feature Vladimir Sorokin, Dutch journalist Frank Westerman, as well other emerging Russian writers and European and U.S. intellectuals.

American Exile: The Prison Industry: A debate on the prison industry with celebrated author Michelle Alexander and former member of the Weather Underground Susan Rosenberg at The Cooper’s Union. The panel examines the forces that allow the United States to tolerate the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Poetry: The Second Skin: Curated by Laurie Anderson and featuring Antony and the Johnsons, this unique event will explore the foundation of poetry through music, spoken word, and images. Produced with the Poetry Society of America at the 92nd Street Y.

A Literary Safari: Festival audiences are invited to wander the halls of Westbeth in the West Village in search of scheduled readings by Festival participants including Francine Prose and impromptu exhibitions by Westbeth residents. Westbeth—Richard Meier’s first repurposed building—is the oldest artist community in the United States. The happening concludes with a reading by Vladimir Sorokin, one of the most popular writers and dramatists in Russia today.

Celluloid Literature: For the first time, PEN World Voices will present a film festival featuring documentaries and feature films from around the world that are literary in nature at the Instituto Cervantes.

Speaking the Unspeakable: Acclaimed writer Edmund White leads a speakeasy on the topic of sex with celebrated members of the fashion and music world at The Standard Hotel’s Le Bain Lounge.

Karma Chain: On the High Line in partnership with the Rubin Museum, a Tibetan lama will start a game of telephone and pass along sutras down a list of more than 200 Festival attendees. Salman Rushdie will receive the new teaching and Tweet it to all PEN’s followers.

The complete 2011 Festival programming will be announced in the coming weeks. For more information, visit

Jenny Lerner  (212) 486-7229
Isabel Sinistore  Resnicow Schroeder Associates  (212) 671-5175