(NEW YORK)— On Tuesday evening, Jan. 23, PEN America, the premier free expression and writer’s organization, and The Town Hall, home to legendary literary conversations for over a century, will present a conversation with the renowned visual artist and activist Ai Weiwei about Zodiac: A Graphic Memoir, his first graphic nonfiction book, which releases that day. This will be Ai Weiwei’s only U.S. appearance to discuss the book, co-written with Elettra Stamboulis, and illustrated by Gianluca Costantini.

Mira Jacob, the author, illustrator, and cultural critic whose 2020 graphic memoir Good Talk was a New York Times Notable Book, will join Ai Weiwei on stage as interlocutor. The event is part of the PEN Out Loud series, which brings notable authors to audiences in New York and Los Angeles. Tickets starting at $27 for the 7-8 p.m. event are available for purchase at the Town Hall website.

Inspired by the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac and their associated human characteristics, Ai Weiwei interweaves ancient Chinese folklore with stories of his life, family, art career, and activism for global human rights.

Over the years, PEN America has come to Ai Weiwei’s defense as his art and criticism of the Chinese Communist Party has brought him under attack by the Chinese government, including detention. He now lives in exile in Europe.

“From personal experience as an artist who has been persecuted for criticizing the state, Ai Weiwei has a deep understanding of why creative and free expression matters so deeply,” said Jared Jackson, director, Literary Programs and Emerging Voices at PEN America. “We feel privileged to bring this conversation to New Yorkers who value his artistry and the sacrifices he has made to continue to make art and speak out on behalf of artists and others who are persecuted for their beliefs.”

Melay Araya, artistic director of The Town Hall, said: “From Diego Rivera to James Baldwin to Miriam Makeba, The Town Hall has been a place for artists from around the world to not only share their craft, but their own personal stories and convictions. We’re excited to not only hear from Ai Wei Wei himself, but to see him express himself in a new medium.”

Ai Wei Wei’s memoir is both a personal history, an exploration of the political and social climate in which he makes art, his views on free expression, and what it means to express oneself through art.

The book has its roots in his childhood, when, living in exile through anti-intellectual political movements, he would find himself with nothing to read but government-approved comic books. Although works of political propaganda, the books gave Ai Weiwei a window into the artists’ ability to express their thoughts on art and humanity through graphic storytelling.

For more information about the event, visit PEN America’s event page.

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.

About The Town Hall

The Town Hall has played an integral part in the electrifying cultural fabric of New York City for more than 100 years. A group of Suffragists’ fight for the 19th Amendment led them to build a meeting space to educate people on the important issues of the day. During its construction, the 19th Amendment was passed, and on January 12, 1921 The Town Hall opened its doors and took on a double meaning: as a symbol of the victory sought by its founders, and as a spark for a new, more optimistic climate. In 1921, German composer Richard Strauss performed a series of concerts that cemented the Hall’s reputation as an ideal venue for musical performances. Since, Town Hall has been home to countless musical milestones: The US debuts of Strauss, and Isaac Stern; Marian Anderson’s first New York recital; in 1945, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker introduced bebop to the world; Bob Dylan’s first major concert in ’63; and much, much more.

Contacts: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057 and Jeff Mann, [email protected], 917-502-4433