(NEW YORK)– The PEN World Voices Festival, which each year gathers hundreds of international writers in events that foster cross-cultural exchange and provide global perspective to the most pressing issues of the moment, this year holds an Emergency World Voices Congress of Writers, prompted by Russia’s war on Ukraine and other mounting global crises. Chaired by PEN America President Ayad Akhtar and Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel, the event will assemble nearly 100 authors in the Trusteeship Council Chamber at the United Nations to consider important questions of free expression, solidarity and the role of writers amid times of upheaval.

The Emergency World Voices Congress of Writers is a modern iteration of a historic PEN America-led conference, held at the 1939 World’s Fair and convened by legendary journalist and PEN America President Dorothy Thompson. At that meeting, 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.

Participants in the May 13 Congress include authors spanning genre and geography: Omar el Akkad, Uwem Akpan, Esther Allen, Eloisa Amezcua, Alaa al Aswany, Anna Badkhen, Elif Batuman, Chris Beha, Bill Buford, Jai Chakrabarti, Fatima Daas, Rana Dasgupta, Ashley Dawson, Kiran Desai, Álvaro Enrique, Camonghne Felix, Aminatta Forna, John Freeman, Phoebe Gianissi, Philip Gourevitch, Jean Guerrero, Helon Habila, Aleksander Hemon, Katie Holten, Dara Horn, Siri Hustvedt, Marlon James, Katie Kitamura, Iya Kiva, Halyna Kruk, Hari Kunzru, Andrey Kurkov, Yiyun Li, Canisia Lubrin, Valeria Luiselli, Allison Markin Powell, Dinaw Mengestu, Nadifa Mohamed, Patrice Nganang, Michel Nieva, Idra Novey, Okezie Nwoka, Achiro Olwoch, Tochi Onyebuchi, José Manuel Prieto, Francine Prose, Emily Raboteau, Iain Reid, Salman Rushdie, Devyani Saltzman, Esmeralda Santiago, Fatima Shaik, Gary Shteyngart, Leïla Slimani, Ilan Stavans, Sam Sussman, Tanya Talaga, Tetyana Teren, Madeleine Thien, Ousman Umar, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Jacob Weisberg, Tara Westover, Alejandro Zambra, and others.

Beginning with four-minute prepared remarks by several of the writers, and continuing with open conversation, the event will be organized around two consequential questions: Amid all of the cascading crises we face right now, including the epidemic of distraction and diffusion of effort, what are the threats that most warrant our concentrated focus? What is the role of the writer in responding to the current crises, how well are we doing collectively to rise to the occasion and what more should writers do?

PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel said, “At a time when governments seem at a loss to confront the multiplying scourges of violence, disinformation, polarization, environmental degradation, corruption, and self-dealing, civil society cannot sit back as multiplying crises intensify. We depend upon authors and creators to help us see beyond the current chaos and conceive a world in which reason and humane values can regain their proper footing.  We don’t know how to get there, but hope to use this Congress to begin to point in the right direction.”

That evening at 6:30pm, Ukrainian novelist and PEN Ukraine President Andrey Kurkov, who has documented the horrors of the current war and the resilience of Ukrainians, will deliver the PEN World Voices Festival keynote, the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

The four-day 2022 PEN World Voices festival (May 11-14), held in-person this year for the first time since 2019, creates a hub of dialogue centered in New York’s Greenwich Village, with satellite events in Greater Los Angeles. Dozens of international visionaries in fiction, poetry, biography, translation, journalism, film, TV, and theater will engage in crucial discussions of climate, borders and migration, autocracy and democracy, history and ancestral lineage, and much more. For a full schedule of events, please visit worldvoices.pen.org.

To attend the Emergency World Voices Congress of Writers, please contact Blake Zidell or Adriana Leshko at Blake Zidell & Associates, 917.572.2493, blake@blakezidell.com, or adriana@blakezidell.com.

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.


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