***VISIT THE PEN AMERICA WORLD VOICES FESTIVAL WEBSITE FOR FULL DETAILS AND TICKETS***

PEN America Today Announces Highlights of the 16th Edition of the United States’ Leading International Literary Festival, Bookended by an Opening Night Event Featuring Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay, and Jia Tolentino in Conversation with Rebecca Traister and a Closing Musical Performance by Jon Batiste, Suleika Jaouad, Zadie Smith, and Tara Westover

Acclaimed Authors and Artists Including Andrés Barba, Ishmael Beah, Mahogany L. Browne, Lydia Davis, Amitav Ghosh, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Hunter Harris,  Jeremy O. Harris, Yuri Herrera, Jill Lepore, Sara Mesa, Lynn Nottage, Ben Okri, Elif Shafak, Jenny Slate, Danez Smith, Brandon Taylor, David Treuer, Jeanette Winterson, Jamila Woods, and Many More Participate in Dozens of Festival Events Across New York City

PEN America presents the 2020 PEN World Voices Festival: These Truths, celebrating literature’s deep illumination of cultural, historical, political, and emotional truths in a complex moment when “truth” is destabilized by the constant undermining of a common set of facts, “objective” histories are being interrogated and upended, and radical candor about lived experiences is fueling powerful social movements. Today, PEN America announced highlights of the festival, which brings together fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, translators, thinkers, and activists for an array of conversations, interviews, readings, and musical performances on this infinitely prismatic subject. 

Chip Rolley, Director of the PEN World Voices Festival and Senior Director of Literary Programs at PEN America, describes arriving at this year’s theme: “The crisis in truth in the American political sphere and a hallowed phrase from the U.S. Declaration of Independence were the jumping-off points for a festival that ultimately celebrates truth-telling on a wide range of topics and in myriad forms. We urgently need to hear the deeper truths afforded by literary fiction and by poetry, for literature to engage with contested histories and memory, and for journalists, historians and other non-fiction writers to present the world as it really is, to contest the fabrications served to us on an almost daily basis.”

PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel says, “At a moment when we can rely on government officials neither to tell nor to face the truth, citizens must step into the breach. Truth-tellers such as investigative journalists, the courageous women behind the #MeToo movement, and the risk-everything whistleblowers attesting to government wrongdoing are driving the discourse while facing unrelenting attacks. Against this norm-defying backdrop, PEN America is proud to convene some of the world’s most transformative writers and thinkers in a show of force on behalf of complexity, facts, and veracity.”

The 2020 PEN World Voices Festival opens May 4 with three of our most compelling truth-tellers—Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay, and Jia Tolentino—speaking with Rebecca Traister at The Town Hall about how women’s lives have been shaped by historical forces, religious and political dogma, today’s resurgent misogyny, and societal and personal gaslighting, that most cunning undermining of lived reality.

On May 6 at the Great Hall at Cooper Union, Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of The 1619 Project, delivers the festival’s annual keynote address, the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, given in recent years by Arundhati Roy (2019) and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (2018). Hannah-Jones discusses her journalistic mission to reframe how we understand our nation, the legacy of slavery, and the unparalleled role Black people have played in U.S. democracy.

Like Hannah-Jones, bestselling author David Treuer (The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee) offers a powerful counter-narrative to a monolithic history—in this case, rebutting conventional wisdom about Native American experience (May 5 at Brooklyn Historical Society). In an event entitled The Last Archive, on May 7 at Symphony Space, celebrated historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore (These Truths: A History of the United States) interrogates a question at the heart of this year’s festival: How do we find the truth in the age of Google and “alternative” facts? Amitav Ghosh, Terry Tempest Williams, Maja Lunde, and Emily Raboteau come together May 9 at the AIA Center for Architecture to consider the role of the writer in a society that denies science and the everyday realities of extreme weather amidst impending apocalypse. 

Other events underscore the truth-telling potential of the creative act. On May 6 at the Center for Fiction in Brooklyn, Booker Prize-winning novelist Ben Okri discusses his latest book, The Freedom Artist, which imagines a society where the disappearance of books and diminishment of literacy have led to the creation of a dystopia devoid of truth. On the heels of her Netflix comedy special Stage Fright, Jenny Slate will speak with Vulture writer Hunter Harris about her unclassifiable, keenly personal book Little Weirds (May 6 at the New School). On May 7 at Center for Fiction, Turkish-British writer-activist Elif Shafak and literary critic and Literary Hub Executive Editor John Freeman explore how words themselves have been used to misrepresent and distort reality, and how they can be reclaimed. Also on May 7, at Symphony Space, playwrights Jeremy O. Harris (Slave Play, Daddy, and Black Exhibition) and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage (Sweat, Ruined, and Intimate Apparel) discuss their impulse to expose uncomfortable, often hidden truths about race, class, and sexuality in American society.

PEN America President Jennifer Egan says, “A festival of writers, artists, and intellectuals affords a tonic opportunity to explore pressing topics from creative and unexpected angles. The offerings in “These Truths” include an evening melding dystopian fiction and West African music; a Russian queer poetry reading; and a cross-generational discussion between prominent Mexican novelists about how art can reclaim and subvert cultural stereotypes—to name just a smattering of auspicious events.”

Media partners for the 2020 PEN World Voices Festival: These Truths include Publishers Weekly, WNYC, Guernica, The Guardian, and The New Republic.

Descriptions of a selection of 2020 PEN World Voices Festival events follow. PEN America will announce additional programming as the Festival approaches.

***

PEN World Voices Festival 2020: These Truths — Programming Highlights
Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay and Jia Tolentino with Rebecca Traister

Monday, May 4
7-8:30pm
The Town Hall
123 W 43rd St, New York, NY 10036
$25-$65 on sale through Ticketmaster 

Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay, and Jia Tolentino—three generations of hugely admired writers—talk feminism, literary activism, social media mania, and the future of women’s liberation in a world where misogyny is resurging. The Handmaid’s Tale (now also an award-winning television adaptation) and The Testaments (2019 Booker Prize co-winner), Atwood’s dystopian novels where women’s reproduction is enslaved to an authoritarian state, are looking less and less like fiction. Gay’s writing and bestselling books, including Hunger and Difficult Women, explore the impacts of wide-ranging social issues and personal trauma, while The New Yorker staff writer Tolentino’s essay collection Trick Mirror examines how millennials deal with self-deception, the internet as a simulacrum of reality, and other modern quandaries. They speak to New York magazine writer Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.


Call Me a Sinner: Four Russian Poets on Queer & Feminist Liberation
With Lolita Agamalova, Gala Mukomolova, Oksana Vasyakina, and Alina Pleskova

Monday, May 4
8-9:30pm
St. Marks in the Bowery, Parish Hall
131 E 10th St, New York, NY 10003
$12

Four contemporary women poets read from their work and discuss the future of queer liberation, radical feminism, and social progress in their home country, Russia, where injustices facing LGBTQI citizens are profound but rarely discussed in public. Oksana Vasyakina works through her experience with domestic violence in the poetry collection Wind Rage (translated title) while poet Lolita Agamalova pushes the boundaries on “unspeakable” issues like queer desire and gendered violence. Adding to the conversation are diasporic poets Gala Mukomolova and Alina Pleskova, who came to the U.S. from the Soviet Union as children. Mukomolova’s latest monograph, Without Protection, revises fables to examine her identity as a Russian, Jewish person, refugee, New Yorker and lesbian, while Pleskova explores her own brand of fierce feminism in her chapbook, What Urge Will Save Us. 


Hear The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee with David Treuer

Tuesday, May 5
7pm-8:30pm
Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
$20

David Treuer talks about the challenges of radically rewriting a contentious history that has always been not merely imperfect, but downright wrong. Named a best book of the year by The New York Times, TIME, The Washington Post, NPR, and more, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee charts a riveting counter-narrative for the history of Native American life from the 1890 massacre to the present. In fierce contrast to insinuations that Native civilization collapsed after 150 Sioux were brutally murdered at Wounded Knee, Treuer highlights the many ways in which indigenous culture did not disappear at all. Rather, he argues, survivors and their descendants have ardently defended, innovated, revived, and revered their culture in direct resistance to the massacre’s intended goal of definitively effacing Native life. Ojibwe himself, Treuer’s unique background as an anthropologist and novelist has produced a new history that is sure to change the course of American thinking on Native American culture in the tradition of ground-breaking works like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Join him for an author’s talk followed by an audience Q&A.


Ishmael Beah Speaks with Alexis Okeowo

Tuesday, May 5
7pm-8:30pm
The Center for Fiction
15 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217
$15

Ishmael Beah is best known for his memoir about being abducted as a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war, A Long Way Gone. His newest novel, Little Family, follows a group of young people who try to reconstruct the family they lost as refugees inside of the crashed plane they now call home. In this interview with Alexis Okeowo, The New Yorker journalist and author of A Moonless, Starless Sky, on fighting extremism in Africa, Beah addresses some of the most important and unrelenting humanitarian crises of our age.


The Art of the Debut

Tuesday, May 5, 2020
7:00pm-8:30pm
SoHo Playhouse
15 Vandam Street, New York, NY 10013
$20

Debut novelist Brandon Taylor speaks with Maurice Carlos Ruffin, who debuted last year, about the art of navigating their first novel. Both authors advance powerful, arresting chronicles of racism in contemporary America. On a predominantly white university campus in the Midwest, a young Black man learns how to confront truths about his sexuality that he concealed while growing up in Alabama in Taylor’s Real Life. Ruffin’s We Cast a Shadow turns a much more terrifying eye on the American South, here twisted into a dystopian future where African Americans are forced to wear tracking devices. In this intimate conversation, they talk about their books and the decisions they made in approaching these searing stories.


Freedom Finds a Rhythm: Ben Okri, with Yacouba Sissoko on Kora
With Ben Okri, Yacouba Sissoko, Anderson Tepper

Wednesday, May 6
7pm – 8:30pm
The Center for Fiction
15 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217
$20

Ben Okri’s novel, The Freedom Artist, creates a dystopia where books no longer exist, bookstores have been decimated, reading is strictly forbidden, and literacy is an imaginary skill. This allegorical story manages to maintain optimism while observing how gravely freedom and justice are threatened in a post-truth society. Join us for a powerful reading by this Booker Prize-winner, set to live music by the West African kora player Yacouba Sissoko. Okri’s words tell us about the dangers of manipulating national myths to fit present circumstances, the effects of power corrupting narratives of national history at large, and the power of myth to restore reason in spite of apparent political and cultural unease. Hosted by Anderson Tepper.


Whose Truths? Translation as a Collaborative Act
With Kristín Eiríksdóttir, Larissa Kyzer, Chen Si’An and Jeremy Tiang, Tess Lewis

Wednesday, May 6
7-8:30pm
Downtown Art
70 E 4th St, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10003 
$15

Translation is often misunderstood as a one-way process: the translator transmits the author’s words into a new language. However, the reality is often much more collaborative. Translators are artists in their own right, and often, they work with the author to reproduce a work in a new language. But what’s at stake in this collaboration? Who “wins” when an author and a translator are debating word choice or tone? How much leeway does a translator have to put their own stamp on work? What are some of the ways in which a translator might have a clearer view of the work (at least in the target language)? Join us for this unique event, where author-translator pairs who have worked together will answer these questions and more. Featuring the Icelandic author of A Fist or a Heart, Kristín Eiríksdóttir, with her translator Larissa Kyzer; and Chinese playwright and poet Chen Si’an and her translator Jeremy Tiang. Moderated by translator Tess Lewis. Presented with the PEN America Translation Committee.


Myths of Innocence

May 6, 2020
7:00pm – 8:30pm
Nuyorican Poets Cafe
236 East 3rd Street
New York, NY 10009
$12 in advance/$15 at the door

The latest novels by Andrés Barba and Sara Mesa bear witness to adult depravity through children’s eyes. Barba’s translated work, A Luminous Republic, explores the perils of feral children surviving and adapting to modern life after growing up isolated in Argentina’s jungles. Also translated from Spanish, Mesa’s Four by Four unfurls secrets and deceptions at the heart of a very different isolated setting: an elite boarding school where the wealthy send their children to evade the chaos wreaking havoc on the outside world. With disquieting unease, these social thrillers from two of Spain’s leading contemporary novelists explore the difficulty of creating a collective conscience amid systemic violence. They provoke unsettling questions about freedom, powerlessness, and the monsters within ourselves.


Radical Poetry: Danez Smith and Jamila Woods
With Danez Smith and Jamila Woods

Wednesday, May 6
7-8:30pm
The Greene Space at WNYC
44 Charlton St, New York, NY 10014
$20

Danez Smith’s latest poetry collection, Homie, shares their perspectives on seeking joy, intimacy, acceptance, and safety from discriminatory violence in America. They are joined in performance and conversation by Jamila Woods, the poet and recording artist behind LEGACY! LEGACY!, an album that draws inspiration from James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, and other great authors. Both of these poets are members of the Dark Noise Collective, an assemblage of poets and performers of color with a mission to amplify spoken word artists who explore race, religion, gender, queerness, hip-hop culture, and radical truth-telling in their art. After performing, they will talk about the potential of their art to celebrate race, the body, and identity politics, offering a message of self-love and healing justice.


Jenny Slate Surprises Us
With Jenny Slate, Hunter Harris

Wednesday, May 6
8-9:30pm
New School: The Auditorium at Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall 
66 West 12th St, New York, NY 10011
$35

The actress and comedian Jenny Slate may be best known for her voice on outrageous TV shows like Big Mouth and conversation-stirring performances in films like Obvious Child. But in November 2019, Slate published her first book, a “memoir-in-essays” that many critics have lauded as formally experimental, whimsically entertaining, and boundary-breaking. Little Weirds defies genre to capture an array of bold, unexpected, and delightfully strange snapshots from Slate’s life. She talks to Vulture’s Hunter Harris about how writing helped her get to know herself better and many of the little truths she has discovered about herself in the process—about growing up sensitive, overcoming stage fright, embracing vulnerability and more in her first wild, irreverent, unapologetic, and nearly indescribable autobiographical work.


The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture: Nikole Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project

Wednesday, May 6
8-9:30pm
The Great Hall, The Cooper Union
$25

New York Times staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project revolutionized the version of American history that most of us learned in school. In contrast to familiar narratives of liberty, emancipation, and ever forward-reaching progress that start with the American Revolution, Hannah-Jones roots the origins of American identity in 1619: the year twenty enslaved Africans arrived on Virginia soil. Their advent in the colonial era sowed the seeds of a new and vicious racial order in the foundation of U.S. history—a pivotal event, she forcefully argues, that was instrumental, not incidental, to the cultivation of the American consciousness. The standalone issue of The New York Times Magazine and companion podcast, released in 2019 on the 400th anniversary of that ship’s arrival, links this turning point not only to ongoing experiences of racial violence but also to expressions of resilience and creativity, like jazz music and the Civil Rights Movement. At this crucial time when America’s most venerated democratic institutions are under siege and white supremacy is on the rise, join us for this hallmark event of the World Voices Festival. Nikole Hannah-Jones makes the vital connection between the “freedom to write” and these truths, which she has so powerfully brought to our nation’s attention this past year and whose reverberations are still being felt. 


PEN Lounge with Host Mahogany L. Browne
With Mahogany L. Browne, Roya Marsh,  Porsha Olayiwola, Danez Smith, Jamila Woods

Wednesday, May 6
9:30-10:30pm
SubCulture
45 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012
$10

Welcome to the PEN Lounge, a slam poetry session (with a DJ and full bar) featuring powerful and exciting voices from black queer poetry scenes in Chicago, Boston, and Minneapolis. Tonight’s lineup includes legend of the downtown poetry scene Mahogany L. Browne as emcee, Roya Marsh of Urban Word NYC in the Bronx, Poet Laureate for the City of Boston Porsha Olayiwola, founding member of the Dark Noise Collective Danez Smith, and recording artist and songwriter Jamila Woods.


Healing Hard Feelings with Emily X.R. Pan and Adam Silvera

Thursday, May 7
10-11am
Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space
2537 Broadway, New York, NY 10025
Suggested Donation: $10 

Young adult novelists Emily X. R. Pan and Adam Silvera both deal with the hard stuff of teenage life today, including the impacts of depression and suicide on many young people’s lives. In More Happy Than Not, Silvera depicts a Latinx teen dealing with his emerging queer sexuality after losing his father to suicide. Pan’s story in The Astonishing Color of After addresses a similar theme as her coming-of-age, multiracial heroine travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents after her mother makes the same fatal choice. But these writers also recognize the power of resilience and the imagination to overcome our darkest times. Silvera’s forthcoming Infinity Cycle series uses fantasy to reflect on violence, death, identity and maturity, while Pan’s anthology, Foreshadow: The Magic of Reading and Writing YA (co-edited with Nova Ren Suma), encourages teens to harness the power to tell their own stories.


Resonances: Writers on the Classics
With Petina Gappah, Jennifer Clement, Carles Torner, and Tomica Bajsić, Esther Allen

Thursday, May 7
6-7pm
Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College
135 E. 22nd St., New York, NY 10010
Free

Many authors draw on stories from the past in order to write about the present. Join acclaimed writers Petina Gappah, Jennifer Clement, Carles Torner, and Tomica Bajsić as they read their own words and share the works of the literary giants on whose shoulders they stand. This evening will be moderated by writer and translator Esther Allen. Presented in partnership with Baruch College’s Great Works of Literature and Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence Programs.


Westbeth Literary Quest
With Szczepan Twardoch, Sara Mesa, Andrés Barba, Nicolas Mathieu, Fernanda Melchor,  Abdellah Taïa, Kristín Eiríksdóttir, Chen Si’an, and Elisabeth Åsbrink

Thursday, May 7
6:30-9:30pm
Westbeth Center for the Arts
155 Bank St., New York, NY 10014
$20

Residents of New York City’s historic Westbeth Center for the Arts open their homes to Festival-goers for this perennial favorite festival event. Join your fellow writers and readers in the West Village, grab a map, and wander through the hallways of the city’s oldest and largest artists’ community for intimate, salon-style readings and discussions by Festival authors, including, Andrés Barba, Sara Mesa, Nicolas Mathieu, Szczepan Twardoch, Abdellah Taïa, Kristín Eiríksdóttir, Fernanda Melchor, Elisabeth Åsbrink, and Chen Si’an. This uniquely immersive literary experience concludes with a special reception in the Westbeth Gallery. Presented with the Westbeth Artists Residents Council.


The Last Archive with Jill Lepore
With Jill Lepore, Jacob Weisberg

Thursday, May 7
7pm-8:30pm
Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space
2537 Broadway, New York, NY 10025
$25

Is truth dying, or is it already dead? Jill Lepore argues that the elemental unit of knowledge in the history of the West has changed: from mystery, to facts, to numbers and, now, to data. In the era of Google, we no longer know how to seek or evaluate facts, which means we are vulnerable to being manipulated and controlled by those whose worldviews are drawn from “alternative facts.” What are the implications of discarding truths for our politics, our knowledge of history, and our very national identity? Moderated by Pushkin CEO and the former editor in chief of Slate, Jacob Weisberg.


Jeanette Winterson 

Thursday, May 7
7-8:30pm 
New School: The Auditorium at Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall 
66 West 12th St, New York, NY 10011
$35

Critically acclaimed English novelist Jeanette Winterson, whose many books include Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, now gives us the “gleefully Gothic” Frankissstein, a twenty-first-century cyber-romance that both reimagines Mary Shelley’s eighteenth-century tale and asks us to confront the new quandaries of artificial intelligence, cryogenics, and love as a construct utterly disconnected from human beings. It is a book that is both “a riotous reimagining with an energy and passion of its own,” to quote one review, and an unsettling cautionary tale. Set in a present-day Brexit world populated with cyborgs, the main protagonist—a transgender doctor—finds love despite the country’s polarizing politics and perceptions of queer relationships. As always, Jeanette Winterson entertains and confronts—on the page, and in person—in an event that is sure to be unmissable.


Fighting Words: Language in Times of Tyranny
With John Freeman, Elif Shafak, Mieko Kawakami

Thursday, May 7
7-8:30pm
The Center for Fiction

15 Lafayette Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217
$20

There are already so many examples of popular phrases being rooted in unpopular and even terrible truths. “Changing hearts and minds” was first used to justify US colonization of the Philippines. Today, a “Clean Air” Act might hide a law that allows factories to pollute more. Certain news outlets falsely claim to conduct “fair and balanced reporting.” Where else are words being hollowed out? Join John Freeman, Mieko Kawakami, and Elif Shafak as they discuss how language operates in the public sphere in their societies. They single out the words that still have the power to upend dialogues where the greater good is under siege.


Unsettled Histories
With Aleksandar Hemon, Oksana Zabuzhko, Hari Kunzru

Thursday, May 7
7:00pm-8:30pm
SubCulture
45 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012
$20

Many histories of collective trauma—of genocide, of civil war, of state terror and much else–become unsettled, contested by competing political narratives and sometimes willful ignorance of the facts. In tonight’s program, three highly engaged observers of contemporary politics excavate essential truths that risk being buried by cultural amnesia. Bosnian/American novelist, essayist, and journalist Aleksandar Hemon weighs in on artists’ failures to hold themselves accountable to history, including in the controversial awarding of the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature to Peter Handke. Oksana Zabuzhko, a hugely influential writer across genres in the Ukraine, speaks on invoking art to critique repression, including Russian occupation of Crimea. British/Indian novelist and journalist Hari Kunzru’s new work meditates on the power of propaganda machines from Nazism to the Alt-Right and the writer’s duty to sift fact from fiction in times of madness and dysphoria.  Don’t miss this important conversation about the responsibility of writers to preserve truth and protect cultural memory against false ‘histories’ that deny facts even in spite of overwhelming evidence.


The New Salon: Writers in Conversation with Lydia Davis

Thursday, May 7
7-8:30pm
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, 58 West 10th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues
Free

Lydia Davis’ Essays One represents the culmination of five decades of her prolific writing on art and culture, from psalms and American short stories to vernacular photographs and modern art. Her book won the 2019 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Uzodinma Iweala, author of Beasts of No Nation and Speak No Evil, joins her for a discussion of artistic practices across cultures and more with Darin Strauss, who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for his memoir, Half a Life.


Jeremy O. Harris & Lynn Nottage in Conversation

Thursday, May 7
8-9:30pm
Symphony Space, Peter J. Sharp Theatre
2537 Broadway
$25-35

Two acclaimed, genre-breaking Black playwrights join forces for a compelling conversation about how theater can address traumatic issues like slavery and rape, or tackle troubling stories within American culture, like the history of racial stereotyping in the entertainment industry and the struggles of working-class people. Jeremy O. Harris (Slave Play, Daddy, and Black Exhibition) and Lynn Nottage (Sweat, Ruined, and Intimate Apparel) share the risks they take–with their stories and their audiences–to stage searing truths about Black lives and American society past and present. Join them for a riveting discussion about where, how, and why they make theater and the importance of inclusion within the art form, for playwrights and audience members alike.


PEN Lounge with Host Tommy Pico
With Angel Nafis, Adam Falkner, Miles Collins-Sibley, Ananda Naima González, Tommy Pico

Thursday, May 7
9:30pm-10:30pm
SubCulture
45 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012
$10

Welcome to the PEN Lounge, a slam poetry session (with a DJ and full bar) featuring bold, powerful, and exciting young voices in New York City. Tonight’s lineup, curated and emceed by Tommy Pico, includes Angel Nafis of BlackGirl Mansion, Adam Falkner of The Willies, Cosmonauts Avenue poet and editor Miles Collins-Sibley, and dancer, choreographer, and poet Ananda Naima González.


Surviving Fascism Then and Now

Friday, May 8
6:00pm-7:00pm
Deutsches Haus at NYU
42 Washington Mews, New York, NY 10003
Free

As the world once again lurches towards authoritarianism, it is writers who remind us of the atrocities that arose the last time this happened. European writers are especially well-placed to excavate their recent past to manifest a varied literature of warning and remembrance. Swedish journalist Elisabeth Åsbrink’s latest projects follow a Jewish boy sent to safety in Sweden by his Austrian parents and, in another investigation, the resurgence of neo-Nazism today to the roots of Swedish nationalism. Polish novelist Szczepan Twardoch recalls a Warsaw that war destroyed forever. Born in Argentina and based in Madrid, Patricio Pron fictionalizes the mysterious assassination of a writer in Milan in 1945. 


Vida Americana: Yuri Herrera and Fernanda Melchor in Conversation

Friday, May 8
6:30pm-8pm
The Whitney Museum 
99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY 10014

This conversation between Mexican novelists Yuri Herrera and Fernanda Melchor reflects on contemporary stereotypes about Mexican culture and how art helps us to challenge and complicate them. Hailed as “Mexico’s greatest novelist,” Yuri Herrera has challenged the clichés of “the drug war” in novels like Signs Preceding the End of the World. His forthcoming nonfiction, A Silent Fury, reconstructs the history of a devastating industrial fire in his hometown to bring justice 100 years later to the workers who died. Fernanda Melchor’s English-language debut novel, Hurricane Season, is set against another crisis in Mexico: the murders of over 20,000 women in the last decade and fewer than 50% of those crimes having been investigated. Both authors summon unflinching critiques of machismo, capitalism, racism, and other structures of power that operate to stymie revolutionary political progress on both sides of the border today. The program is organized in conjunction with the exhibition Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art 1925-1945 .


Istanbul: Where Truth Meets Trouble
With Elif Shafak, Burhan Sonmez

Friday, May 8
7-8:30pm
SubCulture
45 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012
$20

Istanbul has captivated the imaginations of artists and writers for centuries. Many of British/Turkish novelist Elif Shafak’s novels take place in this magnificent doorway between continents and cultures. Her latest, 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World, challenges the Turkish government in a story about a sex worker and the victims of sexual violence. Turkish/Kurdish novelist Burhan Sönmez also visits Istanbul as the setting for Labyrinth, his most recent work, and Istanbul, Istanbul, his previous novel. Hear Shafak and Sönmez talk about a city riven by political unrest, including traumas that have forced both of them to flee in the past and, in Shafak’s case, still deter her return for fear of arrest in the future.


Translation Slam

Friday, May 8
7-8:30pm
The Greene Space at WNYC
44 Charlton St, New York, NY 10014
$20

The Festival favorite returns. Witness an illuminating and exhilarating literary contest as translators render Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut’s and Russian poet Oksana Vasyakina’s poems in English in front of a live audience. Then, join a discussion on the art of translation with the poets and translators. Genya Turovskaya and Bela Shayevich will be translating from the Russian, and Joshua Freeman and Mutallip Anwar will be translating from the Uyghur. Hosted by Karen Emmerich and Elina Alter. Presented with the PEN America Translation Committee.


Story Hour with Kevin Noble Maillard

Saturday, May 9
11am-12pm
Books Are Magic
225 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Free

By day, Kevin Noble Maillard is a journalist and lawyer, but today he invites kids and parents at Books Are Magic to come together to savor Fry Bread, his children’s literature debut. Fry bread is a Native American dish made with cornmeal and yeast in a pan of sizzling oil. Maillard describes its delicious power to unite families, tribes, and histories across borders. A book signing of the award-winning work will follow this story hour.


Good (Grief!) Government: How to Tell Kids When Democracy Goes Right and Wrong
With Elizabeth Levy and Andrea Balis, Amy Nathan and Floyd Cooper

Saturday, May 9
1:30-3pm
Frederick P. Rose
Auditorium at Cooper Union
41 Cooper Sq, New York, NY 10008
$10

With the end of classroom civics, how will young people learn about our government’s best and worst performances in history? Do we know these facts ourselves? This panel of award-winning authors of children’s and young adult literature will share their methods for explaining democracy’s benefits and failures to kids—and the ways caregivers and educators can, too.


Chronicles of the Apocalypse: Writing on Climate Change
With Amitav Ghosh, Terry Tempest Williams, Maja Lunde, and Emily Raboteau

Saturday, May 9
2:30pm – 4pm 
AIA Center for Architecture
536 LaGuardia Pl, New York, NY 10012
$15

Our planet’s very future is now in doubt as fires rage from Australia to the Amazon with a level of crisis that demands the attention of fiction writers as well as journalists and essayists. Acclaimed novelist Amitav Ghosh’s Gun Island exemplifies the new writing about the pressing realities of our rapidly changing planet. His story of forced migration follows the deadly 1970 Bhola Cyclone, which killed half a million people. Norwegian author Maja Lunde’s series of novels that make up her Climate Quartet grapples with an existence that is permanently altered by climate change, while Terry Tempest Williams’ collection of essays, Erosion, continues her environmental critiques of what we are losing beyond the living world—how we are eroding and evolving as our climate changes irrevocably. This is an urgent and necessary conversation on how writers are charting our apocalyptic future.


DREAMing Out Loud

Saturday, May 9
2:00-4:00pm
Nuyorican Poets Cafe
236 E. 3rd St., New York, NY 10009 
Suggested Donation: $5

Listen up. As rhetoric flies, politics grind, and heat increases along the Mexican border, the experiences of those who have risked their lives to cross land and oceans into the United States—and the voices of their families—must be heard. While the federal government grows ever more hostile and dismissive toward narratives of immigration, the PEN World Voices Festival features stories written by DREAMers, under the creative guidance of authors Álvaro Enrigue, Charlie Vázquez, and Cherry Lou Sy. Don’t miss this celebration of truth, youth, and courage at the legendary Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Presented with the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in partnership with the CUNY Service Corps. This program is made possible, in part, with public funds from the City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME).


Cry, the Beloved Country
With Oksana Zabuzhko (Ukraine), Ben Okri (Nigeria/UK), Patricio Pron (Argentina/Madrid), Burhan Sönmez (Turkey), and others

Saturday, May 9
4- 5:30pm
Frederick P. Rose Auditorium at The Cooper Union
41 Cooper Square
$20

Across the world, writers have responded to growing economic inequality, social injustice, political oppression, and eroding freedoms with extraordinarily powerful messages of resistance, resilience, and hope. Join us for an evening of solidarity as we listen to moving accounts of where and how things have gone awry with Abdulla Pashew (Iraqi/Kurdistan/Finland), Oksana Zabuzhko (Ukraine), Ben Okri (Nigeria), Tatiana Voltskaya (Russia), Patricio Pron (Argentina/Madrid), Burhan Sönmez (Turkey/Kurdistan), and Sayed Kashua (Palestine). The evening will be presented in the authors’ original languages, with simultaneous English translation in closed captioning.


Unsung Voices
With Petina Gappah, María Fernanda Ampuero, Abdellah Taïa, Nicolas Mathieu

Saturday, May 9
4:30-6:00
Nuyorican Poets Cafe
236 East Third Street, New York, NY 10009
$12 in advance / $15 at the door

Four remarkable novelists tell the stories of those who have previously gone unheard. Petina Gappah gives voice to the faithful servants who escorted explorer David Livingstone’s body across Africa. María Fernanda Ampuero amplifies the voices of women grappling with violence in their homes in Ecuador. In his Prix Goncourt-winning book, Nicolas Mathieu introduces us to a group of teenagers in a deprived and neglected region of France. And Abdellah Taïa, the first openly gay writer in the Arab world, follows a postcolonial community of sex workers, refugees, and queer revolutionaries to their dreams of transformation.


Music and Words by Zadie Smith, Tara Westover, Suleika Jaouad, and Jon Batiste

Saturday, May 9
8-9:15 pm
Skirball Center for the Performing Arts566 LaGuardia Place, New York, NY 10012
$25-$65

This year’s Festival closes with an exuberant musical performance featuring Zadie Smith and Tara Westover on vocals, and Suleika Jaouad on bass—women better known for their writing (think White Teeth, Grand Union, Educated, and the forthcoming Between Two Kingdoms). They are joined by Jon Batiste, the musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, on piano. Besides getting an extraordinary peek at some of our most famous writers’ hidden talents, the audience will also listen in on an intimate conversation between the performers about creativity, art, and inspiration. After the event, a band of musicians will join Batiste in leading the audience in a stirring New Orleans-style “Love Riot” out​ ​into the streets of Greenwich ​Village.


#LoveRiot
With Jon Batiste

Saturday, May 9
9:15-10pm
Outside NYU Skirball Center
566 LaGuardia Place, New York, NY 10012
Free

The Festival will conclude with a stirring New Orleans-style second line parade through the streets of Greenwich Village. This “Love Riot” with a group of musicians, led by acclaimed jazz pianist Jon Batiste, bandleader for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, begins right outside the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at the conclusion of Batiste’s event with Zadie Smith, Tara Westover, and Suleika Jaouad. If you are attending that event, follow the musicians into the street, or join the parade in progress outside. Hailing from a Louisiana upbringing, Batiste’s signature Love Riots evoke the same spontaneity and spunk as his musicianship, offering an improvisational blend of styles from ragtime and R&B to gospel and avant-garde jazz. This promises to be a thrilling and uplifting conclusion to a week of words and ideas.


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. pen.org

For more information, please contact Blake Zidell or Adriana Leshko at Blake Zidell & Associates: 718.643.9052, [email protected], or [email protected]