(New York, NY) – Today PEN America launches the digital version of its 2020 PEN World Voices Festival. The PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature traditionally brings hundreds of writers from around the world to New York and Los Angeles each spring, drawing audiences of thousands to book talks, readings, and lectures. With those in-person events now impossible to convene, PEN America has turned its efforts online, curating an ongoing digital version of the Festival that includes a suite of podcasts, videos, interviews, and musical playlists, with live events and other features to roll out over the coming weeks.

“We’ve reimagined the entire idea of what a Festival can be amid such a difficult moment in world history,” said Chip Rolley, senior director of literary programs at PEN America and director of the PEN World Voices Festival. “This all-digital initiative drawing in writers from across the country and around the world brings the power and transcendence of the World Voices Festival to an untold number of people globally Rather than holding in-person events, our virtual Festival allows a curated, on-demand experience that meets lovers of literature and the written word where they are. The lockdowns might have interrupted our ability to meet in person, but they won’t stop us making a connection between reader and writer and enjoying the rewards of our literary community.”

Rolling out today, the digital version of the PEN World Voices Festival will unfold in the months to come. The Festival holds fast to its theme, THESE TRUTHS, with offerings that will wrestle with contested history, challenge the fabrications served to us on a daily basis, and awaken us to the beauty and power of storytelling as a source and revealer of truths. The marquee offering: a weekly THESE TRUTHS podcast exploring literature and the deeper truths that connect us, and featuring conversations with some of the world’s most consequential writers. In the first episode, Turkish writer Elif Shafak and American essayist, editor, and poet John Freeman speak to PEN America’s Rolley about how we can harness the power of language in a time when truth is debased and devalued.

“Our goal in this digital World Voices Festival is to capture some of the magical intersection of writers and readers that our Festival occasions and disperse it over the uncertain months ahead,” said author and PEN America president Jennifer Egan. “We know the literary community is hurting right now. These conversations, mini-workshops, and intimate peeks into writers’ lives are meant to provide solace, diversion, and inspiration for readers and writers around the world. Our hope is that these offerings will catalyze creativity and solidarity, affording some collective relief from the pains of a pandemic.”

In addition to the weekly podcast, PEN America’s digital World Voices Festival will offer a video series of mini writing workshops, PEN TO PAPER, an “espresso shot” of creative inspiration to jumpstart the writing process. In the first installment, Egan shares her technique for unlocking the unconscious, “where all the good stuff comes from.” Also joining the virtual celebration, writer Fatima Shaik pulls back the curtain on her own culinary skills for our WRITERS IN RESIDENCE video series, offering a glimpse into writers’ private lives.

The digital Festival also includes a recently launched weekly musical series, JUST PRESS PLAY, with songs selected by some of our favorite authors from around the world. The first four in the series are curated by Laila Lalami, Tommy Pico, Szczepan Twardoch, and Oksana Zabuzhko.

This year, the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses and PEN World Voices Festival were scheduled to present the fourth installment of their Indie Lit Fair. In the coming weeks, the digital PEN World Voices Festival will highlight the work of these independent poetry presses, fiction and creative nonfiction publishers, and literary magazines, in a “digital book fair,” including exclusive offers for PEN America Members and the online Festival audience.

“Founded after 9/11 to foster global connections at a time of neo-isolationism in the U.S., the mission of the PEN World Voices Festival has taken on new and unexpected urgency,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “These conversations, now happening virtually, offer an essential bridge between U.S. and global thinkers at a time when the American government is casting blame and standing aloof from global efforts to combat COVID-19. For individuals who are isolating at home, these dialogues and presentations open a window to ideas, voices, and give-and-take that can make each of us feel less alone. We are seeking out the silver lining in the impossibility of hosting a week-long, in-person Festival by engaging writers and readers over time and across the country in deep and sustained inquiry about the nature of truth in the society we live in now, and the one we hope emerges.”

THE 2020 Digital World Voices Festival in brief:
These Truths: A World Voices podcast
Just Press Play: Writers you read bring you the music they love
PEN to Paper: Espresso shots of creative inspiration to jumpstart your writing
Writers in Residence: A glimpse of life from beyond the writing desk
Live Events
The PEN Ten interview series
Curated Reading Lists
The PEN Pod: our daily podcast
Next Generation Now Storytelling for young adults and children
The Virtual Indie Lit Fair presented by CLMP and PEN World Voices Festival

And more to come…

Visit PEN.org to see all of the organization’s digital offerings amid the pandemic, including author interviews, recipes and resources, a daily podcast of interviews and conversation, reading lists from favorite authors, and much more. You can follow the World Voices Festival and stay updated on all its offerings on Instagram and Twitter, @PENworldvoices.


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.

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892