(New York, NY) — The literary and free expression group PEN America today announced that tickets are now on sale for the 2021 PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, running May 18-22. Hosted by PEN America Board President Ayad Akhtar and Board Vice President Masha Gessen, this year’s Festival, Power to the People, will draw together virtual audiences from around the world for a series of more than 20 events across five days.

“A current of change is running through our world, and it’s a moment when books and literature not only reflect these changes but are part of shaping them. What better time could there be for conversations about the systems we’ve inherited, and the changes we aspire to see,” said Akhtar.

“The pandemic has reminded us, painfully, that reading and writing are not in fact solitary activities: both are impossible without the world, and both are ways of being in the world. The Festival was started to broaden connections between the U.S. and the wider world, and this year, I hope, it will help us return to the world,” added Gessen.

A mainstay on the global literary calendar, the World Voices Festival is among the most beloved and best known international literary festivals in the world, and the largest international literary festival in the United States. While PEN America was forced to cancel the in-person gathering in 2020, the slate of book talks, conversations, lectures, and events is back this spring with headliners including Jhumpa Lahiri, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Imbolo Mbue, Maria Hinojosa, Alison Bechdel, Kiese Laymon, Yusef Komunyakaa, George Saunders, Joy Harjo, Mortada Gzar, G. Willow Wilson, John McWhorter, Edwidge Dandicat, Richard Flanagan and many more.

“As we emerge from a global pandemic, writers and authors have allowed us to counter isolation, loss, and despair, and tap into our most primal need for finding each other and building community,” said PEN America’s Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, senior director of literary programs.

The 2021 PEN World Voices Festival convenes fiction and nonfiction writers, poets, translators, thinkers, and activists to honor the art of the possible and the power of storytelling to push boundaries, challenge inherited narratives, and give voice to hope, courage, and survival. In a year when division and bloodshed have been fueled by hatreds based on race, ethnicity, and religion, the Festival celebrates resilience and courage, and summons the powers of the radical imagination and literature as gateways to reckoning and reconciliation.

Among the highlighted events on sale today:

  • The People’s History: Writing the Wrongs: On Tuesday, May 18, the Festival kicks off with an electrifying conversation moderated by Maria Hinojosa and featuring Viet Thanh Nguyen, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Imbolo Mbue, who together confront the question of how to reconcile the violence in our collective pasts and champion storytelling that challenges some of the most contested histories defining race, power, and identity today.
  • The Master’s Tools: The Art of Teaching Writing: George Saunders and Matthew Salesses engage in an informal, spontaneous, curiosity-driven conversation about the politics of teaching people how to tell stories on Thursday, May 20.
  • The Stories Written Into Our Bodies: Lina Meruane, Grace M. Cho, and Mariana Enriquez discuss how the body bears witness to political unrest in their latest fiction and memoir on Wednesday, May 19.
  • Translating Hamilton: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?: How do you translate a hip-hop musical like Hamilton? Join translator Kevin Schroeder and actors Sera Finale and Gen Parton-Shin on Wednesday, May 19 on how to translate a show like the smash phenomenon Hamilton and reach a global audience.
  • Black Abundance and Radical Love: On Saturday, May 22, Kiese Laymon, Robert Jones Jr., and Brian Broome come together as writers, readers, and literary citizens to explore Black love, performances of masculinity, specifically Black masculinity and its manifestations in the body and mind.
  • PEN Presents: Joy Harjo and Pádraig Ó Tuama: On Friday, May 21, U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo talks about her newest musical album in light of her life, and activism in the aftermath of the pandemic.

For a full lineup of all events currently available for ticketing, visit PEN.org. Ticket buyers can enter the code FLASH21WVF at checkout for a 25 percent discount.

In addition to the Festival’s main events, PEN America’s flagship podcast The PEN Pod will feature headline authors and Festival participants for illuminating discussions throughout the week. PEN.org will host interviews with of some of the biggest voices in international literature today, as well as the virtual edition of the annual Indie Lit Fair, presented by the Community of Literary Magazine and Presses (CLMP), highlighting the works of poetry presses, fiction and creative nonfiction publishers, and literary magazines.

Festival Insiders will be able to access special discounts and early announcements, and on Instagram, PEN America will feature PEN Pops, a series of bookseller conversations in the days leading up to the spring events. Supporters of the PEN World Voices Festival will also have early access to tickets to a live, in-person theatrical experience: Blindness, a multi-sensory play based on José Saramago’s novel of the same name and coming to New York from a sold-out run in London.

The Festival is made possible thanks to sponsors including Amazon Crossing, Amazon Literary Partnership, the Horace Goldsmith Foundation, Institut Ramon Llull, the Japan Foundation Los Angeles, the JKW Foundation, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Vilcek Foundation. In addition, PEN America proudly partners with the Festival’s Community and Regional Partners including the Asian American Writers Workshop, the Austin Library Foundation, the Community of Literary Magazines & Presses (CLMP), the Dallas Literary Festival, the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, Kenning Editions, Magic City Poetry Festival, the Miami Book Fair, the National Queer Theater, the New York Immigration Coalition, the New York Theatre Workshop, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI). 

The Festival Bookstore Partners include Brazos Bookstore, Burdock Book Collective, Deep Vellum, Pilsen Community Books, Scuppernong Books, Skylight Books, Magic City Books, Strand Book Store, and Word Up Community Bookshop. Media partners for this year’s festival include Hudson Booksellers, The Paris Review, and The New Republic. Artwork for this year’s festival was developed by Maria Lavezzo and Studio La Maria.

For more information, visit PEN.org and follow the Festival @PENworldvoices on Twitter and on Instagram at instagram.com/penworldvoices.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free 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.


The PEN World Voices Festival, a week-long series of events each spring, is the largest international literary festival in the United States, and the only one with a human rights focus. The Festival was founded by Salman Rushdie, Esther Allen, and Michael Roberts, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, with the aim of broadening channels of dialogue between the United States and the world—a mission that continues to have great relevance today.


Stephen Fee, PEN America Senior Director of Communications and Marketing, [email protected]