2013 – Three Questions: Festival Director Jakab Orsos talks about Art, Bravery, and Sonia Sotomayor

Jakab Orsos

The festival has grown and evolved under the leadership of Festival Director, Laszlo Jakab Orsos. In the midst of finalizing an ambitious program and welcoming writers from around the world, Orsos found time to answer our questions.

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A Conversation about a Conversation: Ian McEwan talks with Steven Pinker or Does He?


'Gretta, dear, what are you thinking about?' She did not answer nor yield wholly to his arms. He said again, softly: 'Tell me what it is, Gretta. I think I know what is the matter. Do I know?'      - James Joyce, The Dead

We’re going to have a conversation about conversation.


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Ai Weiwei: Weiwei-isms, Edited by Larry Warsh

odonnell-weiwei-circle Artists and their patrons have always had shaky, if symbiotic, relationships. Renaissance sponsors often ended up on canvas in caricature or in begrudging ‘homage’ as background figures. Today’s private patrons are often content to bask in the glow of a little public recognition while providing unfettered artistic license, while corporate sponsors insist on getting the message right. And when the patron is a sitting monarch or a repressive government, no public grant or court favor comes without strings: woe betide the artist who does not deliver value for money given or convey a political view other than the official position.

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Brian Selznick: The Award-Winning Author on Art, Storytelling and Recovering What is Lost

petti-selznick-circle The first time I sat down to read The Invention of Hugo Cabret was with my daughter, who was six-years old at the time. The story takes place in a train station in 1930’s France where a young boy named Hugo lives secretly within its walls. As we read this beautiful graphic novel together, I felt a mixture of awe, inspiration and a rather overwhelming sense of inadequacy. There’s nothing like an acknowledged work of “complete genius” to trigger a simultaneous dose of sheer delight and artistic inferiority.

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Car Bombs on the West Side, Journalists Uptown

PWV Festival - Times Square is evacuated in Bomb ScareTimes Square is Evacuated in Bomb Scare.    There it was, a headline on my computer screen and on the front page of the newspaper that sat on a table in the PEN World Voices hospitality suite at the Roger Smith Hotel at 49th and Lexington, a few blocks east of Times Square. A sultry Spring into Summer weekend. Crowds of people wandering the streets of mid and uptown Manhattan. On Union Square at 14th Street, protesters hold signs that read, "Boycott Arizona."  Near the Hudson River, another group, "Stop Offshore Drilling." by Joy E. Stocke

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Critical Minds, Social Revolution: Egyptian Activist Nawal El Saadawi

stocke-revolution-circle On the final night of the PEN World Voices Festival, they sat next to each other on stage at Cooper Union in New York City – Kwame Anthony Appiah, President of PEN American Center and professor of philosophy at Princeton University, and Nawal El Saadawi, a leading Egyptian feminist, socialist, medical doctor, and militant writer on Arab women’s issues. After a brief introduction by the soft-spoken, Oxford-educated Appiah, the diminutive, El Saadawi, took over the stage, a burning flame, burning brighter with each word. For starters, El Saadawi made it clear that she would have preferred not to sit on stage at all.”No one is higher or lower,” she said. And from there, she took off.

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Diaries of Exile – Yannis Ritsos: Leaf’s Shadow


Yannis Ritsos’s poems written between 1948 and 1950 during and just after the Greek Civil war – collected and translated by Karen Emmerich and Edmund Keeley – offer glimpses into the daily routines of life in exile, the quiet violence Ritsos and his fellow prisoners endured, the fluctuations in the prisoners’ sense of solidarity, and their struggle to maintain humanity through language.

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Everything is Complicated – An Interview with Nadia Kalman

Nadia Kalman

From the very beginning, Nadia Kalman’s The Cosmopolitans had me thinking about divides—generational and cultural—that occur in immigrant families. As may often happen within these families, a shared past binds the present and the future too loosely, creating awkward and sometimes comical moments between parents and their children. For Kalman, whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union to the United States when she was a child, such moments were plentiful, it seems—and she skillfully draws upon them to deliver a novel that is equal parts hilarious and bold in its portrayal of the Molochniks, a Russian-Jewish ...

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Evolution/ Revolution: The First Night of PEN World Voices Festival, April 30, 2009

.The PEN World Voices Festival (a week-long celebration of world literature featuring 160 writers from 41 countries and sponsored by Penguin this year) kicked off last night with the Evolution/ Revolution headliner featuring authors like Edwidge Daniticat, Muriel Burberry, Sergio Ramirez, Raja Shehadeh, and Salman Rushdie—many of whom read their work in their own language.

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First Editions, Second Thoughts

stack_social-circle Inside the covers of any truly great book is indeed a big world. A powerfully-private landscape in which readers breathe, taste and feel, “the divine details,” (to use Nabakov’s classic line) an author researched, caressed, laughed at or cursed; and through tenacity, craft and usually, support, orchestrated into literature. To me, these private worlds, these leaps of consciousness in space and time are jewels, light-filled treasures that have the power to endure well beyond our temporary cravings and epiphanies.

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Found Poetry – A Wishing Poem

wishes on the water One of the traditions associated with Hizir is the granting of wishes.  In Turkey, people write their wishes on a piece of paper and bring it to a source of water symbolizing the fountain of life. There, they release their wish, which if done with good faith and intention, will come true.

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Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin

David Dephy

His love of the written word is contagious, encouraging our WRR staff to quote Edgar Allen Poe’s “Raven” with equal gusto. “While I wonder weak and weary,” Joy Stocke, WRR’s Editor in Chief, continues. Dephy, originally from Tbilisi, Georgia, arrived in New York City after being personally invited by Laszlo Jakab Orsos, the Director of PEN American Center. Dephy agreed whole-heartedly to read his work,

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In Spite of the Gun: Remembering Ken Saro-wiwa, Nigerian Writer and Activist


The 2009 PEN World Voices event on writer and activist Ken Saro-wiwa’s life and legacy opened with a reading from his play, The Transistor Radio. Candor, humor, and conscientiousness leaped from the pages—and along with them, a dark glimpse into the despair and desperation in the lives of Saro-wiwa’s Nigerian characters.

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Interview – Laszlo Jakab Orsos: Written on Water

Lazlo Jakab Orsos

“What writers and literature can do for the world is to not be afraid, It is our vision at PEN and our responsibility to examine the role of the public intellectual and what he or she can and should do for the world.” - Laszlo Jakab Orsos, Director, PEN American Center World Voices Festival

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Literature, Life and Death: On the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture by Umberto Eco


At the start of the evening, Francine Prose, President of PEN American Center, introduced Umberto Eco and Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker who was to conduct an on-stage interview with Eco after his lecture. Once at the podium, Eco seemed modest, humbly giving due regard to his friend Arthur Miller after whom the lecture series is named. He also quickly clarified that the literature he was about to talk about was “fiction,” a distinction that would have been necessary in Europe, but not so much in America where one often assumes that literature involves fictive text.

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Marjane Satrapi on the Graphic Novel, Family History, and Adventures in Cinema

Marjane Satrapi

As a twenty-something art student living in Paris, Marjane Satrapi considered a number of odd jobs before deciding to write graphic novels. For a brief time, she imagined herself as a private detective, then as a headhunter (the gun-toting kind), and finally as a furs saleswoman on the Champs-Élysées.

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Myth, Magic, and the Mind of Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman by Tim E. Ogline “If you need me, Neil and me will be hanging out with the Dream King. Neil says ‘hi’, by the way…” — Tori Amos, “Tear in Your Hand” on Little Earthquakes (1992) There is an undiscovered country we’ve all visited. A place where memories of our travels are often blurred and we are only left with impressions and half-recalled scenes. This is where angels tread and demons dwell. This is dreamland — and this is Neil Gaiman’s world. In Gaiman’s world, where creatures light and dark make their home, gods and demons and friends and foes emerge from the hidden corners of the mind. They glide through the streams of our subconscious as we make the journey with them in this shadow land that exists between the realm of night and day; and the real and surreal.

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New York City – Parade of Illuminations

PWV 2012

Laszlo Jakab Orsos: The city is very receptive to a literary festival. I’ve also learned that New York City is sadly lacking an affordable venue where a festival like this should take place. This forces us to work with different venues, which is a curse and a blessing at the same time. But more importantly I’ve learned that people like to engage in important matters and they show up at even the most unusual settings to be able to hear disturbing and inspiring ideas.

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ON AFRICA: Behind the Scenes with Director Jakab Orsos

Jakab-Orsos-circleWRR: The key word in PEN World Voices Festival is VOICE, and your theme this year is “on Africa”. How does PEN American Center provide a true platform for underrepresented countries to connect and be heard in community? This year the Festival takes a new curatorial approach as we start focusing on regions or countries while the Festival maintains its usual broad international framework. The first in this series is sub-Saharan Africa. The reason we’ve decided to highlight Africa this year is not that the region would be “underrepresented” but simply because they’re very interesting works being done in different regions of Africa.

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On Reading and Writing in the Future and Now – Blogs, Twitter, and the Kindle

image of Kindle for reading bookOn a very humid spring day in New York City last month, I listened, intently, to four accomplished writers try not only to define their reading experiences in today’s interactive multimedia environment, but also to reveal their level of openness to such an environment and its effects, if any, on their work.Responses varied loosely on reading experiences—we are, after all, living in a time when we can read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina on the Kindle, iPad as well as in a bound book. We could even read snippets of it on a blog or come across a quote from it on Twitter.
Why not dabble?

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On Something Else – Words have Wings, Words Have Feet: Edwidge Danticat and John Freeman in Conversation

lockard-edwidge-circleThree weeks before the PEN American Center World Voices Festival, Wild River Review asked me to report on Haitian/American writer Edwidge Danticat’s presentation titled On Something Else. Over the years, I had heard Danticat talking about Haiti on various news programs and had promised myself I would read her work. The day Wild River offered me the assignment, I immersed myself in Danticat’s work. In three weeks I read six of the eight books Danticat has published, plenty of time to fall in love with her writing, her political worldview, her rich descriptions of life in Haiti and New York.

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On the High Line: Diamonds on the Soles of Our Shoes

PWV Highline

At the Highline’s Gansevoort Street entrance, among dogwoods, grasses, and the last of Spring's daffodils, Executive Editor Kim Nagy and I gathered with young couples and their toddlers, middle aged couples, artists, and the curious. We were about to become part of the first PEN American Center World Voices Festival of World Literature High Line Karma Chain.

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PEN American Center Presents Stand Up for Freedom

geiger-pen-circle Stand Up for Freedom with Baratunde Thurston, Katie Halper, Negin Farsad and Laughing Liberally. Wednesday, September 19th, 2012, 7 pm to 10 pm, Galapagos Art Space, 16 Main Street Brooklyn, NY 11201
Enjoy an evening of political comedy and commentary as New York’s top progressive performers joke, jab, rant, vent, prod, provoke and revel in their right to express themselves at a one-night comedy event celebrating freedom of expression. Who says freedom of expression has to be serious?

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Poetry – 21 Ritual Kisses

David Dephy I kissed the mountain right in the sky I kissed the rain right in the rainbow I kissed the fire right in the ashes

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Power of Conversation

David Grossman at PWV

“ This book was such an act of choosing life.” David Grossman on finishing writing his latest book To the End of the Land after his son was killed in the Lebanon War in 2006.

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ROLEX ARTS INITIATIVE-Poet Tracy K. Smith: Memory, Creation, Mentoring, and Mastery

stocke-mcconnell-smith-interview-1For Tracy K. Smith, critically acclaimed poet and assistant professor of creative writing at Princeton University, the issue of "which is to be master" gained a deeper meaning when she was invited to participate in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, not as a master, but as the protégé of Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Germany’s most important contemporary poet and one of Europe’s foremost political thinkers.

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Shape-Shifter: In Istanbul with Metis Publisher Muge Sokmen

laurence-shapeshifter-1 In 1982, many leftist intellectuals, artists, students and professors—like Sokmen who was then studying for her MS in mechanical engineering—were arrested or resigned from universities and began forming a media network. At twenty-two, with no money, Sokmen founded Metis, driven, as she says, by her love of literature and belief in free expression. Like the publisher İletişim, also founded in 1982, Metis defends Metis's "independent spirit and radical commitment” to good literature and its authors despite “conservative” pressures from the present government. by Patricia Laurence

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The Future is Now: Opening Night at the 11th Annual PEN World Voices Festival

PWV 11

May 4, 2015, marked the launch of the eleventh annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. We attended the opening night event, The Future Is Now, a panel of ten writers from around the world. Each writer presented their best-case and worst-case scenarios for the world in 2050.

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The Pen Cabaret 2008: Bowery Ballroom

Patty Smith

-Emcee Nona aka New Yorker cartoonist Victoria Roberts -Musician/Poet Oliver Lake Chinese Poet Huang Xiang -Argentinian/Uraguayan Novelist, Carlos Maria Dominguez -Poet, Saul Williams -Playwrigt/Actor, Sam Shepard -Poet/Musician/Activist, Patti Smith

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Tonight We Rest Here: An Interview with Saadi Youssef

Saadi Youssef

Considered by many to be the greatest living Arabic poet, Youssef speaks quietly and deliberately, as if each word holds the weight of his lifetime. Around his neck, hangs a gold pendant: a map of Iraq.

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Tourist Don’t Take My Picture: More from PEN World Voices

Edwidge Danticat. Photo by Joy Stocke Edwidge Danticat Reading at Pen World Voices 2009: Tourist, don’t take my picture Don’t take my picture, tourist I’m too ugly

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Wild River, Green Thoughts

Pen World Festival 2007

Eleven writers including Geert Mak, Gary Shteyngart, Roxana Robinson, Moses Isegawa, Billy Collins, Janne Teller, Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Franzen, Pico Iyer, Marilynne Robinson, and Salman Rushdie, stood at the podium at Cooper Union Great Hall in New York City tonight to read about the subject of the natural world.

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