PEN WORLD VOICES
First Editions / Second Thoughts
Defending Writers: PEN and Christie’s Raise One Million Dollars to Support Freedom of Expression
“A thing is mighty big when time and distance cannot shrink it.” — Zora Neale Hurston
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.
It’s no wonder I’m thinking about jewels as I walk down cold-windy streets in pre-Christmas Manhattan with its elegantly decorated storefronts, past the smell of roasting chestnuts and a line of street vendors. At the epicenter of commerce, between 49th and 6th across the street from Rockefeller Center, I enter Christie’s Auction House where the “Princie Diamond” (a cushion-cut 34 carat diamond) brought in $39.3 million, and where bidders once rushed for a piece of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry collection.
As soon as I take out a card to introduce myself to security, I spot my guide, Sarah Edkins, PEN American Center’s Communications Manager. Plush carpeted floors and a flight of wide stairs lead us to the entrance of an exhibition room and the reason I came: First Editions/ Second Thoughts.
This is not just any collection of first editions. First Editions/ Second Thoughts (FEST), hosted by Christie’s Auction House on December 2nd, was conceived to raise funds for PEN American Center, the world-renowned organization that defends imprisoned writers and celebrates literature. The second initiative of its kind, the original First Editions/ Second Thoughts launched in 2013 to benefit English PEN through rare book sales at Southebys and raised $690K, including a healthy $230K sale of Harry Potter.
“Christie’s is proud to serve as host of this historic auction of unique literary treasures and to give so many book lovers a chance to view and bid on these authors’ and artists’ thoughtful reflections on their own work,” said Steve Murphy, CEO of Christie’s about the December 2, 2014 First Editions/ Second Thoughts. “We are especially pleased to help PEN American Center raise money to continue its mission of defending free expression and fostering literary pursuits.”
Brainchild of Belinda Kitchin, auction curator, the US FEST showcases sixty-one writers (including authors like Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Rita Dove, Paul Muldoon, Phillip Roth, Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, etc.) and fourteen world-renowned artists curated by the Sean Kelly Gallery. Rare books expert, Rick Gekoski, Kitchin’s husband, spearheaded the original First Editions/ Second Thoughts.
And, here’s where the private lives of first editions gets juicier. Kitchin and Gekoski asked each of the authors and artists to revisit and annotate first editions of their most influential works. Annotate, you ask?
“They weren’t writing their book, they were writing their thoughts about their book. So cataloging it was challenging but fun,” said Patrick McGrath, Books Specialist at Christie’s, who I spoke with in a phone interview.
“I was often asked by writers what does annotation mean,” explained Gekoski in a video about FEST, “and the answer is it means whatever you want it to mean.”
For some authors, such as Louise Erdrich, annotating meant weaving a colorful braid of flowers along with Western comics, matchbooks and private notes through all of the pages of her first novel, Love Medicine, about three generations of a Chippewa Indian family, and which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Rita Dove, former poet laureate, at first hesitant to “deface” the first edition of her first chapbook, Ten Poems, was surprised that she eventually wrote in all ten of them. On the title page of her Ten Poems, she chuckles at her own title: “Gee, how original.”
Orhan Pamuk drew a watercolor of a remote town on the Armenian border, the setting of his novel Snow.
Colum McCann included an apt Kurt Vonnegut quote, “We should be continually jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down…” and a picturesque doodle for the reader who bid highest for, Let the Great World Spin, which won the National Book Award.
Barbara Kingsolver, bestselling author led the reader back to her first sentence in The Poisonwood Bible, her novel that depicted missionary-fueled imperialism and its troubled legacy in the Congo.
“Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.”
Kingsolver writes: “The first sentence of a novel should make a promise that the book will keep. The ruin that Europe and the US brought on the Congo. The difficulty of inheriting this history — as captive witness to our nation’s past. The impossible search for redemption. The temptation of denial.”
PEN International was the first worldwide association to point out “that freedom of expression and literature are inseparable,” an ideological connection that is still championed in their charter. PEN American Center is the largest of the 140 centers of PEN International.
“We’re really the only organization that both celebrates and defends freedom of expression,” Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN American Center, explained in an interview with WBUR. “We have a case list of over 900 writers all over the world who are jailed, persecuted, threatened, for what they write and for the expression of their views.”
In the exhibit room, Brad Thiele, Art Handler of Books of Manuscripts, provides me with direct access to the pristine glass cases displaying famous titles such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, Joyce Carol Oates’ Them. A team of two photographers, who’ve been working long hours sit on the floor.
When Edkins asks me which book I most want to see, I don’t hesitate. I was moved by Angela Davis’s If They Come in the Morning which seemed emblematic of PEN’s mission to not only defend imprisoned writers but remind an often-alienated group in the global community about the vital necessity of collaboration. In her introductory annotation, Davis characteristically reminded her would-be bidder that she was not the only author of the book, but that she wrote it with many others.
“I’m so glad you asked about this book,” said Edkins, who, encyclopedic in her knowledge of each title points to Angela Davis’s book safe behind a shining glass case. It’s almost a microcosm of our work, right here.”
Davis’s If they Come in the Morning speaks to PEN American Center’s work with prisoners because the money raised in the PEN/ Christie’s Auction will go toward helping support writers in prison and in providing aid to their families. In my phone interview with Pat McGrath, Book Specialist at Christies, who catalogued all of the 61 titles, he adds, “Two titles that really moved me powerfully were the Angela Davis book and the John Edgar Wideman (Brothers and Keepers), both nonfiction, and both of whom were writing about the ongoing problem of mass incarceration — and the terrible inequality in the criminal justice system.”
In 1970, the young Davis, a UCLA philosophy professor and activist in the Black Panthers and Communist Party, was fired for her political beliefs and speeches. That same year, Davis was charged with connection to a prison outbreak at Marin County Courthouse. A warrant for Davis’s arrest went out for three counts of murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy — charges that were punishable by death. Davis’s name reached the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List and she was arrested and jailed in October of 1970.
‘I stand before this court,” Angela famously stated, “as a target of a political frame-up… I declare publicly before the court, before the people of this country, that I am innocent of all charges which have been leveled against me by the State of California.”
During her imprisonment (Davis was fully acquitted in 1972.) she not only dominated the headlines, and inspired songs from Yoko Ono and John Lennon as well as the Rolling Stones, but collaborated to write about her trial in the book, If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance, a collection of essays edited by Davis and Betty Aptheker that included essays from other prisoners, their lawyers and letters of support from famous public figures like Coretta King and James Baldwin.
Earlier in the week, in preparation for my questions about Angela Davis, a YouTube search had pulled me back in time to her 2008 lecture called, “How Does Change Happen?” Davis’s talk, a prescription for progressive change, began with a childhood story. Davis described growing up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, and how she cried when she couldn’t go to an all-white amusement park (or library, etc.) in the the late 1940s. It was Davis’s mother who soothed her.
“She said, and I’ll never forget it, ‘This is not the way things are supposed to be. This might be the way they are now, but they are not supposed to be this way… And they will not always be this way.’”
“Just as it was once possible to help people imagine a world without slavery… it was important to me personally to learn about as a child, to imagine a world without racial segregation, and later, a world in which women were not assumed to be inferior to men…or a world without xenophobia…,” continues Davis as she advocated for what she named the critical impulse, “the critical habit of imagination coupled with the responsibility to use knowledge in a transformative way… to use knowledge as a way to remake the world so that it is better for all of its inhabitants…”
Imagining a transformed world — or more critically examining the “real” world — is perhaps the most important role of the writer, the group PEN International Center has worked to protect since it was founded by Catharine Amy Dawson-Scott and John Galsworthy in 1921.
Over ninety years later, the organization continues to defend free expression across political barriers. Fundamental to this work is dispelling national, ethnic, and racial tensions in order to promote understanding among all peoples.
“At PEN American Center, our work is focused on helping writers whose work is under threat whether in China or in Ferguson Missouri,” said Nossel, Executive Director for the PEN American Center. “This will help infuse all of our work with new resources, new energy and new inspiration.”
In 2006, Kimberly Nagy founded Wild River Review with Joy E. Stocke; and in 2009, they founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC. With more than twenty years in the field of publishing, Nagy specializes in market outreach and digital media strategies as well as crafting timeless articles and interviews. She edits many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
Kimberly Nagy is a poet, professional writer, and dedicated reader who has interviewed a number of leading thinkers, including Academy-Award winning filmmaker, Pamela Tanner Boll, MacArthur Genius Award-winning Edwidge Danticat, historian James McPherson, playwright Emily Mann, biologist and novelist, Sunetra Gupta and philosopher Alain de Botton.
Nagy is an author, editor and professional storyteller. She received her BA in history at Rider University where she was influenced by professors who stressed works of literature alongside dates and historical facts–as well as the importance of including the perspectives of women and minorities in the historical record. During a period in which she fell in love with writing and research, Nagy wrote an award-winning paper about the suppression of free speech during World War I, and which featured early 20th century feminist and civil rights leader, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.
Nagy continued her graduate studies at University of Connecticut, Storrs, where she studied with Dr. Karen Kupperman, an expert in early contact between Native Americans and the first European settlers. Nagy wrote her Masters thesis, focusing on the work of the first woman to be accepted into the Connecticut Historical Society as well as literary descriptions of Native Americans in Connecticut during the 19th century. Nagy has extensive background and interest in anthropological, oral history and cultural research.
After graduate school, Nagy applied her academic expertise to a career in publishing, in which she worked for two of the world’s foremost publishers—Princeton University Press and W.W. Norton—as well as at Thomson, Institutional Investor Magazine, Routledge UK, and Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.
Kimberly Nagy in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
ARTS – FILM REVIEWS
ARTS – MUSIC
ARTS – PHOTOGRAPHY
The Triple Goddess Trials: Fire in the Head: Brigit’s Mysterious Spark
The Triple Goddess Trials: Introduction
The Triple Goddess Trials – Meeting Virginia Woolf at the Strand
The Triple Goddess Trials: Me and Medusa
The Triple Goddess Trials: Aphrodite and the Lightbulb Factory
The Triple Goddess Trials: Goddess of Milk and Honey
The Triple Goddess Trials: Kali’s Ancient Love Song
ASHLEY – Renee Ashley: A Voice Answering a Voice
BELLI – Giocanda Belli – The Page is My Home
BOLL – Pamela Tanner Boll: Dangerous Women: An Interview with Academy Award Winner Pamela Tanner Boll
DANTICAT – Create Dangerously- A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat
CHARBONNEAU – A Cruise Along the Inside Track: With Le Mobile’s Sound Recording Legend Guy Charbonneau
de BOTTON – The Art of Connection: A Conversation with Alain de Botton
GUPTA – Suneptra Gupta – The Elements of Style: The Novelist and Biologist Discusses Metaphor and Science
HANDAL – Nathalie Handal – Love and Strange Horses
KHWAJA – Waqas Khwaja: What a Difference a Word Makes
MAURO: New World Monkeys: An Interview with Nancy Mauro
MORGANSing, Live, & Love Like You Mean It: An Interview with Bertha Morgan
MOSS – Practical Mystic–Robert Moss: On Book Families, Jung and How Dreams Can Save Your Soul
OGLINE – BEN FRANKLIN.COM: Author & Illustrator Tim Ogline explains why Ben Franklin would be a technology evangelist today
OLSEN – Greg Olsen – Reaching for the Stars: Scientist, Entrepreneur and Space Traveler
PALYA – Beata Palya – The Secret World of Songs
SCHIMMEL – Moonlight Science: A Conversation with Molecular Biologist and Entrepreneur, Paul Schimmel
SHORS – Journey into the Male & Female Brain: An Interview with Tracey Shors
von MOLTKE and SIMMS – Dorothy von Moltke and Cliff Simms: Why Independent Bookstores Matter, Part I
WARD – On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part One, and
On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part Two
WILKES – Labor of Love: An Interview With Architect Kevin Wilkes
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
The New York Public Library at 100: From the Stacks to the Streets
Paul Holdengraber: The Afterlife of Conversation
That Email Changed My Life: Rolex Arts Initiative. Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Tracy K. Smith Celebrates Rolex Arts Initiative
First Editions / Second Thoughts — Defending Writers: PEN and Christie’s Raise One Million Dollars to Support Freedom of Expression
ON AFRICA: May 4 to May 10 — Behind the Scenes with Director Jakab Orsos: Co-curated by Award-Winning Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Page is My Home: Giaconda Belli – Nicaraguan Poet, Writer and Public Intellectual
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
The Power of Conversation: David Grossman and Nadine Gordimer – The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture
NEW FROM WILD RIVER BOOKS – Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library
Wild River Books Announces the Stoutsburg Cemetery Project: The Untold Stories of an African American Burial Ground in New Jersey
Wild River Books: Surprise Encounters by Scott McVay
Wild River Review and Minerva’s Bed & Breakfast Presents – “BITTER” Writing in a Weekend: How to Write About the Things We Can’t Change
ALLEN – Quarks, Parks, and Science in Everyday Life: Filmmaker Chris Allen’s Documentary Where Art Meets Science in a Vacant Lot
HOLT – Rush Holt: An Interview with Rush Holt
MANN – Boundless Theater: An Interview with Emily Mann
Keeping Time: A Conversation with Historian James McPherson