Critical Mass

PEN World Voices Festival #5

By Jane Ciabattari

Salman Rushdie kicked off PEN World Voices Festival at the Instituto Cervantes in New York yesterday, remembering how the fest “began five years ago out of deep concern…that the conversation between the U.S. and the rest of the world was breaking down.” No one knew who might turn out for the first international conference.
“To quote the immortal words of Kevin Costner,” he said, “‘If you build it, they will come.’”

Five years later, Rushdie said, “We’re still here. We still need this conversation.” Given the “terrible recession,” the festival continues with an infusion of support from Penguin. This year’s offering: a pared down list with lots of free events, including celebrated writers, new voices (the festival has become a sort of “shop window” for unknowns who are finding publishers, Rushdie said), and “writers from bizarre parts of the world.” Among those featured this year: Edwidge Danticat, NBCC award winner for autobiography last year; Richard Ford, NBCC fiction finalist; Gary Giddins, NBCC award winner in criticism; and Egyptian novelist, psychiatrist, and activist Nawal El Saadawi, who will deliver the Arthur Miller lecture.  Saadawi once noted, “Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies.”  Full schedule here.

Also noteworthy:

The National Book Critics Circle panel “This Critical Moment” May 1, 3 pm, at Scandinavia House (details here).

New European Poets, a reading hosted by NBCCers Kevin Prufer and Wayne Miller, May 2, 2 pm, NYU’s Creative Writing House (details here).

East-West Storytelling, a Granta event moderated by former NBCC president John Freeman, May 2, 4:30 at CUNY Graduate Center (details here).