May 10, 2006
Championed by Salman Rushdie, the first PEN World Voices Festival. took place in April 2005, and surprisingly, was the first international literary festival ever held in New York City. It was conceived as an annual event, and put New York alongside Berlin, Rome, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Toronto, and a few other cities as hosts to international literary events. As Mr. Rushdie said of the first World Voices Festival, the event "embodies PEN's belief that writers can help to mediate cultural and political differences and widen this country's field of vision on the world. It is a mission that seems more essential than ever. Even as globalization and technology bring us closer, questions of national, cultural, political and religious identity continue to divide and isolate us from one another."
The second PEN World Voices Festival took place in New York City in the last week of April, 2006. The theme of the festival this year was "Faith and Reason," a topic of importance and relevance for today's world. More than 150 writers from around the world gathered in New York City and participated in readings and discussions. The festival opened on April 25th with the Arthur Miller Freedom toWrite speech by Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish writer whose government sued (and later dropped the case) him for his public comment on Turkish genocide of Armenians; the audio and photo archives of the event can be found here.
It was the first time I have attended an international literary event, and I was very impressed with two things the numbers of writers gathered in the same hotel (Roger Smith at Midtown, which seemed to be full of energy the whole week), and the enthusiasm of New Yorkers many of the events I went to had long waiting lines.
In the next weeks I'll recount some of my impressions of the festival on this blog.