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PEN World Voices
Published May 6, 2008
By Ernest Barteldes

New York City

April 29 – May 4

 

For the five days of the fifth edition of the PEN World Voices Festival in New York, writers from around the world joined together to discuss and celebrate the literary arts while also looking at the inevitable political ramifications of the craft.

 

The dominant theme of this year's edition was  Public Lives/Private Lives. This put forward the question of where one draws the line between the private and public selves of the writers, which comes in the face of the large numbers of memoirs hitting the shelves these days.

 

On the political side, the upcoming Olympic games in Beijing received a lot of attention as  Salman Rushdie, PEN America president Francine Prose, Chinese-born novelist Ma Jian, Edward Albee and others came together on May 1st to announce the delivery of a petition signed by more than 3,000 PEN members and supporters (including this writer) demanding the release of 39 writers and journalists who are currently imprisoned in China for “exercising their right to speak and write freely, which is guaranteed under Chinese and International law,” according to a statement released to the press.

 

“I hope that the Chinese government will realize that it has a moral obligation to commit to freedom of speech,” said Rushdie during a brief statement. “They also have an economic responsibility that could be damaged severely if it does not permit freedom of speech.”

 

There were several events around town that catered to various tastes.  On Friday, May 2 at Instituto Cervantes there was a screening of Wristcutters:  A Love Story (starring Patrick Fugit, with soundtrack mostly written by Gogol Bordello), an amusing dark comedy in which people who have committed suicide go to an afterlife that is just a little worse than life on Earth.

 

The much-appreciated screening was followed by a Q&A session with Edgar Keret, the author of the original novella in which the film was based. At Town Hall that same night, Umberto Eco, Mario Vargas Llosa and Rushdie reunited for an evening of readings, dubbed “The Three Musketeers Reunited,” a title that resonates a comment made by the Italian author after a similar event at The Royal Festival Hall in London

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