Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Home & Away: The PEN World Voices Festival

This is the theme of this year’s PEN World Voices International Literature Festival: Home & Away.

Last night, the festival began with an amazing line-up of writers reading from works, others’ and their own, with the theme of “Green Thoughts: Writers on the Environment.”

Here was a splendid literary banquet: We heard Geert Mak read a Frisian poem; Gary Shteyngart read about SUVs melting in Syracuse; Roxana Robinson read a Chekhov story about the Steppes of Mongolia; Moses Isegawa read about machines making the farmer’s life easier; Billy Collins read about gated communities; Janne Teller read about a Norwegian hermit and hunter; Colson Whitehead read about a father and son post-apocalypse road trip; Jonathan Franzen read about a polar bear raised by a generous father who then let the polar bear eat him; Pico Iyer read from Peter Matthiesson’s Snow Leopard; Marilynne Robinson discussed the perils of nuclear power and read from her amazing essay “Wilderness”; and Salmon Rushdie read from Don DeLillo’s White Noise.

For Vimeo coverage of the event, check out Bud Parr's site Chekhov's Mistress.

Last night’s was a splendid opening event for this year’s festival that is in its third year running. I can boast perfect attendance, as I have been a fan of this festival since its initial run in 2005. At that time, PEN’s idea was to provide New York City (and America) with a service that it was missing: A real dialogue between the U.S. and the rest of the world. As Salmon Rushdie commented, at least we can do this in a cultural realm. Now through Sunday there are over sixty events and over 100 writers from all over the world giving readings and speaking on panels at venues all over the city. It’s thoroughly refreshing and inspiring. I don’t even have to say, “I wouldn’t miss it for The World” because this festival is for The World.

Below are my own five little riffs on the PEN Festival theme:

When she’s home, she often thinks of those she loves who live far away. When she’s away, she often thinks of those she loves who stay home.

Home is where, even if you don’t speak their language, they understand you, or more often where you do speak their language, and they don’t understand you.

Away from home, the supple mind will surrender to a home away from home.

Home offers a place to invite friends and keep rivals away.

When the situation at home overwhelms, away sweet away.

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