About a month ago, I took the afternoon off and walked down to the Brooklyn cruise-ship terminal. Poets Essayists Novelists (PEN) had issued an open invitation to schmooze aboard the massive Queen Mary 2, in honor of its upcoming World Voices Festival here in New York. I had gone, of course, for the only chance I’ll probably ever get to walk around what was once the world’s largest cruise ship. And for the free lunch. I am a connoisseur of free lunch. But even if PEN hadn’t plied me with champagne and lobster thermidor (and the chance to observe the literary demimonde in what I like to imagine is its natural habitat – Philip Gourevitch chasing his parking validation slip across a windswept parking lot; Dale Peck, the worst tambourine player of his generation, jamming with the house band on “Paperback Writer”) I would still be writing this post. Why? Because I love PEN World Voices.
Now in its fourth year, the festival brings together writers from around the world for readings, conversations, panel discussions, and for a chance to meet readers. Unlike certain other jamborees that shall remain nameless, this one works actively to shape American literary tastes, rather than passively reflecting them. In past years I’ve found myself going to events to see Mark Danner and staying for Alma Guillermoprieta, or going to see Don DeLillo and discovering Tatyana Tolstaya and Alain Mabanckou. If you’re in or near New York and you haven’t yet been to the World Voices festival, it’s well worth checking out. Again, I’m not just saying this because of the goat cheese terrine on a bed of baby field greens.
A complete listing of events can be found at the PEN website. Below are my picks for the most promising-looking events, free except where noted.
Tuesday, April 29
Circumference Celebrates Poetry in Translation With Brian Henry, Christina Svendsen, Jeffrey Yang, and special guests @ Housing Works Bookstore Cafe.
Wednesday, April 30
Five Years of the PEN Translation Fund: A Celebration With Esther Allen, Barbara Epler, Edwin Frank, Wen Huang, Sarah Khalili, Idra Novey, Christopher Southward, Eliot Weinberger, and others @ Segal Theater, CUNY Graduate Center: 365 Fifth Ave
Readings: Public Lives/Private Lives ($15) With Coral Bracho, Peter Esterhazy, Rian Malan, Ian McEwan, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Annie Proulx, Evelyn Schlag, A.B. Yehoshua; introduced by Salman Rushdie @ The Town Hall
Thursday, May 1
Resonances: Contemporary Writers on the Great Works
With Fatou Diome, Flora Drew, Ma Jian, Antonio Muñoz Molina, and Charles Simic; moderated by Esther Allen @ William and Anita Newman Library, Baruch College
The Secret Lives of Cities With Yousef Al-Mohaimeed, Juan de Recacoechea, Joshua Furst, and Francisco Goldman; moderated by Matt Weiland @ Instituto Cervantes New York
Publishers Weekly: On Translation With Morgan Entrekin, Edwin Frank, Halfdan Freihow, and Michael Kruger; moderated by Sara Nelson @ Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY Graduate Center: 365 5th Ave.
Thomas Bernhard and the Art of Failure With Horacio Castellanos Moya, Paul Holdengräber, Fatima Naqvi, and Dale Peck; moderated by Jonathan Taylor @ Austrian Cultural Forum
Friday, May 2
Reading the World With Peter Carey, Halfdan Freihow, Janet Malcolm, and Francesc Seres; introduced by Rachel Donadio @ Scandinavia House: 58 Park Ave.
Wristcutters: A Film Screening and Q&A with Etgar Keret @ Instituto Cervantes New York
Saturday, May 3
Epic Journeys With Rabih Alameddine & Aleksandar Hemon @ Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY Graduate Center
A Tribute to Robert Walser With Susan Bernofsky, Deborah Eisenberg, Jeffrey Eugenides, Wayne Koestenbaum, and Michael Kruger @ Gilder Lehrman Hall, The Morgan Library & Museum
Review of Contemporary Fiction Presents New Catalan Fiction
With Charles Baxter, Josep M. Fonalleras, Merce Ibarz, and Francesc Seres; moderated by Mary Ann Newman @ Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House of NYU
Sunday, May 4
Conversation: Jeffrey Eugenides & Daniel Kehlmann ($15) @ The New York Public Library, South Court Auditorium
The Third Annual Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture by Umberto Eco ($20) On the Advantages of Fiction for Life and Death
With Umberto Eco & Adam Gopnik; introduced by Francine Prose @ The Great Hall at Cooper Union