A Preliminary PEN World Voices 2011 Schedule

By now, you (New Yorkers, at least) have almost certainly marked your calendar and set aside all of your free time at the end of April for the annual PEN World Voices Festival, that annual literary celebration of writers the world over who get together for a host of small, intimate panels featuring frequently esoteric subject matter (i.e. “Poetry and Yoga“) and often incongruously paired authors (i.e. David Almond and Sofi Oksanen) to almost universally delightful effect. There are a handful of annual events and happenings that I look forward to every year, and World Voices is–to me–up there with Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day and the Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village.

There are always more events than anyone (at least anyone with a day job) can attend, and progressively, more events are ticketed which although may be valid (for reasons of keeping attendance down and raising much-needed funds), is a development which I am kind of unhappy with. Never fear, though, there are plenty of free events worth attending. Below is a list of events I think are particularly worth noting and making it out for, especially since many like-themed events (on subjects such as translation) are scheduled on the same days and in the same locations. So go ahead, take a half day from work, and have a literary-minded day.

Also, many of last year’s events were recorded as MP3s and/or streaming video (such as the wonderful conversation that I linked to above) and are available on the World Voices 2010 website. If you want to get a sense of the festival, or catch up on some panels you missed last year, there are a lot of gems there.

The festival runs from April 25 to May 1. Here are some of the (free) events I’m looking forward to most (all descriptions from the PEN website):

Tuesday, March 26:

12 Noon: Lunchtime Literary Conversations: Ludovic Debeurme and Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold

In a not-so distant past, the lunchtime hour was a sacred time for editor and writer alike to exchange ideas. Take a respite from the day’s activities to hear a conversation between French graphic novelist Ludovic Debeurme and Norwegian author Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold. Winner of the Rene Goscinny Prize, Debeurme’s Lucille (forthcoming in May 2011) explores life and fantasies with elegant clean graphics and a profound love of childhood games. Winner of the 2009 Tarjei Vesaas First Book Prize, and Nominated for the 2009 Booksellers’ Prize, Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold’s first novel, The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am, stands out for its humorous earnestness and unusually inventive prose.

Wednesday, April 27

Lunchtime Literary Conversations: Laurence Cossé and Hervé Le Tellier
[Ed. Note: I reviewed Cosse’s newly translated novel A Novel Bookstore when it came out last year. My review is here.]

Take a respite from the day’s activity with the second event of our lunchtime conversations and enjoy a tête-à-tête between two bestselling French authors: Laurence Cossé, the author of The Corner of the Veil, Prime Minister’s Woman, and most recently, The Novel Bookstore; and Hervé Le Tellier, the author of Enough About Love, and the forthcoming The Sextine Chapel. Translation is available.

3:30 PM: Authors and Audiences (feat. Mario Bellatin, author of Beauty Salon)

A writer spends considerable time envisaging his or her readers. But as a manuscript makes its way across the editorial labyrinth—through the hands of editors, agents, publishers and booksellers—the imagined readers become elusive. Editor and author Albert Mobilio leads a fascinating panel discussion exploring the wide gulf between a writer’s desired audience and the readers they ultimately find.

7:00 PM: The Next Decade in Book Culture

The critic’s voice indelibly shapes the works we read. But in an age when readers are rapidly migrating to Twitter book clubs, literary web sites, and Amazon reader reviews, how will the critic continue to lead literary conversations? Join a conversation about the new power of the book review and the emergence of a unique reader experience in the age of the digital revolution.

Friday, April 29

12 Noon: Translating America

The quest for authenticity and idiosyncrasy would seem to place American writers beyond translation. Yet their popularity abroad—equaled only by loathing for our foreign policy—has sometimes dwarfed their readership at home and reshaped the global literary landscape. Here to discuss how this encounter has influenced their writing and their culture are four authors who have translated canonical American works: Huckleberry Finn, The Bell Jar, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Nickel and Dimed.

2:00 PM: The Great Global Book Swap

Imagine you are invited to a great global book swap and have to bring just one beloved book originally written in a foreign tongue: what would it be? Join five eminent writers who have trotted the globe and lived everywhere from Ireland to India, Latvia to Sudan, for a reading and a talk about the works of translation that enriched and changed their lives.

4:00 PM: Catalan Literature’s Modern Tradition

One of the world’s most beautiful romance languages, Catalan, has a rich literary trove, unknown to most of the English-speaking world. A discussion of seminal 20th-century works, such as Llorenc Villalonga’s The Doll’s Room and Josep Pla’s The Gray Notebook, led by renowned Catalan literary historians and translators, will show you a treasure of literature you’ll wish you’d found sooner.

8:45 PM: Best Translated Book Awards (Hosted by Open Letter Press’ Chad Post)

Established writers and translators such as David Grossman and Susan Bernofsky go up against relative newcomers such as Julia Franck and Edward Gauvin in this contest naming the Best Translated Books from 2010. Sponsored by the Three Percent web site, this event will name the winners in both the fiction and poetry categories, with $5,000 cash prizes (underwritten by Amazon.com) going to the winning authors and translators. Hosted by Chad W. Post, and featuring a range of top translators and literary enthusiasts, this program will highlight great works of world literature now available to English readers.

Saturday, April 30

2:00 PM: Best European Fiction

Revel in the spectacular story-telling of the celebrated anthology Best European Fiction. For 2011, editor Aleksandar Hemon and preface writer Colum McCann return to continue their discussion of European literature today, followed by readings and discussions with contributors from Moldova, Norway, and Slovenia.

6:00 PM: New Tendencies in Spanish Language Literatures

As in previous editions of the festival, Instituto Cervantes hosts a panel on the state of affairs in contemporary Spanish-language fiction. A distinguished group of novelists from both sides of the Atlantic will examine the situation of Latin American, Spanish, and Catalan literature, looking into the complex relationships among these rich traditions today. With the participation of Marcelo Figueras (Argentina), Enrique Serna (Mexico), Teresa Solana (Catalonia), and Manuel de Lope (Spain). Moderated by Eduardo Lago, novelist and executive director of the Cervantes Institute.

Sunday, May 1

1:00 PM: Translator Rights and Translator Wrongs

PEN Translation Committee Chair Susan Bernofsky teams up with intellectual property attorney Erach Screwvala to discuss intellectual property issues in literary translations and their implications for both the business and the artistic sides of the translator’s work. They are joined by three prominent translator-authors from Poland, the Czech Republic/Spain and Israel who will report on the status of the ownership of artistic works internationally, and reflect on the culture of translation in their respective countries.


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