PEN World Voices Festival: Gender and Power

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New York, NY (February 16, 2017) –The thirteenth annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature will focus its lens on today’s fractious relationship between gender and power. Taking place in New York City, May 1-7, 2017, the weeklong Festival will use literature and the arts to address how gender both enables and impairs full participation in politics and society. At a moment of unprecedented threats to freedom and truth, and of emboldened mobilization and resistance, the Festival will connect leading global writers, artists and thinkers with concerned citizens to examine bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia, and to bolster the movement to counter them.

Participants include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Laurie Anderson, Rita Mae Brown, Carrie Brownstein, Teju Cole, Ani DiFranco, Jennifer Egan, Athena Farrokhzad, Vivian Gornick, Aleksandar Hemon, Dorit Rabinyan, Colum McCann, Nancy Morejon, Eileen Myles, Viet Thanh Nguygen, Trevor Noah, Marge Piercy, Salman Rushdie, Patti Smith, Andrew Solomon, Jeff VanderMeer, Dubravka Ugrešić and Binyavanga Wainaina.

For the first time this year, the 2017 Festival’s programming will reflect the vision of a diverse team of curators to explore the breadth of gender and power in all its dimensions. Chaired by Rob Spillman, founding editor of Tin House, the curatorial team includes Susan Bernofsky, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Kim Chan, Ram Devineni, Mona Eltahawy, Marlon James, Saeed Jones, Meg Lemke, Valeria Luiselli, Paul Morris, Chinelo Okparanta, Steph Opitz, Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf and Andy Tepper.

While some expected 2017 to be a year of ascendency for women at the upper echelons of political power globally, it risks instead becoming a time of retrenchment on rights. Through a rich and eclectic array of dialogues, panels, readings and workshops, the Festival will investigate, among other topics, the social constructs that restrict female and LGBTQ empowerment, sexuality and gender fluidity, and the transcendent power of art and story to enable people to see beyond their differences. In response to the resurgence of nationalism and neo-isolationism, PEN World Voices – the only American international literary festival – will create a crucial platform for writers and intellectuals from around the globe to debate how to confront the barriers and virulent backlash that jeopardize the rights of women, LGBTQ and other populations at risk.

“PEN America launched the World Voices Festival after 9/11 at a moment when the U.S. was becoming cut off from the rest of the globe,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America. “Amid visa bans and an America First foreign policy, World Voices is now an important antidote to an America at risk of only talking to itself, fanning baseless fears, and damaging relations with allies and people around the world. This year’s Festival will center on both celebration and mobilization, rallying around PEN America’s mission to defend free expression and enable the breadth of voices vital to an open marketplace of ideas.”

The Festival will kick off with United Against Hate, an evening of performances and readings, rallying prominent voices in literature and the arts such as Patti Smith and her daughter Jesse Smith, Ani DiFranco, and novelists Marlon James, Colum McCann, Salman Rushdie and others, to confront emboldened bigotry around the world. Festival highlights also include a conversation between Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Trevor Noah on cultural straddling; two events on dystopian fiction that explore crucial issues of gender, reproduction and the environment; and panel discussions on subjects such as media representation of transgender identities, the LGBTQ cultural landscape, and sexuality and gender norms in graphic novels.

This year, the Festival is also collaborating with Women of the World (WOW), produced by the Apollo Theater and the South Bank Center of London, on a series of events centered on activism and the achievements of women and girls from all parts of the world.

PEN World Voices will bring the perspective of gender and power to the Festival’s most popular and original events: the roving Literary Quests at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and the Westbeth Center for the Arts, where distinguished writers read and engage in intimate conversations with the public inside studios and apartments; Dreaming Out Loud, where undocumented students from CUNY share their hopes and fears for the future – an event particularly relevant in these perilous times; and the World Voices: International PlayF, presented by the Martin E. Segal Theater Center at the Graduate Center, CUNY, which showcases play readings by nine dramatists, each hailing from a different world region.

“The intersection of gender and power has emerged as one of the most pressing flashpoints of our time,” said Rob Spillman, curatorial chair. “With politics seeming to fail us, literature and intellectual curiosity are essential catalysts to help see beyond the determined forces that can hold back entire populations and social progress. In an era of nonstop news, text and tweets, the chance to sit down, hear stories and engage in face-to-face dialogue has the power to transcend barriers, both geographically and culturally.”

The Village Voice will serve as the Festival’s official media sponsor, partnering on initiatives to help broaden the impact of Festival events and reach new audiences throughout the City.

“We are honored once again to be the Official Media Sponsor of the Pen World Voices Festival,” Peter Barbey, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Village Voice, says. “In today’s political climate, it’s more necessary than ever for us to support writers in the U.S and around the world. It’s vital that we strive to keep America an example to the world of standing up for free speech—free from censorship and free from intimidation. We look forward to New York audiences joining us at the Festival in a show of solidarity.”

Festival highlights include:

  • United Against Hate: The opening night event rallies prominent voices, including Patti Smith and her daughter Jesse Smith, Ani DiFranco, Marlon James, Colum McCann, Salman Rushdie and others, to address the implications of bigotry around the globe through performances and readings. (The Cooper Union’s Great Hall; Monday, May 1)
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Trevor Noah: Nigerian-born and National Book Award winning novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and South African-born host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, Trevor Noah, discuss identity and cultural straddling. Moderated by Chris Jackson. (Town Hall; Wednesday, May 3)
  • Literary Quest: Tenement Museum Edition: Festival audiences are invited to readings in the apartments of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, with Laurie Anderson, Teju Cole, Jennifer Egan, Vivian Gornick, Min Jin Lee, Lisa Ko and Mariposa who draw inspiration from the historic family dwellings. (Lower East Side Tenement Museum; Wednesday, May 3)
  • Two events explore dystopian fiction: Gender, Power, and Authoritarianism in the Dystopian Age, in which Marge Piercy,Basma Abdel Aziz and others discuss reproductive rights and sexuality today and how these critical topics are reflected in some of the best dystopian literature (The New School Auditorium; Thursday, May 4); and Dystopian Wastelands, in which Claire Vaye Watkins, Jeff VanderMeer and Emily St. John-Mandel discuss post-apocalyptic societies and what they tell us of our relationship with the environment, science and the unknown. (Dixon Place; Friday, May 5)
  • Queer Representation and Media: A conversation with trans woman and political activist Jennifer Finney Boylan, trans author and boxer Thomas Page McBee, poets Eileen Myles and Saeed Jones and founder/executive director of Women in Media & News, Jennifer Pozner. (Housing Works; Tuesday, May 2)
  • Exposure: Gender, Sex and Power: A panel with Japanese sculptor/manga artist Rokudenashiko, Bangladeshi installation and performance artist Ali Asgar and others who, by boldly exploring the political contours of sex, gender and identity, have faced threats and persecution in their home countries. Moderated by Alexandra Munroe (Dixon Place; May 2)
  • Portraying Gay Male Life Today: WNYC’s Tobin Low moderates a discussion between Bangladeshi artist Ali Asgar and writers Garth Greenwell (What Belongs to You), Edouard Louis (The End of Eddy) and Andrew Solomon (Far and Away) on a post-marriage equality, yet homophobic world, and its impact on their creativity. Co-presented with the Jerome L. Green Performance Space (WNYC Greene Space; Wednesday, May 3)
  • Women and War: Teheran-born Swedish poet Athena Farrokhzad, Nigerian novelist Helon Habila, Alia Malek (Al Jazeera America) and Nimmi Gowrinathan (Founder/Director of the Politics of Sexual Violence Initiative) examine how wars, migration and racism have shaped the way women relate with one another, their families and the world at large. Co-presented by Nuyorican Poets Café. (Nuyorican Poets Café; Wednesday, May 3)
  • Pen vs. Sword: Satire vs. the State: Mo Rocca (CBS Sunday Morning’s correspondent and journalist), Djiboutian novelist Abdourahman Waberi, Bosnian-born novelist Aleksandar Hemon, Russian/American journalist Masha Gessen and others discuss the challenges of fighting state power that often out-satirizes fiction. Co-presented with Greenlight Books and St. Joseph College (St. Joseph College, Brooklyn; Saturday, May 6)
  • The Forbidden Series: A series of talks on “forbidden” issues including:
    • Too Punk, Too Queer, with prominent musicians/authors Carrie Brownstein (Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl/Portlandia) and Thomas Meinecke (Tomboy) on being heard, loudly. Co-presented with the Jerome L. Green Performance Space (WNYC’s Greene Space; Monday, May 1)
    • Too Liberated, with “cum-authors” Sarah Barmak (Closer: Notes from Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality), Jill Filipovic (The H Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness) and Mona Eltahawy (Headscarves and Hymens; Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution) on how women across the world are prevented from having equal opportunity at happiness, dignity and sex. (Housing Works; Wednesday, May 3)
    • Too Desirous, with novelists Yewande Omotoso (South Africa), Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Nigeria), Malin Persson Giolito (Sweden) and Minae Mizumura (Japan) on how women’s sexuality is, or isn’t, portrayed in fiction. (Housing Works; Wednesday, May 3)
    • Too Much in Love, with authors Dorit Rabinyan (Israel), Shani Mootoo (Trinidad/Canada), Sarah Manyika (Nigeria) and Patjim Statovci (Finland) on writing about forbidden love. (Roulette; Wednesday, May 3)
    • Too Nationalistic, with Dubravka Ugrešić, Aleksandar Hemon and Igor Štiks on literature in the fractured former Yugoslavia, and extreme acts of nationalism, both locally and in exile. (Cooper Union, Rose Theater; Saturday, May 6)
  • Women in Ink: The New Yorker’s Liza Donnelly brings together cartoonists Roz Chast, Liana Finck and Emily Flake to talk about the unique challenges of succeeding in a traditionally male-dominated field. (Dixon Place; Saturday, May 6)
  • Two panels on Graphic Novels: Transcendent Obscenity, featuring Gengoroh Tagame (Japan), Simon Hanselmann (Australia), Julia Gfrörer (U.S.) and Jennifer Camper (co-founder of Queers and Comics)—popular graphic novelists experimenting with gender norms, BDSM, and erotic morbidity; and Drawing a Life, featuring Sandrine Revel (France), Sabrina Jones (U.S.), Gabrielle Bell (UK/U.S.) and Marcelino Truong (France/ Vietnam)—cartoonists who challenge the status quo every time they put pen to page. Moderated by Meg Lemke (MUTHA Magazine/ Illustrated PEN). (Dixon Place; Saturday, May 6)
  • Literary Quest: Westbeth Edition: The residents of Westbeth Center for the Arts open their homes to Festival-goers for salon-style readings and discussions with leading international authors. The evening concludes with a closing night party in Westbeth’s legendary gallery. With Moustafa Bayoumi (Switzerland/Canada/U.S.), Giannina Braschi (Puerto Rico), Rita Mae Brown (U.S.), Oddný Eir (Iceland), Farah Jasmine Griffin (U.S.), Abeer Hoque (Nigeria/Bangladesh/U.S.), Thomas Meinecke (Germany/US), Haroon Moghul (U.S.), Tanwi Nandini Islam (U.S.), Idra Novey (U.S.), Gabby Rivera (U.S.), Filip Springer (Poland), Igor Štiks (UK), Han Yujoo (Korea) and Emanuel Xavier (U.S.). (Westbeth Artists Housing; Thursday, May 4)
  • The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture: The culminating Festival event has been delivered in the past by such luminaries as Umberto Eco, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. This year’s lecturer will be announced in the coming weeks. (Cooper Union’s Great Hall; Sunday, May 7).

Tickets for all Festival events are available at:

Programming and participants subject to change.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

About the PEN World Voices Festival

Founded in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, by Salman Rushdie, Esther Allen, and Michael Roberts with the aim of broadening channels of dialogue between the U.S. and the world, PEN World Voices is the only international literary festival in America, and the only one in the world with a human rights focus. The Festival attracts the best-known writers from across the globe and has garnered international acclaim as a premier literary event. Since its founding 13 years ago, PEN World Voices has presented more than 1,500 writers and artists from 118 countries speaking 56 languages.

Lerner & Deconinck Associates

Jenny Lerner:
212-486-7299 | [email protected]

Isabelle Deconinck:
646-623-1709 | [email protected]

The Village Voice serves as official media sponsor of the 2017 PEN World Voices Festival.

The Festival is made possible in part through the generosity of Kaplen Brothers Fund, Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Embrey Family Foundation, Amazon Crossing, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Ali Asgar is an Artist Protection Fund Fellow in residency at the University of Maine.

Twitter: @PENworldvoices/#PENFest


Instagram: @pen_america