Friday, April 27, 2007

A Report From PEN World Voices Festival, Part 1

Going to the PEN Festival seems to have been a good idea for me on many levels. On the first level is me the new writer, then me the bookseller, then me the reader. I'll attempt to tell what I've gotten out of the festival so far:

  • The over arching theme of "Home and Away"
    There are a lot of events that touch of the theme of "home" in the PEN schedule. At first I thought that it was a bit corny but the more I hear the writers speak on this theme the more relevant it seems. "Home" is a very painful subject for me. I basically had to run away from mine and I miss it so much. I feel so uneasy in the new place that I live. Sometimes I out right hate it. So it struck me to the heart when Neil Gaiman said that being away from home was necessary for your creativity. He said that, as a ex-patriot himself, that it is better to be uneasy and out of your comfort zone (I'm paraphrasing) so that you can look back and be able to be a good observer simply because you are not comfortable — interesting. It's making me think that having to be here in Brooklyn might be a blessing and not a curse. I have to think on this more.
  • PEN America is becoming a relevant part of literary life
    I've always heard of PEN as an organization but it has been for the most part irrelevant to my literary existence. It has seemed like an elite organization that stood up authors when they got into political trouble. A useful organization that was mostly invisible. Under the stewardship of Salman Rushdie, it seems to be taking on new life. The festival is wonderfully filling a void of emptiness that has become the life of writers and readers (in NYC). For this I am excited and grateful.
  • Briefly meeting Neil Gaiman
    What a thrill! I only spoke to him for two seconds but what a thrill! He momentarily pushed past me while I was in line and I nearly turned around to say "Hey, buddy!" and then I saw that it was him. Oops! (Hee! hee! hee!) He signed my books "Fragile Things" and "The Sandman: Dream Country" It was interesting to read his blog post from behind the scenes at the Town Hall reading. It looked so smooth and calm from the audience. It's cool to see that my writing heroes get nervous and flummoxed, too.
  • Introduction to a new author
    French graphic novelist Marguerite Abouet. Her graphic novel, "Aya" is about normal life in the Ivory Coast. I liked what she said in describing her work: "so much is told about how Africans die, but very little about how Africans live." She was charming and her bright smile lit up the room as you struggled to understand what she was saying through her French translator. I will be seeing her again at another event tonight.

    Here are some very nice photos of the Town Hall Reading. Also here are some other photos of the festival.


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