This year’s PEN America World Voices Festival will be held May 10–13 in New York and Los Angeles and will feature talks in the two cities by 100 writers representing 27 countries. Ta-Nehisi Coates (pictured above) will be one of the many featured speakers.

“You can open people’s minds through the power of storytelling,” says Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, who runs the festival. “Writers are able to tell very singular stories that are universal. We are able to see ourselves in the story of someone from Nigeria, Pakistan, Colombia or Mexico.”

The festival, started in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was very much needed then and still is, Rosaz Shariyf says.

Akhil Sharma (© Fergus Ryan)
Akhil Sharma (© Fergus Ryan)

“Writers are looking to be in communion with others, to remind themselves of the role they play in society and that the work they do is essential to connecting us … and getting us in touch with our common humanity.”

Novelist Akhil Sharma, an Indian American who teaches at Duke University and is one of the panelists, says writers love meeting other authors and readers. “America itself has changed so much over the last few decades,” Sharma says, that “what used to be world literature is now just the literature of our parents and cousins. Americans read ‘world literature,’ but mostly they don’t see it as something alien.”

The festival is part of PEN America, an organization of writers who defend freedom of expression.

Organizers of this year’s event hope to bring global perspectives to the problems of our time. Among the planned talks are:

  • A panel of Ukrainian authors that includes a husband and wife. Poet and filmmaker Iryna Tsilyk will speak from New York, while her husband, Artem Chapeye, a fiction writer, participates remotely from the Chornobyl exclusion zone, where he is a private in the Defense Forces. He wrote an op-ed for the New York Times titled “I’m a Ukrainian Soldier, and I’ve Accepted my Death.”
  • A panel on journalists and writers working in exile, which includes Masha Gessen, who writes about Russia, including in the award-winning book The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.
  • A panel of Latin American writers on how identity shapes their work.
  • A keynote lecture by Coates about attacks on freedom of expression.
  • Television personality, author and culinary expert Padma Lakshmi will be part of a panel on food as a cross-cultural exchange.
  • A “translation slam,” which will have translators (and ChatGPT) live translating new work and competing for audience approval of their version. Annelise Finegan, head of the graduate translation program at New York University and a competitor, says that “international literature allows new perspectives to emerge. Remember that international literature has been written twice, both by the author and by the translator.”
People surrounding person holding book (© Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)
Journalist Masha Gessen signs a book at the Leipzig Book Fair March 22, 2019, in Germany. (© Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)

Some events will be livestreamed and will be listed on the calendar. Other events will be recorded and available about a month later through PEN America’s social media and YouTube.

Each year’s festival exposes people to literature in which they can “find comfort and find meaning,” Rosaz Shariyf says.