Extravagant Readings: PEN World Voices Festival…

Extravagant Readings: An Evening at The 6th Annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature…

“If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” ~Toni Morrison

On Wednesday, I attended the Opening Night for “Readings From Around the Globe”; the official opening celebration of the 6th annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. It was quite the literary extravaganza with writers, new and seasoned, offering readings from their works in their native language.

The event was held in the elegant Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y on the upper eastside. The house was packed and there was an air of anticipation as each writer stepped forward to share a vignette, a page or two, from their literary works. These were men and women held in high esteem in both their native countries and globally.

“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~Anton Chekhov

There were 12 writers scheduled to speak but two could not join the rest and it made me wonder why. Were their “unforeseen circumstances” expected? Arranged?  It wasn't the case here but I wondered…
In a world where some who wield power seek to silence the voice of truth by terrorizing artists/writers/musicians who speak out, PEN has been very vocal in calling writers and all who support them to challenge the aggressors.

As always, the empty chair remained on stage in honor of those whose voices have either been silenced or restrained. The empty chair is a very powerful symbolic image and each time I see it at a PEN event, I pause in prayer for the oppressed and for the free who take it all for granted.

“I love writing.  I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.”  ~James Michener

The writers scheduled to share their works with us on Wednesday evening from 8 – 9:30pm were:  Daniel Mastrogiacomo (Italy/Pakistan), Alberto Ruy-Sanchez (Mexico), Yiyun Li (China/USA), Miguel Syjuco (Phillipines/Canada), Andrzej Stasuik (Poland), Sofi Oksanen (Finland/Estonia), Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan), Atiq Rahimi (Afghanistan/France), Patti Smith (USA) and Salman Rushdie (India/UK/USA). Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Andrea Levy were absent. See featured books from each author below.

Each writer stepped up to the podium and shared a tidbit about writing, then read an excerpt from a novel, or for Salman, a piece from an article written for a magazine. Each author graciously read in either their native language or in English. Some gave interpretive renderings on what they read and others quietly exited stage left. They were eager to share their works and the house was packed; upstairs and down, the audience waited with bated breath – many were probably writers with dreams of being on stage, at the same venue, at a future gathering…

“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”  ~Anaïs Nin
At the conclusion of this truly wonderful literary evening which, by the way, ended at 10pm, the authors gathered on stage for a photo op and then headed for the doors to meet with fans, sign copies of books or simply head out into the night to get some rest before their next scheduled presentation for PEN. I lingered a while in my seat, digesting both my surroundings and the memories of the readings I had just savored, and then, like everyone else, I headed for the doors to find my way home.

Patti Smith, Toni Morrison (USA), Ben Okri (Nigeria/UK) and Salman Rushdie will be amongst some of the literati sharing insights into their works this weekend. The festival will run from April 26 through May 2, 2010. I encourage you to visit the PEN site at www.pen.org  to sign up even one day of creative, literary feasting – you won’t be disappointed.

What is your definition of great writing? Did you attend any of the PEN events and what are your thoughts? As always your feedback is appreciated. Do Share! Thank you! 


All Photos  ~ via My Collection, Amazon.com & Google Images

Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©
Elizabeth Obih-Frank


  1. Hi Eliz!

    Greetings from Malaysia again! Just want to say thank you for dropping by my blog on my SITS day. You can read the aftermath of my whole day SITting episode

    at this link:

    Thank you again and hope to see you back here sometime! :D

    Warmest Regards,
    Jenny aka I'm a full-time mummy

  2. Those are some wonderful quotes on writing. I don't think I can top them. I just know that writing is so helpful to me in processing how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking, and it's always a joy to connect to others and know that you've said something that has resonated with them as well.


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