The PEN World Voices Festival 2021 is virtual at pen.org Tuesday-Saturday, May 18-22, 2021.
The PEN World Voices Festival brings leading international authors to New York City to present their latest work and discuss the challenges of the day in a conference format.
This edition’s theme “Power to the People” explores what we need to do together to climb out from under the racial, pandemic, and economic chaos of the last year.
As always, this season includes some of the world’s great writers and thinkers, but there is also a trend of amplifying voices of color.
PEN World Voices Festival 2021 Highlights
Maria Hinojosa the producer of National Public Radio’s “Latino USA,” moderates the opening night program, “The People’s History: Writing the Wrongs” on pen.org (eventbrite.com) Tuesday, May 18, 2021 at 8pm ET. $30.
Hinojosa’s recent memoir is “Once I Was You.” Think about that title. It’s an accurate description of the migration experience. She speaks with:
- Viet Thanh Nguyen 🇻🇳, Pulitzer Prize winner for “The Sympathizer”
- Nikole Hannah-Jones 🇺🇸, “New York Times” Pulitzer Prize winner for the 1619 Project”
- Imbolo Mbue 🇨🇲, “New York Times” best seller “How Beautiful We Were”
On a side note, it is so refreshing to see Latino, Asian and African faces together as headliners. Thank you PEN America. One of the great things about this festival is that you will see really smart and capable people who are just like you – no matter your heritage!
This is extremely relevant to what’s happening today. National narratives influence how we behave each and every day. All countries use culture to unite their societies, but winners write history and usually write it in a way that makes them look good and everyone else look bad. But if your knowledge of your own history is based on lies, how can you make smart choices in the present?
Much of our colonial history is based on terrible falsehoods that have been repeated for so many generations that many believe the big lie. Colonization is no fun. Colonizers were military expeditions with militant priests, guns and no adult supervision. The big lie is that the colonized are less than human, devil-worshipers who have no soul. It is told to provide cover for theft, rape, murder and even genocide. [It was strange recently hearing an American president call out the Armenian genocide, when we have never acknowledged our genocide of the Indigenous First Nations.]
The chaos of the last year is part of our own decolonization process. Sadly, we are not done yet, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the work. We have been kicking the can down the road for 400 years (16 generations). When we make this better, we will rise.
A related issue is the polarization of American society which has been caused in large part by the promotion of historical falsehoods. We’ve become two peoples in one country.
How do we make the historical record more honest and teach it in a way that serves all Americans today?
In the classical arts, the only way to become a master is to study with one. It’s just a festival of literature, but there are many literary masters at the PEN World Voices Festival 2021.