A celebration of literature as a means of freedom, the seventh annual PEN World Voices Festival is taking place in New York City through May 1. We spoke with first-time director Laszlo Jakab Orsos to learn how he’s avoiding the dreaded seven-year itch.
What about the festival did you want to change when you took over?
One of the most important changes was to find a home for the festival. It’s especially important in a city like New York. We had to identify a neighborhood which we could embrace, and they could embrace us as a festival. In terms of content, I wanted to emphasize the human rights political element in the festival. I wanted to come up with programming which would help us to shed some light to certain ongoing issues.
How important are current events in the festival?
Enormously. I mean, first of all, I think literature in general is ever-current. Literature is the means to address the most invigorating or demanding questions of our lives. We have to be very current and that’s the responsibility of organizing and curating a festival of this sort, to be able to identify the most relevant questions.
We tend to think of reading as a solo pursuit. What’s there to be gained from sharing literature in a group setting?
It’s exactly the same feeling when [people] go into theater or any performance. They shared the same time and the same space together — and the experience, the sense of community. We are stronger together than alone.
Everything and More: The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
Tonight, 7:30 p.m.,
St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral Gymnasium, 268 Mulberry St.
With: Rick Moody, Sandro Veronesi and others
Revolutionaries in the Arab World
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., 92nd Street Y,
1395 Lexington Ave.
With: Abdelkader Benali, Abdellah Taia and others
Working Day: A day-long conference for PEN members
The Writer’s Imagination and the Imagination of the State: Writers Respond to What’s Gone Wrong and How to Fix Things
Thursday, various locations
Friday, 7 p.m.,
Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery St.
With: Amelie Nothomb, Famida Riaz, surprise guests
The Moth at the PEN World Voices Festival: What Went Wrong?
Saturday, 6:30 p.m.,
The Cooper Union,
7 E. Seventh St.
With: Jonathan Franzen, Salman Rushdie and others
Poetry in Residence: Ugly Duckling Presse on the High Line
Sunday, 12 p.m.,
High Line near 17th St., 10th Ave. Square
With: Jen Bervin, Julian T. Brolaski and others