Literature provides shelter. That’s why we need it
As we lurch into the future, in this blitzkrieg of idiocy, Facebook “likes,” fascist marches, fake-news coups, and what looks like a race toward extinction—what is literature’s place? What counts as literature? Who decides? Obviously, there is no single, edifying answer to these questions. So, if you will forgive me, I’m going to talk about my own experience of being a writer during these times—of grappling with the question of how to be a writer during these times, in particular in a country like India, a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously.
A Different Kind of Literary Festival
Audiences packed venues throughout New York City, from an East Village basement to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, May 6–12 to hear more than 200 writers, artists, and activists speak about the blurring boundary between private and public spaces. Now in its 15th year, PEN World Voices has distinguished itself as an international literary festival with a focus on human rights. Founded by Esther Allen, Michael Roberts, and Salman Rushdie in reaction to 9/11, the festival aims to expand dialogue between the U.S. and the rest of the world—a mission that PEN America said “has never been more relevant.”
PEN recruited Chip Rolley as senior director of literary programs in 2017, and last year he began to direct the festival with an approach that links literature and current events. “My hope is that festivals can provide a bridge between the ideas and issues that we’re confronting in the news or talking about with our friends and loved ones with the literature that we’re reading,” Rolley said. “I try to execute a theme that creates a through line so that the festival itself is a kind of a story. I think I’ve done that both years, and this year in particular.”
For the 2019 festival, the theme was “open secrets,” and many authors from around the world described how they’ve resisted oppression to speak the truth and reach large audiences in the process.