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From Joyce Harlow re PEN International meeting in NYC. Important words for all writers. See Rushdie's comments at end.

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  • hmoppy94@aol.com
    A Crowd That s Seldom at a Loss for Words By DINITIA SMITH Published: April 23, 2005 New York Times It was one of the largest international gatherings of
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 30, 2005
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      A Crowd That's Seldom at a Loss for Words

      By DINITIA SMITH
      Published: April 23, 2005
      New York Times

      It was one of the largest international gatherings of writers in New York
      since the PEN international congress of 1986. All this week, some 125 writers
      from 43 countries participated in events throughout the city. There were sold-out
      readings, panel discussions, sessions of drinking, dining, gossiping - all
      part of the first PEN World Voices: The New York Festival of International
      Literature. And PEN officials say that from now on, it will be an annual event.

      There were the famous writers, including Salman Rushdie, president of PEN
      American Center, sponsor of the festival; Wole Soyinka; Breyten Breytenbach;
      Jonathan Franzen; Margaret Atwood; E. L. Doctorow; and the not so famous, those
      whom Mr. Rushdie called "the hot kids," like the novelists Shan Sa, born in
      Beijing, and Tsitsi Dangarembga, from Zimbabwe.

      The idea behind the festival, Mr. Rushdie said in an interview, was to bring
      attention to America's cultural insularity at a time when there has never been
      a greater need for the exchange of ideas. "It is uniquely important at this
      point for the U.S. and the rest of the world to be in a dialogue," he said.
      "It's been a dialogue of the deaf."

      Statistics seem to bear him out. Andrew Grabois, the senior director of the
      R. R. Bowker company, which keeps track of publishing industry figures, said
      this week that of the 185,000 books printed in English in the United States in
      2004, only 874 were adult literature in translation. Mr. Rushdie called the low
      number of translated books "shocking."

      Michael Roberts, the executive director of the PEN American Center, one of
      the 141 centers of International PEN, the human rights and literary
      organization, tried to sum up the festival's purpose. He quoted William Carlos Williams: "
      'It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every
      day/for lack/of what is found there.' "

      To that end, there was every variety of cultural exchange during the festival
      week, which ended yesterday. A main event was a tribute to Cervantes last
      Saturday at the New York Public Library on the 400th anniversary of the
      publication of "Don Quixote" - "the greatest novel ever written," Mr. Rushdie said. No
      novel, he added, shows more clearly the essential internationalism, the lack
      of boundaries, of cultural works. "Don Quixote" is a book by a Spaniard, told
      by an Arab narrator. And, of course, said the Indian-born Mr. Rushdie, "the
      Arabs got it from India."

      Inevitably, politics crept in. On Tuesday at New York University, The New
      York Review of Books sponsored a panel on Iraq, which resulted in a spirited
      debate over American intervention, between Mark Danner, the American author of
      "Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror," and the
      Iraqi-born writer Kanan Makiya, a professor at Brandeis and the author of "The Republic
      of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq." Mr. Danner was against the invasion,
      Mr. Makiya in favor of it. Mr. Makiya said that history had borne out his
      position: "This is a country that now has a hope it never had before."

      A highlight of the week was an evening of readings on Sunday at the KGB bar
      in the East Village. Titled "Banned Voices," it included the reading of a
      letter from the Vietnamese novelist Duong Thu Huong, who has been critical of
      government corruption in her country. She was invited to New York but said her
      passport had been revoked. "I have been a prisoner in this country, my native
      land," she wrote, "where I am sentenced to be a rebel."

      Underlying all the events, though, was an anxiety about whether writing can
      actually transform the world. Monday night's program, "The Power of the Pen:
      Does Writing Change Anything?," at Town Hall, had a line of people waiting to
      get in. Mr. Rushdie knows something about the power of the pen. He was forced
      into hiding for a time because of death threats over his novel "The Satanic
      Verses." He gave a rousing speech intended to answer the evening's question in the
      affirmative: " 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' changed attitudes toward slavery, and
      Charles Dickens's portraits of child poverty inspired legal reforms, and J. K.
      Rowling changed the culture of childhood, making millions of boys and girls look
      forward to 800-page novels."

      At the end, Mr. Rushdie pronounced, "Literature is a loose cannon." This, he
      said, "is a very good thing."
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