Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)

Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)
"A curious and wonderful work of great human value by a Danish master." Sebastian Barry, Man Booker finalist (Click on the picture to go to the book's Amazon page)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Joyous Countdown for Literary Droolers (PEN's World Voices 2009)

A bit of nostalgia: World Voices 2008. Nuruddin Farah from Somalia, Fatou Diome from Senegal, and silly old me. I know Nuruddin Farah from Ledig House where we both had writing grants in 2002.

I love World Voices literary festival.

So would you if you were in New York at last year's event. I saw Rick Moody interview Israel's Edgar Keret, I was a witness to Chenjerai Hove's fist fight with Nuruddin Farah. (They were discussing tribal wars; I'm sure they're still cleaning up the blood). And I was at Housing Work Book Store where they offered free condoms to the audience. That's right. You could pick up a condom on the way out.

"What a great idea," I thought. "Everybody knows that bad literature is contagious. We simply have to protect ourselves against the STD of airport reading." But at the same time, the free condoms didn't make much sense because World Voices only does good literature. The festival is a class act. I should know because they haven't invited me.

Yes, dear friends, let me be brutally honest. I had hoped that I would have been a guest this year. As my blogreaders know, my translated novel, The Tsar's Dwarf came out last fall and has done well. But no such luck.

However, I want you to know that I've taken this humiliation as a man. I only cried for three days when I found out. And I've been heavily medicated ever since. Right now I'm on Valium and several herbal teas that make me fart, but my therapist has encouraged me to go to New York any way.

"Peter, it's not personal," he insisted, "it doesn't necessarily mean that PEN hates you or your pathetic novels."

"Are you sure?" I said trying to log into my PEN account without success. Danes Not Allowed, it kept on saying.

So here I am, a South Scandinavian novelist with a chip on his shoulder. However, I've received a beautiful consolation prize. I've become an official PEN blogger. Yes, you heard me. What more does any writer want from life? It's almost as good as receiving the Pulitzer prize or that Swedish literary award that snobs rave about. What's it called again? The Nobel prize ...?

So I'm deeply honored and I promise I'll be fair to those writers who are part of the festival. After all, it's not their fault that they were invited. My therapist and the medication have made me see that now.

New York in April is surprisingly hot, a melting pot of stressed out business men, hardcore joggers, and nuns with iPods. Not all of them have plans of going to World Voices; most are probably heading for Wall Street, Central Park or God. However, we're still many with sound priorities. We want literature and we know where to get it.

I have a list of events I've promised American PEN to cover. And I'm looking forward to them all. I'm going to listen to Stories of Change with Salman Rushdie and Zimbabwe hot shot, Petina Gappah. I'll enjoy a Literary Film Feast at Instituto Cervantes and Evolution/Revolution with Nicole Brossard, Narcís Comadira. And hey, I'll be happy to know more about Trends in Spanish Language Literature (I wonder if Lou Dobbs is going to show up?) and much more.

So please stay tuned because World Voices is a smorgasbord of international literature, it's a celebration of writers dappertutto. This year's festival should make any wordsmith drool. So here I am, a notorious drooler, celebrating PEN and the written word.

If you're interested in my silly report from last year, read PEN World Voices (Now With Condoms)


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

God's Punishment to a Texas Basher: A Book Signing Without Books

A picture of a real Texan, strong, manly, imposing. Definitely not some one who believes in gay marriage. Or soy milk.

You know writers. We´re so unbelievably demanding.

When we travel for six hours to do a book signing, we expect the book store to get the book. That was not the case at Book People independent bookstore in Austin. Thirty people showed up for My Gorgeous Book Signing Without Books. However, the store did apologize, the audience was great - and what the hell, people can buy The Tsar's Dwarf on, any way.

So no, I wasn't mad at Book People. I'm proud to say I took this humiliation as a man. Shit happens as my grandmother used to say. And I did spend a wonderful hour with the cream of Texan book lovers. I now have thirty two readers in The Lone Star state, so I haven't lived in vain. If you can make it in Austin, you can make it anywhere - my grandmother used to say that, too.

Luckily, I did another presentation of The Tsar's Dwarf as well, at University of Texas. I appeared in a Danish class in Bordine Hall. That's right, a Danish class. You actually have 14 weird students at UT who want to learn Danish. I don't know whether they've been forced at gunpoint, but they should get an award. These people could have chosen Spanish, Mandarin, Croatian or Urdu, but they decided to go with the only language that makes sense.

Frankly, I felt like kissing every single of them, but since you're not supposed to touch your students, I just drooled. And insulted them. You always want to have a little fun when you've traveled for six hours.

I was also happy to visit Texas for another reason - a deeply embarrassing one, to tell you the truth: I've always had a lot of prejudices against the Longhorn State. And I don't like being prejudiced, so my travels had a therapeutic purpose as well. In a certain sense, it was a pilgrimage: I wanted the state of Texas to forgive me for my sins.

Why have I been prejudiced against The Lone Star state, you ask curiously? Well, I blame the movies of my childhood - and all those big steaks that give you indigestion. I've always associated the worst things with Texas: cowboys, gung ho Bushes, gung ho Armstrongs - and I don't like any of them. Cowboys kill Indians and I like Indians. Bush kill Iraqis and I like Iraqis. Armstrong doesn't dope and I like doping. Then if you throw in the Christian Right and people who get a kick out of shooting others, Texas seems like a nightmare for any sissy - a Heaven for Republican gun slingers who think Glenn Beck is cool.

But forgive me, Lord, I was so wrong.

In Austin people actually seem enlightened. They drink caffe latte and watch English soccer; they ride funny bikes and wear designer flip flops - they even read Danish novels. What more can you ask of any civilized person? And the Texans are nice and friendly. They don't even talk that funny - they leave that to me. So I'm sure I'll be back some day for more of those kinky Breakfast tacos.

And hey, next time I might do a book signing in a book store where they actually have ordered my books. Then, I swear I'm going to be the happiest novelist in the world ...

Caffé Medici in Austin. An enlightened place for Texans who aren't afraid of ordering a latte.