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)