On May 4th, 2015 The Currelley Literary Journal’s Editor Lorraine Currelley was present for Opening Night: The Future Is Now at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. The Great Hall was filled to capacity with all tickets sold out. Interested in attending? You’ll have to add your name to a wait list for remaining festival events. I arrived early and after a brief wait for my ticket I entered the Great Hall. Arriving early at these events is a sound practice, one I recommend. Cooper Union’s Great hall filled quickly, leaving arrivals searching anxiously for available seating.
There needs to be balance. No, we’re not one of the so-called leading traditional publications. We’re the peoples online publication (blog). We’re authentically on the ground giving you the insights not reported and folk often not photographed. We don’t run over anyone’s grandma to get to so-termed celebrities. For those unable to attend PEN, The Currelley Literary Journal is bringing events to the doors of our readers. We’re sharing an overview of events and the scenarios unfolding around them, through our lens. Our readers demand the best and we’re committed to asking their call. Become a part of this important conversation and discussion and if having, feel free to ask questions.
Opening Night: The Future Is Now featured writers Mona Eltahawy, Richard Flanagan, Aminata Forna, Yahya Hassan, Zaneke Muholi, Lola Shoneyin, Tom Stoppard, Nguigi wa Thiaong’o, Binyavanga Wainaina and Jackie Wang. Featured writers from around the globe were asked to present their worst and best-case scenarios for where the world may be in the year 2050. Audience members had an opportunity to hear insights they haven’t yet published, and an the opportunity to consider how our future is intimately connected to our present. Each writer in their unique way shared their visions for 2050. Here are some of those visions.
Zanele Muholi co-founder of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) and the founder of Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual (activist) media. Muholi’s self proclaimed mission is “to rewrite a black queer and trans visual history of South Africa for the world to know of our resistance and existence at the height of hate crimes in South Africa and beyond.” Zanele Muholi’s presentation started with a short film of a group of young people walking to and at a graveyard. This image was powerful and the music haunting, consisting of crying, moaning, groaning and screams. When the film ended she stepped forward and proceeded to speak of Queer Africa, denouncing all forms of homophobia, isms and all discriminatory practices. Practices which denie freedom, equality and self-realization. She envisions the world of 2050 one in which all are free and inequality no longer exist. I’m inspired by her courage to speak truth. She used this opportunity wisely to speak out loudly about LGBTI oppression specifically and oppression worldwide on a world stage.
Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian American freelance journalist and commentator’s 2050 imagined a world of women who rejected historically assigned gender roles. Intergenerational women who were in leadership positions. A world free of inequality for future generations of women and girls. Her predictions and hopes brought rousing audience applause and voices of approval. Her powerful words speak to the atrocities being committed against African lesbian women and LBGTI communities in Africa. Read her photo essay Faces and Phases, in Passages Africa, Contemporary Writing from the Continent, Pen America publisher.
Jackie Wang’s addressed racism and oppression, and referenced Trayvon Martin. She writes about queer sexuality, race, gender, the politics of of writing, mixed race identity, prisons and politics, the politics of safety and innocence, and revolutionary struggle. Kudos to Jackie Wang for calling out audience members vacating in mass after Tom Stoppard spoke. Jackie Wang was the evening’s event last speaker.
It is my hope the words of guests will spark an interest in community and world affairs. It is my hope everyone will become constructively engaged in creating needed change. It is not enough to listen to power words, we must hear them. Did opening night lay the foundation for the rest of the festival? I don’t know, it depends on what each attendee expects. I do know we have opportunities to engage on a world stage. We can ill afford to minimize their depth and breath.
Audience members included essayist, poet and playwright Rashidah Ismali, Carolyn Butts, editor of African Voices Magazine, and poet Jacqueline Johnson.
Link to PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature Videos
©Lorraine Currelley 2015. All Rights Reserved. (photo credit Lorraine Currelley, lead photo credit Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center)
PEN History and Mission Statement: Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is a community of 3,600 American writers seeking working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. It is the largest of 146 independent centers under the umbrella PEN International, a global network of writers founded in the aftermath of the First World War to advance the power of literature to foster greater understanding between people, communities, and societies.
Our strength is in our membership-a nationwide community of novelists, journalists, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, and literary agents-and an even larger network or devoted readers and supporters who join with them to carry out PEN’s mission and work.
PEN Programming: Acting as both a literary coalition and a human rights advocacy group, PEN American Center develops programming with the aim to both spread a love of reading and writing and to defend freedom of expression wherever this is threatened. Our programs reflect this dual nature of the organization, and have an impact locally in New York City, nationally through an extensive network of American writers, and and globally wherever there are writers on our caseload.
Throughout the year, PEN American Center hosts events of all sizes for professional members, associates members, and the general public, including readings, rallies, translation slams, and industry networking events.Each spring, the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature showcases writers from around the world in a cross-cultural celebration of the written word. The festival brought over 1500 writers and artists from 78 countries to New York since its founding by Salman Rushdie in 2005.
New York Times, The Opinion Pages
An organization that champions dissidents must embrace dissent in its ranks. Over the last week, PEN American Center has been criticized by many writers, including some of our members, over our decision to present our PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Free Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that was the target of murderous attack in January. The heated debate proves the relevance of groups devoted to freedom of expression. It also demonstrates that in an open society, well-intentioned people with shared values can interpret and weigh principles differently.
Decisions are often problematic. Often, there’s a political, social and economic tight rope being walked. These are rarely black and white. PEN’s position remained: New York’s literati will gather in defense of freedom of expression at the annual PEN American Center Literary Gala.
There was a heavy security presence at the American Museum of Natural History on May 5th, 2015 for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature Gala. No one was allowed admittance until the Museum had been swept and cleared of any and all possible danger, by plainclothes members of the New York City Police Department. The awarding of Charlie Hebdo Magazine with the Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression was the impetus. There were no visible protestors with picket signs, verbal interchanges, chants, nor marchers. The heavily secured environment was controlled and quiet.
PEN honored the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo Magazine with the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award, to be received by the publication’s recently appointed editor-in-chief, Gerard Biard, and critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret, who survived the attack that killed eight of their co-workers and four others. The consensus was freedom of speech comes with allowing language and views we don’t necessarily agree on.
©Lorraine Currelley 2015. All Rights Reserved. (photo credit Lorraine Currelley)