Another bloody festival . . .
09.04.09 | Caroline McCormick
When I returned from New York inspired by the first American PEN World Voices festival, and determined to stage a programme of such events celebrating the best in world literature around the globe, I got two basic responses to my ambitions: "Brilliant!" and, "Why do we need another bloody festival?".
It seemed obvious to me that literary events could be more than just the book launches they’ve become and return to being actual events, which engage writers and readers in dialogue and ideas. More than that, everyone I spoke to seemed to want the same thing; readers, writers, translators, publishers and bookshops said that they all wanted to see more great literature in translation, but somehow it just wasn’t possible.
Bringing people together is what International PEN is all about, so that was what we determined to do in launching Free the Word! and why we thought another festival was needed.
This week will see the second Free the Word! festival here in London with events over four days at the Globe, Young Vic and Southwark Playhouse, exploring the theme of "Heaven and Earth". The events celebrate the best in world literature, promote literature in translation and present eminent and emerging voices, such as journalist and human rights activist Lydia Cacho and Wen Huang’s translation of Liao Yiwu’s stories from everyday China. Most significant is the fact that these are great writers whose voices you might not otherwise hear, exploring wonderful books and the ideas behind them with the audience; the readers.
We hope that Free the Word! will open up world literature to more readers and take them beyond the usual canon, introducing many different cultural perspectives through a programme of compelling events. As a writers’ organisation we have great faith in the reader and believe that given the choice, they want to read great books.
There are course many more interested readers than will be able to attend the festival itself and that’s why we are launching the Free the Word! World Book Club in May. Each month we will present a book by a writer included in the festival, with notes from the author, translator, or other eminent literary figure, in three languages. You will be able to download the podcast of the event that featured the writer and join an online community of readers discussing the text on our multi-lingual blog.
Later this year, Free the Word! will fulfil its original ambition, becoming a truly international festival with events taking place in at least eight countries over the course of the first year, linked by a common annual theme. Events will be programmed locally and explore the theme from different cultural perspectives, creating an invigorating international environment for readers and writers to come together.