PEN World Voices Festival

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos & Video: Francisco Collazo
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The fifth annual PEN World Voices Festival opened in New York on Monday, with readings, panel conversations, and lectures scheduled through May 3.

PEN, founded in 1921, bills itself as the world’s oldest organization interested in both literature and human rights, and over the years its members have actively worked to fulfill PEN’s mission:

…to use what influence they have in favor of good understanding and mutual respect among nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class, and national hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in the world….

and

…pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in their country or their community.

In my opinion, PEN’s most important work is the Freedom to Write Program, which defends journalists and writers being persecuted or censored, and its Prison Writing Program.

The annual World Voices Festival, though, is the ultimate expression of PEN’s ideals, brought together in a single geographical place: New York City.

Last night, Francisco and I attended a reading by Sergio Ramirez, novelist and the former vice-president of Nicaragua, who shared an excerpt of A Thousand Deaths Plus One at the Americas Society.

Tonight, we attended “Prison Deform,” a panel comprised of writers from around the world who have all been imprisoned for their political and literary activism.

One of the panelists was Susan Rosenberg, whose name might be familiar if you’ve ever heard of the Weather Underground.

In this video clip, Rosenberg speaks about her 16 year prison term: