Thursday, December 03, 2009

WATCH THE VIDEO of the 2008 PEN New England panel, preceded by Eric Grunwald presenting the 2008 Vasyl Stus Freedom-to-Write Award to Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, an Afghani poet and sometime journalist who was detained for three years at Guantanamo, released, then rearrested in Peshawar for a satirical poem he'd written. His whereabouts remain unknown.

The main question we wished to explore here was why so much American literary writing seems tame and well-behaved, so unthreatening to the powers that be. While there can be no single or simple answer to that question, each of our panelists had trenchant things to say, and there is a great deal to think about here. Enjoy.

Risky Writing and the Forces That Silence It
April 10, 2008

Richard Hoffman writer, chair, PEN New England
Carole Horne general manager, Harvard Book Store
Linda McCarriston professor, creative writing, UAlaska
Mark Pawlak editor, Hanging Loose Press
Jill Petty editor, South End Press

Richard Hoffman moderates a panel discussion about the forces in the world of publishing, society at large, and our own psyches that work to silence "risky writing".

The importance of politically challenging fiction and poetry throughout history is undeniable: from Turgenev's powerful A Sportsman's Notebook, which prompted Czar Alexander II to free his country's slaves, to Ginsberg's Howl to Doris Lessing's fiction to James Baldwin's powerful and incisive essays.

Has such writing been effectively denied its audience in our day? To what extent are the barriers to risky or oppositional writing real or imagined? What are the long-term societal and cultural dangers of a safe literature, of books as mere entertainment or escape? And what are the individual author and the reader hungry for substance, to do?

PEN New England's Freedom-to-Write (FTW) Committee, in partnership with the Cambridge Forum, hosts a panel discussion about the forces in the world of publishing, society at large, and our own psyches that work to silence "risky writing," the most dangerous but often most important of an author's works. The panel, moderated by Richard Hoffman, poet, fiction writer, and author of the memoir Half the House, features Carole Horne, General Manager, Harvard Book Store; Linda McCarriston, author of Eva-Mary and other books and professor of creative writing and literary arts at the University of Alaska, Anchorage; Mark Pawlak, poet, author of Special Handling and other books, and editor of Hanging Loose Press; and Jill Petty, editor and small press publisher.

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