Monthly Archives: May 2017

A World of Voices, by Vicki Lindner

Photo: New York City Dawn, By Hans Lienhart

A World of Voices

By Vicki Lindner

 

In May I flew to New York, my former hometown, for PEN America’s 2017 World Voices Festival, “Gender+Power.” Unlike most literary conferences, this one, founded after 9/11 by Salman Rushdie and others, focuses on international writers and combatting isolationism. This year, 200 writers from 40 countries were featured in the festival.

PEN defends unjustly imprisoned writers in countries that fear the power of the word—China, Africa, and Mexico. I’ve been a PEN member since 1982, when I worked with the Prison Committee, teaching writing to Sing Sing prisoners and judging an annual prison writing contest. PEN also sponsors prestigious book awards. Since the 2016 election, it sends members a daily update on political issues affecting freedom of expression.

The international festival was appropriate in a city teeming with immigrants (almost everyone has an accent) and foreign tourists. Every event was held in a bar, bookstore, or theater, like the Nuyorican Poet’s Café, in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Every panel was political, vociferously anti-Trump, and focused on identity politics, multicultural literature, sexual orientation and gender, with titles like “Unapologetically Afro Latina,”  “Identity in the Age of Globalization: An African Diasporic Perspective,” “Militancy and Sisterhood,” and “Queer Representation in the Media.” Most events featured international women writers, although some white Americans, like Marge Piercy, Jennifer Egan, and Vivian Gornick, were included. Straight white men could be glimpsed mostly in the packed audiences.

I never heard the word craft, though “how to” did come up in discussions about process, including self-editing. The panelists on “Badass Writers; Power and Truth” advocated letting the “real editor” take over, but one, who commented on white editors’ cultural blindness said, “Hey, if you don’t know what a quinceanera is, do your job! Google it!” Both Gabby Rivera, a feisty gay Latina who writes for Marvel comics, and Natalie Diaz, a Native poet at the University of Arizona (“I’m the go-to person when you need a Native to dance for all-white institutions.”) spoke about anxiety. Some eschewed Twitter for fear of encountering nasty Tweets. Gabby recommend Lexapro: “It made me a better person.”

I attended three events in the Housing Works Bookstore in Soho, my old neighborhood, where every product and service is donated to help homeless AIDS victims. (Free condoms at the counter.) On one panel, “Forbidden: Too Desirous,” on writing about women’s sexuality, glamorous Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian author of Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, began by taking PEN to task for making her the panel’s only Muslim woman of color, saying that sex for African women is a vastly different issue. (I asked, “Where are the older women?”)

My favorite panel was a two-hour discussion of Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the New York mayor’s “read” for the city. The five Nigerians and one African American revealed fascinating material about their lives and views as they related personally to Adichie’s themes, creating a new, inspiring drama.

PEN World Voices is usually held in May. Most events were free, though advance tickets are recommended. You don’t have to join PEN to attend, but PEN offers memberships for writers, readers, and students from $125 to $25.  A good cause!

This essay was previously published in the Lighthouse Writers Workshop Blog and reprinted by permission of the author.

vicki Lindner (3)Writing for Peace Adviser and Lighthouse instructor Vicki Lindner is a writer whose work has appeared in the Paris Review, Kenyon Review, and Ploughshares. Learn more about her work here.

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Writing for Peace Welcomes John Holley to Board of Directors

John Holley crop3John Holley’s fiction has appeared in Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, Fast Forward, The Barcelona Review, Expressions, and received honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s very short fiction contest. His non-fiction was a regular feature in the Casper Star Tribune and the Sol Day News. John lives in Denver, and is a graduate of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop inaugural Book Project.

 

2017 DoveTales, “Refugees and the Displaced” Now Available

2017 Front CoverThe fifth edition of our annual literary journal, DoveTales, An International Journal of the Arts, will be shipped on May 1st. Our “Refugees and the Displaced” themed DoveTales is a timely affront to a status quo comfortable with the suffering of others. With contributors from every continent on the planet except Antarctica (we’re working on that), this is a book that is meant to challenge assumptions and explore issues of peace, social justice, and our responsibility to our fellow man. Cover art is by Canadian artist, Allen Forrest. You can purchase your copy here.

 

Copyright © 2017 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

New Board Members

Writing for Peace celebrates the addition of four new members to our Board of Directors,  Mary Carroll-Hackett, Jody Rein, Azfar Rizvi, and Brad Wetzler.

The range of experience and knowledge these Directors bring to Writing for Peace is vast, and we’re excited by their many ideas for growth. We’ll keep you posted on new developments in our blog.

Mary Carroll-Hackett, Writing for Peace Adviser2

Mary Carroll-Hackett’s poetry and fiction have appeared in more than a hundred journals. She is the author of  The Real Politics of Lipstick, Animal Soul, If We Could Know Our Bones, The Night I Heard Everything, Trailer Park Oracle, and A Little Blood, A Little Rain. Her newest collection of prose poems, Death for Beginners, will be out from Kelsey Books in September 2017.  She is a Writing for Peace Adviser. Learn more here.

jody reinFormerly an executive editor with imprints of the Big Five publishers in New York, Jody Rein runs the boutique literary agency Jody Rein Books, Inc. and the consulting company, AuthorPlanet.org. Agency projects, primarily nonfiction, include bestseller and film The Big Year by Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Obmascik (Simon & Schuster); bestseller and sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter by W. Bruce Cameron (Workman); and the forthcoming Crazy Horse Weeps by Joseph M. Marshall III (Fulcrum). Jody has facilitated the publication of hundreds of worthy books variously as acquiring editor, agent, consultant, publisher or ghost writer. Learn more here.

Azfar Ali Rizvi, Writing for Peace Adviser2Azfar Rizvi is a proponent of social justice, and a driving force behind interfaith, cross-cultural and pedagogic initiatives across three continents. He is a Toronto based documentary filmmaker, Photographer, an academic and a cross-platform communications strategist. Originally from Karachi, Azfar experienced extremism in his early years after surviving violent ethnic cleansing first hand. The incidents shook him to the core and he started exploring reasons behind extremism through this writing; something that evolved from local dailies to covering systemic national issues for news and current affairs publications across Pakistan. Before transitioning into television news and documentaries, he took to presenting radio with the country’s first English radio network at the time. Learn more here.

Brad WetzlerA former senior editor at Outside magazine, Brad Wetzler is a writer, journalist, and editor best known for his magazine feature stories and essays. His work has appeared in respected publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Wired, GQ, Men’s Journal, Best American Travel Writing, and Outside, where he is a current contributing editor. His work typically combines travel narrative with in-depth original reporting. He’s traveled to dozens of countries to report on stories about politics, the environment, travel, religion, and sport. He’s writing a nonfiction book about his travels in Israel and Palestine. Equal parts memoir, travelogue, and history, Chasing Messiahs is the story of the human craving to be saved—and of the saviors we place our faith in. Learn more here.

Welcome to all our new Directors, and thank you for your commitment to Writing for Peace!

 

Copyright © 2017 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

First Amendment Essential to Peaceful Activism, by Andrea Doray, Plus Young Writer Contest Results

President’s Corner:

A free press, and freedom of speech, are essential to peaceful activism

by Andrea W. Doray

Andrea DorayI am a writer. And – as far as I know – no one is offering a bounty for one of my ears.

Not so for Akram Aylisli, a highly regarded writer, poet, and scriptwriter from Azerbaijan who once received that country’s most prestigious literary prize. However, in 2013, the leader of the Modern Musavat party announced that he would pay a bounty equivalent to $12,700 USD to anyone who cuts off Aylisli’s ear.

The impetus for this threat was Aylisli’s novel, Stone Dreams, which provides a sympathetic view of Armenians in Azerbaijan’s ongoing ethnic disputes. Aylisli is accused of describing only Azeri abuses against Armenians, and not addressing attacks by Armenians on Azeris.

Azerbaijan’s president also stripped Aylisli of the title of “People’s Writer.” And although the Minister of the Interior has announced that calls for violence are unacceptable, the threat to Aylisli remains.

Although he was already 75, Aylisli began contemplating seeking asylum abroad with his family. A writer, he says, has the right to express his thoughts without being considered a traitor. However, government officials in Azerbaijan have labeled Aylisli’s book as treasonous.

A year ago in 2016, Aylisli said that he had been stopped from travelling to a literary festival in Italy by border police when he arrived at Baku airport. His bags, which had already been checked in, were taken off the plane and searched. He was taken into the custody of the airport police and falsely, he says, accused of creating a public disturbance. He was interrogated and held by the police for more than 10 hours.

Aylisli, self-described as a 78-year-old writer in poor health and suffering from a heart condition, allegedly punched a border guard, a claim that was later used by the border service as an explanation for denying the border crossing.

Index on Censorship later released part of the speech he had been due to make at the Venice festival. In it, Aylisli writes: “I was a hero for some and a traitor for others. I never for a moment felt I was a hero or traitor, just a regular writer and humanitarian who is able to feel the pain of others.”

The editor of Index on Censorship Rachael Jolley told The Guardian that the Index on Censorship translated and published extracts from the speech because they felt it was important for the public to read what he was planning to say about the role of the writer and the right to criticism.

The situation, as I see it, is suppression of a perspective that does not support the nationalist stance on the Azerbaijani/Armenian conflict. And that is called censorship, even though, in Azerbaijan as in other countries – including the United States where I live – authors have a constitutional right to write what they want without pressure or government interference. Book bans and book burnings notwithstanding, American constitutional rights fare better than those in Azerbaijan.

Yet, even in a country where freedom of the press is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, writers are under siege. Just yesterday, April 30, 2017, Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff for the current administration under Donald Trump, said and repeated on the record that abridging or abolishing the First Amendment is something the Trump White House is currently considering.

It’s taken much of the USA’s 200+-year history to give voice to differing perspectives about events surrounding Native Americans, slavery, immigration, child labor, internment camps, McCarthyism, Kent State, Iran Contras, waterboarding, WikiLeaks, extraordinary rendition, and others, and one man is threatening to sue news outlets – not just in the United States – and jail individual writers and journalists on vague charges of treason. All because the sitting president doesn’t like his press coverage.

I personally have written, with critical opinions, about many of these subjects. And, to date in my country, no matter what I write, how I write it, or who I please or offend with my writing, I’m reasonably assured of keeping both my ears. And if that should ever change, we all have a much larger problem.

I do, however, have some words of advice for the White House, and for regimes around the world, that want to try. As Edward Bulwer-Lytton famously wrote in 1839 – and as systematic oppression against writers has proved since antiquity – the pen is mightier than the sword.

Let’s all pick up our pens and wield them as swords against any who would suppress and oppress free speech. Let’s accept our roles as writers and humanitarians who are able to feel the pain of others. And let’s teach our coming generations that peaceful activism begins on the page.

To this end, we at Writing for Peace are pleased to announce the winners of our 2017 Young Writers Contest. These young people from around the globe submitted their unique perspectives in poetry, essays, and fiction, and we are enriched through their wisdom. You will find last year’s winning entries in the latest edition of DoveTales, our international journal of the arts, which is now available for purchase.

If I may paraphrase Russian-based bestselling author Boris Akunin’s comments from one of his blog posts about Akram Aylisli, “Don’t you know that the state cannot win in a war with a writer?”

I couldn’t agree more.

###

Andrea W. Doray is an award-winning journalist, author, poet, and essayist in Denver, CO, and is occasionally a columnist for The Denver Post through their Colorado Voices panel. Her weekly opinion column, Alchemy, which appears in Colorado Community Media newspapers, has received a first-place award from the Colorado Press Association.Learn more about Andrea and her work here.

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2017 Young Writers Contest Results

Judges: Chip Livingston, poetry; Bradley Wetzler, nonfiction; and Nick Arvin, fiction

Poetry~

First Place: Lisa Zou from Chandler, Arizona, for “Bowls.”

Second Place: Jacqueline He from  San Jose, California, for “狐狸精 // Fox Spirit.”

Third Place: Cindy Song from Rockville, Maryland for “Scaffold.”

Fiction~

First Place: Wajudah Muheeb from Lagos, Nigeria, for “Rainbow Nation.”

Second Place: Jessica Hansen from Burwell, United Kingdom, for “The Exodus.”

Third Place: McKinsey Crozier from Cadillac, Michigan, for “Breath Free.”

Nonfiction~

First Place: Euijin Oh from Seoul, Gangnam-go, South Korea, for “The (Un)Fair Trade Culture: Piracy in the Caribbean.”

Second Place: Riley Mayes from Portland, Maine, for “Smiling at Strangers .”

Third Place: Brandon Sklarin from Smithtown, New York, for “Cuba, My Grandmother’s Journey.”

Finalists~

Poetry: Laura Hinkle & Soo Young Yun

Fiction: Andrew Kim & Ye Joon Han

Nonfiction: Celine Lee & Danielle Zarcone

Congratulations to the winners and finalists. First, second, and third place winners’ work will appear in our 2018 edition of DoveTales, edited by Andrea W. Doray. Many thanks to our judges for the time and thought they put into these decisions.

Writing for Peace would like to thank all of the writers who submitted poetry, fiction and essays for our 2017 Young Writers Contest. We understand it is no small thing to commit to a themed work and then send it out. All participants will shortly receive printed certificates. We hope you will continue to write, research, explore, and ask the questions that need to be asked. The 2018 contest will open on September 1st, 2017 and run until March 1st, 2018.

2017 DoveTales, “Refugees and the Displaced” Now Available

2017 Front CoverThe fifth edition of our annual literary journal, DoveTales, An International Journal of the Arts, will be shipped on May 1st. Our “Refugees and the Displaced” themed DoveTales is a timely affront to a status quo comfortable with the suffering of others. With contributors from every continent on the planet except Antarctica (we’re working on that), this is a book that is meant to challenge assumptions and explore issues of peace, social justice, and our responsibility to our fellow man. Cover art is by Canadian artist, Allen Forrest. You can purchase your copy here.

 

Copyright © 2017 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.