It is a congenital defect (or strength), of mine, that I feel compelled to offer myself up where I feel I could be of some use. I am still waiting to see how this plays out now that I have a book coming out and another yet to be finished, a book tour and other promotional activities in between, not to mention my entire personal life, but I’m optimistic that all will be well, all will be well and all manner of things shall be well. This is the belief that drives the impulse to do the things that I do. Apparently we can delude ourselves into making self-destruction a sort of regrettable virtue!
As of this morning there is an underground/grassroots movement to be contributed to with regard to my country of birth, Sri Lanka, meetings to be had to advance the cause of my country of residence, the United States, news to be absorbed regarding both; there is reading and writing. But among the things I’ve signed myself up for, recently, is one that brings these worlds together in one place: the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. The festival runs from April 27th to May 3rd, this year, in NYC. I am, unfortunately, only able to be there for two and half days toward the end, but during that time I will be volunteering to help with the program and attending some of the events closest to my heart: the Moth Presents, which will include Salwa Al Neimi, Jonathan Ames, Petina Gappah, László Garaczi, and Salman Rushdie, and Readings from Around the Globe, which will include Bernardo Atxaga, Petina Gappah, Mariken Jongman, Michael Ondaatje, Daniel Sada, Hwang Sok-yong, Antonio Tabucchi, and Colm Tóibín.
The list of participants is incredible and presents an opportunity for anybody who can make it over there, to be exposed to writers and thinkers (are there any writers who don’t think?) from throughout the world. Among these writers are, of course, the iconic figures who are mentioned above, alongside younger and equally fascinating writers who are also activists, who include Laila Lalami (Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits and Secret Son), Edwidge Danticat ((Breath, Eyes, Memory, Krik? Krak! and Brother, I’m Dying, among others), and Nam Le (The Boat). If you can get to NY but were waiting for a good enough reason, then buy your tickets now!
I was struck while at a training for volunteers in NY on Monday, lead by the energetic and talented Nick Burd, whose own book, The Vast Fields of Ordinary, will be coming out in May, by the ordinariness as well as the palpable energy of the PEN American office. It reminded me again that the most loftiest of causes often have the lowliest of launching pads. I’m off to look for another such now.