After becoming Global Partners with Hay Festivals last year, PEN International has now held a wide range of literary events around the world, a number of which have been co-organised by local PEN Centres. We will continue this arrangement in the coming year and will also be expanding our range of festival partnerships.
Earlier this month PEN International collaborated with Hay Festival Beirut (8-10th May). The festival opened with a series of Free the Word! events with PEN Lebanon at Zico House May 8. As usual with FtW!, the talks celebrated international writers, thinkers and artists from the region and from Beirut itself. The city provides a stimulating backdrop for discussion and debate, as it houses one of the most diverse populations of the Middle East, is a centre of publishing, and has an extraordinary tradition of hospitality and exchange.
Hyam Yared, President of PEN Lebanon, ran a series of events that included Alaa Abdul-Hadi (PEN Egypt), Laila al Atrash (PEN Jordan), Iman Humaydan (PEN Lebanon), Abbas Beydoun and Nahla Chahal. Talks varied from discussing censorship and publishing in the region, to the testimonies of women who have participated in the Arab uprising, as well as exploring the role of the writer in a divided sectarian society. It was wonderful to see such a new PEN Centre connecting with leading writers and other Centres from the region. You can view photographs of the festival HERE.
Other highlights of Hay Festival Beirut included Joe Sacco at the Beirut Art Center; Hanan al Shaykh and Nidal al Ashkar’s hugely popular reading – accompanied by music – from the 1001 Nights in the Al Madina Theatre; Mohammed Hanif on his latest work and writing about Karachi; Karl Ove Knausgård on fatherhood, Kierkegaard, the urge to commit ‘literary suicide’ and the impact his revelatory journals have had on those close to him; Shereen el Feki on sex in Egypt and the Arab world, and her determination never to become a ‘sexual Salafist’. British-Pakistani author Hanif Kureishi participated in an excellent panel discussion on free speech with Helena Kennedy and Fawaz Traboulsi and – earlier – in another talk, where he discussed abiding influences; a meeting with Samuel Beckett at the Royal Court Theatre, and his father’s dim view of his vocation: ‘My father thought my writing was shallow because it’s full of velvet trousers and fucking; but there are no velvet trousers in Chekhov’.
To view the full programme click here.