If writers and artists could run the world, well, the budgets might not balance but everything else most certainly would. Pen International proved tonight that Vaclav Havel wasn't a one-off. All of the writers who kicked off the Pen World Voices Festival of International Literature get my vote. If there had to be a one world government, then please have it be run by the people who live in the shadow of their own minds, trying to make sense of a mad world, and bringing that clarity to the reader.
The assignment for this group of writers was to present their best and worst case scenarios for 2050. Each presenter used their own style, often with a great deal of humor but also capturing the horrors of today and trying to imagine them either becoming more intense or by some miracle of human achievement, shifting towards peace.
There were activist-writers and writers who are most certainly activists. The lesbian bias in Africa with its accompanying atrocities was described by Zanele Muholi from South Africa along with a short film.
Aminatta Forna, Scottish and raised in Sierra Leone, poetically shared her personal emails about Ebola and the great loss of life.
Two of the funniest -- until they predicted their versions of the worst scenarios were Richard Flanagan of (One Hand Clapping) and Egyptian writer and ardent feminist Mona Eltahawy. I think it was she who suggested that non-feminists will be grateful that others recognized the need to act while they are still asleep. (Though much better said than I'm doing here.)
The lead speaker of the night was Tom Stoppard who talked about a boat that suffered great losses of personnel because each man was only working for himself and not until they worked together were some of them saved. A true story for our times. But try and tell that to the corporations.
Poet Jackie Wang asked us to close our eyes and think of a place where we feel safe and the people we feel safe with. When we opened them, she assured us that no one had thought of police.
Writers dream of a better place and what they can do to right the wrongs that artists feel so deeply. These readings could have taken place in a San Francisco cellar with Lenny Bruce and George Carlin waiting in the wings. The medium is different, but the voice is the same... perhaps politicians just don't dream.
The festival runs from May 5 to 10.