THE BLOG
09/16/2014 10:59 am ET Updated Nov 16, 2014

What Does Literature Look Like Today?

Norman Mailer's New York City is long gone, the artists are fleeing to New Jersey, and PEN American Center -- whose work had been championed by Grace Paley, Susan Sontag, James Baldwin, and Arthur Miller, to name a few -- just turned 93. As the boundaries between personal and political, and between artistic mediums, becomes ever more permeable, it's time to ask: What does literature look like today? Who are these heirs of the literary greats? Who are the readers, writers, dreamers and defenders of the written word?

PEN American Center's new season of Public Programs will tackle these questions and more. The lineup was announced last Tuesday at the Ace Hotel during "What Can't Be Sung," a discussion of literature and music by an unexpected trifecta of artists: The New Yorker's rocker/critic Sasha Frere-Jones, Chinese literary sensation and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo, and acclaimed singer-songwriter Nellie McKay.

No one performs just one role anymore -- we demonstrate hybrid vigor at its best. "I think most people evolve," said McKay. "It's scary if they don't."

What Can't Be Sung was the first of many such events coming up this fall that will interrogate the limits of literature and music, the responsibility of art-making, and literature's cultural potency in an ever-changing cultural landscape. Where do we draw the line between literature and music? Between art and life?

"PEN has long recognized the power of the written word not only in literature, but across artistic and social mediums," said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN American Center. "Our new schedule of Fall programs reflect the tendencies of our increasingly connected, high-speed world to embrace not only literature but music, film, journalism, digital media, and more. They will demonstrate how literature can be approachable, unexpected, and essential to our understanding of how we live, highlighting the urgency of protecting all writers from persecution and censorship."