12th PEN Festival Has Mexico Focus

Álvaro Enrigue, Valeria Luiselli

Alvaro Enrigue and Valeria Luiselli will share original testimonies crafted under their guidance at “The Voices of the Student ‘DREAM’ers.”

On April 25th, PEN America will kick off its 12th annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature with a focus on Mexico. The aim, according to the statement on the festival website is to invite attendees to “rethink the stories of migration, the border and national identity.” The program features a range of lectures and panels related to Mexico and Mexican narratives including the seminal role of translators, an exploration of Africa in Latin America, pre-Christopher Columbus, and an opening night panel on the multibillion-dollar drug industry with 1991 MacArthur Fellow Guillermo Gómez-Peña, journalist Lydia Cacho, and Man Booker Prize 2015 Winner Marlon James.


Absent from the Mexico-centered slate is a program exploring the business of writing in Mexico/for Mexican writers. If you’re interested in learning more about the publishing market in Mexico, PublishingPerspectives.com has an interview with indie publisher Eduardo Rabasa who founded Editorial Sexto Piso in 2002.

Though elusive pseudonymous author Elena Ferrante will likely not be unmasking her(or  him)self at the festival this year, her English-language translator is also on deck to discuss Ferrante’s work with a panel of authors. Author and cultural critic Roxane Gay will give the keynote Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture followed by a sit-down with multi-award-winning poet and Buzzfeed’s Executive Editor of Culture Saeed Jones.

Check out the full schedule here.

On the Reclusive Author

Writer Kat Stoeffel wants to know more about reclusive author Elena Ferrante. - peoplewhowrite

Writer Kat Stoeffel wants to know more about reclusive author Elena Ferrante.

In the age of Instagram, Google Earth, and suspect Facebook privacy settings, anonymity is the new luxury. If you’re operating any sort of side hustle or trying to build a following for that other “thing” you do (in our case, writing), you’ve probably been told that sharing old photographs and documenting (or appearing to document) every inch of your life on social media will help you create a connection with people who may be more likely to buy whatever it is you’re selling. And even if you’re not selling anything, we’re being taught to maintain a record of our lives anyway, because we’re projecting ourselves, and, well, the NSA can only do so much.

But anonymity, even invisibility, is also a strategy that some employ to: 1)avoid the hyper-scrutiny and judgment that comes in our over-share culture (see songwriter Sia Furler); 2)see what readers/reviewers think of their work outside of the brand they have built (see J.K. Rowling’s reasons for writing as Robert Galbraith); 3)not distract the reader with facts about themselves that may seem incongruent with the material they write (see the white couple who were revealed as the authors of popular vegan food blog and forthcoming book Thug Kitchen).

In a recent post on New York Magazine‘s blog “The Cut”, writer Kat Stoeffel endearingly laments novelist Elena Ferrante’s fastidious commitment to her anonymity. Stoeffel writes breathlessly about her desire to know more about this writer who seems to know her, and women, so well. “What does she wear when she writes? Who looked after her children? Does she drink? Does she smoke?” She adds, “the surface-level trappings of the literary girl-crush represent something more than lifestyle inspiration: They’re an auxiliary point of access to the author.”

But Ferrante asserts that the access Stoeffel craves is already there–in the words that have so moved her. Stoeffel quotes a 2003 interview in which Ferrante writes (convincingly): “The true reader… searches not for the brittle face of the author in flesh and blood, who makes herself beautiful for the occasion, but the naked physiognomy that remains in every effective word.”