While PEN is often at the forefront of debates and initiatives to do with the more obvious forms of oppression against writers — isolation, censorship, imprisonment — it is also ready to tackle the more subtle deterrents that plague the publishing industry as a whole.
In a panel at the Standard Hotel as part of the PEN World Voices Festival, writers and editors talked about the ways in which corporate publishing limited access to audiences, the pressure to mainstream, and editing as a form of censorship. The evening was moderated by Mischief + Mayhem co-founder Lisa Dierbeck, who fueled debate by "impersonating" a corporate publishing executive and goaded her panelists ("the enemy") to confirm that they planned to overthrow her world.
Speakers included writers Carmen Boullosa, Dale Peck (also a co-founder of Mischief + Mayhem), Mkola Riabchuk, and Monika Zgustova; writer and editor Ben Greenman, and Feminist Press editor Amy Scholder.
The independent tone was set early in the evening by critic Eric Banks.
As part of the festival this year, PEN asked six critics to each recommend five books representing works in translation, contemporary fiction, literary classics, small press publications, and something to surprise. All the Stand-up Book Critics recommendations can be found at this link, but Banks' surprise choice of Edward Said's last book, "On Late Style," resonated with the festival as a whole: "In an era when too many are eager to see the humanities as an anachronism, 'On Late Style' is a stylish retort."
Amy Scholder on what matters: "My relationship to my authors is primary to me — and then there's the business of books after that."
Carmen Boullosa on books by emerging Latino authors: "The novels are prodigious, different...I would even use the word, 'insurgent.' They are like little revolutions. I enter the book(s) and say, 'Wow!'"
Dale Peck on the effects of a corporate takeover: "The more von Holtzbrinck got involved [with Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux], the more I was told things like my books needed to be happier, or they needed to be shorter...because paper was expensive."