Back in Action

My trip to New York was great. My first event was the History and the Truth of Fiction panel, which was held at NYU. We had a great turn out, and it was particularly nice to see a few familiar faces in the crowd. Colum McCann, our moderator, was fantastic; he knew how to ask questions that would involve all of us and get us to discuss with one another. Several wraps up have popped up online (see, for instance, this, this, or this) and some photos as well.

One of the highlights of the PEN festival for me was getting to meet Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose latest novel, Desertion, was one of my favorites of last year. We were on one panel together, Where on Earth: The Refugee Emergency, which was about different experiences of exile, whether old or new, forced or desired, brutal or peaceful. (We also shared a memorable cab ride, during which the driver, a fellow Moroccan, treated us to his life story, including an anecdote about how he worked as a bartender for ten years while being an observant Muslim.)

My final event was a gathering of storytellers, with Jonathan Ames, Pico Iyer, Edgar Oliver, and Neil Gaiman. Ordinarily, Alex loves to talk to writers, but he was so intimidated that he fell completely silent in Neil Gaiman’s presence–which was quite amusing considering that Gaiman is so nice, and so down to earth. I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Pico Iyer at the rehearsal, and heard so many wonderful stories of his travels, including the one he told at The Moth, about a trip to Aden to do research on a fourteenth-century Chinese Muslim eunuch admiral. (Yes, you read that last part right. More on Zheng He here.)

I didn’t get a chance to go to many other panels, but I loved the Town Hall Readings, and the panel on Gritty Realism, with Daniel Alarcon, Guillermo Arriaga, Jorge Franco, and Patricia Melo, moderated by the amazing Francisco Goldman. You can read various reports about the panels and readings at the World Voices blogs, and at TEV.