PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers

PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers Pen America: A Journal for Writers and Readers is published by PEN America, one of world’s prominent literary and human rights associations.

PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers has celebrated the best of PEN America and beyond since 2000. The journal was founded by M Mark, former editor at The Village Voice, who continues working as editor today. The journal publishes fiction, poetry, drama, nonfiction, graphic narrative, conversations, and much more.

"Lying face-up, I follow one lark on his ascent. He gains height in wide circles, small and brown and happy, he rises si...
10/24/2017

"Lying face-up, I follow one lark on his ascent. He gains height in wide circles, small and brown and happy, he rises singing and his song is full, not too varied but constant and rich in color, it seems to me from an incessant joy, as if the lark and his flight had no other raison d'être than this uninterrupted song, this celebration of life for its own sake, no reasons or ontology, no hells or heavens. Now almost a point in space, he stays motionless against the wind, his wings trembling in a crystalline suspension from which his song pours out and prodigiously arrives all the way down here. That tiny throat, that fragile little body, how can they be the source of a music exhaled hundreds of meters up in the air that comes to alight so clearly in my all by incredulous ears?"

- from "Roadsongs," by Julio Cortázar, translated by Anne McLean, Issue #8, Making Histories

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/8-making-histories/

"You know, for a world that demands direction, I certainly have           none.Will I be a teacher? Will I go to France?...
10/17/2017

"You know, for a world that demands direction, I certainly have
none.
Will I be a teacher? Will I go to France?

Really I don't know how smart I am—
and that above all else keeps me working and working hard.

I'm not sure I've got a good mind.
I'm not sure I reason well.

I know I can be as confused as anybody else.
I don't know how I'll do in advanced courses—

I don't know how I'll do on the next econ hourly.
I don't know if I could be a great debater.

And there are a million other things I don't know about my
intellectual capacities.
Let's leave emotional ones alone tonite—they're in worse shape.

I want so much—to be versatile, charming, warm, deep, intelligent,
accomplishing something, loving,
fooling around, giving instead of getting, cheery not driven, sure
not uncertain, possessing not anticipating,

answers not questions.

I'm seething lately
—but it too shall pass."

- from "How She Penetrates" by Maggie Nelson, Issue #8, Making Histories

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/8-making-histories/

10/02/2017

"1988: Pretend you're not really in prison.

1989: Pretend you're not really in prison for life.
Sleep as much as possible.

1990: Lose your grandma Lucy to cancer.
Try to find a better lawyer.
Watch TV when you're not sleeping or writing attorneys.

1991: Celebrate turning twenty-one.
Write ten-page letters to everyone you know.
Write five-page letters to people who know people you know.
Fall in love with a Marine stationed in Iraq.

1992: Wait for a court date for your first appeal.
Wait for the fence to be built around the prison so you can get out of the locked unit.
Read anything you can find.
Try to get your family to visit you.

1993: Lose your appeal.
Learn to "circumvent" (break the rules).
Let someone else's girlfriend turn you out.
Get beaten up by the girl's girlfriend.
Get out of the locked unit.
Live for visits from your Marine boyfriend.

1994: Find out your boyfriend got married.
Learn to fit in.
Become someone's girlfriend.
Join a lawsuit against the prison.
Stop thinking that being good is going to get you anywhere.

1995: Start taking college classes.
Study whenever you're not with your girlfriend.
Write letters when you have time.
See your mother for the first time in thirteen years when she shows up unexpectedly.
Live for visits and mail.
Wonder why the food is suddenly getting so bad.
Wonder why the officers are getting so strict."

- from "How to Survive in Prison: A Brief History of My First Twenty-Three Years at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women" by Yvette M. Louisell, Issue #15, Maps

Louisell won a 2011 PEN Prison Writing Award for memoir.

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/15-maps/

“You know the smell of a baby is addictive to its mother? The smell of her baby lights up the addiction centers of the...
09/28/2017

“You know the smell of a baby is addictive to its mother? The smell of her baby lights up the addiction centers of the brain in that poor, wrecked, non-smoking, non-drinking woman who is drunk on the smell of her new baby, dizzy, incoherent with it all. It doesn’t work for everyone, of course. But yes, I inhaled.

And can you imagine. Can you just imagine what is happening in that new brain. How mad that baby is for its mother? What chaos and perfection is there, and what do you do, when that is gone? You know all the drugs I ever took—and there weren’t that many—but I get it, I think I do get it. The aim is not to bring love back—that impossibility—the aim is to turn the absence of love into bliss. Absence into bliss. Bliss into boredom. The aim is to disconnect.

You are fifteen years old, you are sixteen years old. And all you want to do is leave. You are nobody’s baby, not anymore. And all you want to do is leave. How cool is that? It is very cool. To be so in control of it all. To be nowhere. And in control of nowhere. To wear your wonderful sunglasses late into the night."

- from "Day Passes" by Anne Enright, Issue #20, We the People

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/20-we-the-people/

And watch Enright's Opening Night address from the PEN World Voices Festival 2016 here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw5Z4ib1z9g

An enlightening conversation between Kwame Anthony Appiah, Marlon James, Jamaica Kincaid, Valeria Luiselli, and Colum Mc...
09/27/2017
Writing Between Countries and Across Borders: A Conversation

An enlightening conversation between Kwame Anthony Appiah, Marlon James, Jamaica Kincaid, Valeria Luiselli, and Colum McCann, moderated by Eric Banks.

From Issue 20: We the People

http://lithub.com/writing-between-countries-and-across-borders-a-conversation/

A conversation between Kwame Anthony Appiah, Marlon James, Jamaica Kincaid, Valeria Luiselli, and Colum McCann, moderated by Eric Banks, from issue 20 of PEN America. ______________________________…

"I have always wanted to capture God and put God in a bottle and close the cap tight. I was seventeen when I first said ...
09/27/2017

"I have always wanted to capture God and put God in a bottle and close the cap tight. I was seventeen when I first said this to a priest. The priest's name was Chinedu and he repeated, "You want to capture God in a bottle?" and began to laugh. He laughed in the most undignified and priestly way, his whole body shaking, his head thrown back. Then he stopped and asked, "What kind of bottle? A Coke bottle? Or one of those Lucozade bottles? You think it will be big enough?"

- from "Father Chinedu" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Issue #11, Make Believe

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/11-make-believe/

"People want their lives to make a story. Every human being has this need, if only to make sure that his or her life mak...
08/09/2017

"People want their lives to make a story. Every human being has this need, if only to make sure that his or her life makes sense. Long before the appearance of writing, a story told then disseminated has been taken as indisputable proof that the events in the narrative were worth living through. "I'll make out of your life a narrative which gives you meaning." This sentence has an allure which, for the nonreligious mind, verges on the promise of salvation."

- Oksana Zabuzhko, in conversation with John Ralston Saul, Shashi Tharoor, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Francine Prose, and Bernard-Henri Lévy), from Issue #7, World Voices

Find the issue here: https://pen.org/shop/7-world-voices/

"My father said: One spoonful for the executionersone spoonful for the emancipators one spoonful for the hungry massesAn...
08/02/2017

"My father said: One spoonful for the executioners
one spoonful for the emancipators
one spoonful for the hungry masses
And one spoonful for me"

- from "My Language in Your Mouth" by Athena Farrokhzad, translated by Jennifer Hayashida, Issue #17, PEN Voices

Find the issue here:
https://pen.org/shop/17-pen-voices/

“With most of my plays, I go down to the basement and wrestle with the monster there. Or to choose another one of my f...
07/25/2017

“With most of my plays, I go down to the basement and wrestle with the monster there. Or to choose another one of my favorite metaphors, I dig. I go down to the basement, to the floor of the cellar, and I dig and dig and dig ... I have this belief: the play is already written, I have to get out of the way. I have to listen because the play is calling me and I just have to keep listening to what I know it is on some subconscious level, and continue to work toward it, which sometimes takes a week, sometimes takes seven years.”

- from “The Play’s the Thing,” a conversation, Suzan-Lori Parks, Issue #1, Classics

Find the issue here:
https://pen.org/shop/1-classics/

“For a long time I believed that writing meant dying, slowly dying, groping to unfold a shroud of sand or silk over th...
07/05/2017

“For a long time I believed that writing meant dying, slowly dying, groping to unfold a shroud of sand or silk over things that one had felt trembling and pawing the ground. A burst of laughter—frozen. The beginnings of a sob—turned into stone. Yes, for a long time I wanted to lean against the dike of memory, or against the shadowy light of its other side, to be gradually penetrated by its cold, because as I wrote I recalled myself.”

- from _So Vast the Prison_ by Assia Djebar, Issue #6, Metamorphoses

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/6-metamorphoses/

"A book tells you quite a bit about its author; a great book tells you quite a bit about you."-Rabih Alameddine on Ferna...
06/29/2017

"A book tells you quite a bit about its author; a great book tells you quite a bit about you."

-Rabih Alameddine on Fernando Pessoa's _The Book of Disquiet_, from Issue #14, The Good Books

Find the issue here:
https://pen.org/shop/14-the-good-books/

“for the Tiananmen Mothersand for those who can rememberConcerning deathwhatever I saycan be no more thanyour eyes jus...
06/28/2017

“for the Tiananmen Mothers
and for those who can remember

Concerning death
whatever I say
can be no more than
your eyes just before dying
each stirring-still glance
will be no less than the first
last day of judgment”

- "An Eleventh Anniversary Offering" by Liu Xiaobo (translated by Jeffrey Yang), from Issue #16, Teachers

Find the issue here:
https://pen.org/shop/16-teachers/

“Memory, your personal museum, takes you into the realms of what is lost. A sesame field, a plot of lettuce, mint, a r...
06/27/2017

“Memory, your personal museum, takes you into the realms of what is lost. A sesame field, a plot of lettuce, mint, a round sun that falls into the sea. What is lost grows in you and in the sunset, which grants what is distant the attributes of paradise and purges it of any defect. Whatever is lost is worshipped. Yet it is not so!

Rein in place, then, with the halter of expression. Carry it, just as you carry your name, not your shadow, in your imagination, not in a suitcase. In this sunset words alone are qualified to restore what was broken in time and place and to name gods that paid no attention to you and waged their wars with primitive weapons. Words are the raw materials for building a house. Words are a homeland.”

- from “What Is Lost” by Mahmoud Darwish (translated by Sinan Antoon), Issue #15, Maps

Find the issue here:
https://pen.org/shop/15-maps/

“Something about the invisibility of the departed, being missing and perhaps missed, in addition to the intense, repet...
06/26/2017

“Something about the invisibility of the departed, being missing and perhaps missed, in addition to the intense, repetitive, and predictable sense of banishment that takes you away from all you know and can take comfort in, makes you feel the need to leave out of some prior but self-created logic, and a sense of rapture. In all cases, though, the great fear is that departure is the state of being abandoned, even though it is you who leave.”

- from "Departures" by Edward Said, Issue #3, Tribes.

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/3-tribes/

“1.3     Herodotos is [a] historian who trains you as you read. It is a process of asking, searching, collecting, doub...
06/22/2017

“1.3 Herodotos is [a] historian who trains you as you read. It is a process of asking, searching, collecting, doubting, striving, testing, blaming, and above all standing amazed at the strange things humans do. Now by far the strangest thing that humans do—he is firm on this—is history. This asking. For often it produces no clear or helpful account, in fact people are satisfied with the most bizarre forms of answering, e.g. the Skythians who, when Herodotos endeavours to find out from them the size of the Skythian population, point to a bowl that stands at Exampaios. It is made of the melted down arrowheads required of each Skythian by their king Ariantes on pain of death. Herodotos describes the bowl, what else can he do?”

- from "Who Were You" by Anne Carson, from Issue #12, Correspondences.

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/12-correspondences/

“We engaged in a passionate love affair with hierarchies, all the more intense for our awareness that they were meanin...
06/21/2017

“We engaged in a passionate love affair with hierarchies, all the more intense for our awareness that they were meaningless, even ridiculous as tools for understanding our distributed, networked world. As the ebbs and flows of our frenzied culture became more extreme, we turned to the verities of dead, static systems to comfort ourselves, soothing the ache of the data pumping faster through our bruised, red-raw flesh.”

- from "Memories of the Decadence" by Hari Kunzru, Issue #10, Fear Itself

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/10-fear-itself/

“These are the late poems. Most poems are late, of course: too late, like a letter sent by a sailor that arrives after...
06/15/2017

“These are the late poems.
Most poems are late,
of course: too late,
like a letter sent by a sailor
that arrives after he’s drowned.

Too late to be of help, such letters,
and late poems are similar.
They arrive as if through water.
Whatever it is has already happened:
the battle, the sunny day, the moonlit
falling into lust, the parting words. The poem
washes ashore like a flotsam.”

- from "Lost Poems" by Margaret Atwood, Issue #16, Teachers

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/16-teachers/

“[Being a Syrian poet] means being Penelope: weaving and reweaving the same long burial shroud out of pain. It means h...
06/14/2017

“[Being a Syrian poet] means being Penelope: weaving and reweaving the same long burial shroud out of pain. It means having the patience she had as she waited for her love to return. I just swap her beloved’s name for that of my country. At such a time we can only wait, pursuing hope. Is it not strange that in Arabic the words hope and pain are anagrams? Penelope never weaves in silence. Every time she pricks herself she cries out and speaks. Keeping silent is a crime nowadays. Being a poet and a woman means that I have to acquire a different consciousness. Neither the language nor the poetry is enough to re-create what has been obliterated. Being a Syrian poet means that I have to reassess my vocabulary and create a new language; it means that I plug all my senses into the bloodiness. It means that I write with blood instead of ink.”

- from “Anagrams” by Lina Tibi and Racha Omran (translated by Neil Betteridge), Issue #17, Pen Voices

Find the issue here: https://pen.org/shop/17-pen-voices/

“As it turns out, love doesn’t take us out of ourselves, change us into someone different. At least, not that way. W...
06/08/2017

“As it turns out, love doesn’t take us out of ourselves, change us into someone different. At least, not that way. What love did, in my case, was give me permission to become myself.”

- from "Lost Loves" by Jennifer Finney Boylan, Issue #18, In Transit

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/18-in-transit/

“Bridge over the Danube at Ingolstadt,the Altmühl Valley, slates at Solnhofen,connections at Treuchtlingen— and in ...
06/07/2017

“Bridge over the Danube at Ingolstadt,
the Altmühl Valley, slates at Solnhofen,
connections at Treuchtlingen—
and in between forests in which autumn is a bonfire,
roads going out into pain,
clouds reminiscent of conversations,
flashing by villages built of my desire
to grow old in the vicinity of your voice.

Between departure times
the properties of our love are spread out.
There
the places of the world remain undivided,
not surveyed, and not findable.

The train, however,
barrels through Gunzenhausen and Ansbach,
the lunar landscapes of memory
—the summery song
of the frogs of Ornbau—
all in our wake.”

--from “Munich-Frankfurt Express” by Günter Eich (translated by Michael Hofmann), Issue #15, Maps

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/15-maps/

“In effect, novels lie—they can do nothing else—but that is only part of the story. The other part is that, by lyi...
06/06/2017

“In effect, novels lie—they can do nothing else—but that is only part of the story. The other part is that, by lying, they express a curious truth that can only be expressed in a furtive and veiled fashion, disguised as something that it is not. Put this way, it seems something of a rigmarole, but, in fact, it is really very simple. Men are not content with their lot and almost all of them—rich and poor, brilliant and ordinary, famous and unknown—would like a life different from the one that they are leading. Novels were born to placate this hunger, albeit in a distorted way. They are written and read so that human beings may have the lives that they are not prepared to do without. Within each novel, there stirs a rebellion, there beats a desire.”

--from “The Truth of Lies” by Mario Vargas Llosa (translated by John King), Issue #4, Fact/Fiction

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/4-factfiction/

PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers's cover photo
06/06/2017

PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers's cover photo

“Perhaps nonviolence is the difficult practice of letting rage collapse into grief, since then we stand the chance of ...
06/05/2017

“Perhaps nonviolence is the difficult practice of letting rage collapse into grief, since then we stand the chance of knowing that we are bound up with others, such that who I am or you are is this living relation that we sometimes lose. With great speed we sometimes drive away from the unbearable, or drive precisely into its clutches, or do both at once, not knowing how we move, or with what consequence. It seems unbearable to be patient with unbearable loss, and yet that slowness, that impediment, can be the condition for showing what we value, and even perhaps what steps to take to preserve what is left of what we love.”

--from “On Grief and Rage” by Judith Butler (adapted from remarks on opening night of the 2014 PEN World Voices Festival), Issue #18, In Transit

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/18-in-transit/

“This weaver of words threading silverAnd gold into our veins.I come with the voice of the praiser. I come with the vo...
06/01/2017

“This weaver of words threading silver
And gold into our veins.
I come with the voice of the praiser.
I come with the voice of the poet.
I come to you to praise this man who
gave us his eyes and we shone, became perennial,
Who piloted us into the slow bloodstream of America
And we tagged behind, walking on
tiptoes, heard his words, like jazz
like blues, like seculars agitating
Keeping us on the edge of ourselves. Breathing
in our own noise and we became
small miracles…”

--from "Something Radical" by Sonia Sanchez (a tribute to Langston Hughes), Issue #3, Tribes

Find the issue here:

https://pen.org/shop/3-tribes/

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