“The [Icelandic] volcano was essentially a fan of literature,” said Salman Rushdie at the official opening of the sixth annual PEN World Voices Festival last night. “It relented in time and almost everyone made it to the festival.”
He also pointed to an empty chair beside the podium, a symbol of imprisoned and repressed writers around the globe, like imprisoned Burmese blogger Nay Phone Latt. “The reason why this chair is here is to remind us there are writers who cannot be here–we should remember the absent writer,” Rushdie concluded.
The reading featured writers from around the globe reading in their native languages. Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo read a grim passage about his own kidnapping in Afghanistan. Alberto Ruy-Sanchez read a sexually-charged excerpt from his novel. Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen read from her debut novel Purge in a fierce and urgent pace. “The themes of the novel are quite hard,” she said. “And quite often readers have trouble sleeping.”