PEN WORLD VOICES
The Power of Conversation:
David Grossman and Nadine Gordimer – The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture
“ This book was such an act of choosing life.”
David Grossman on finishing writing his latest book To the End of the Land after his son was killed in the Lebanon War in 2006.
As one of my favorite college history professors used to repeat in almost every class, “You can’t kill ideas.”
On that note, Wild River Review reprises, The Power of Conversation, covering David Grossman’s PEN World Voices Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture in April of 2007, during which he spoke about the importance of writing in the face of fear, “rapid and repeated media flashes,” heartbreaking violence, and “the suffocation of the cliché.”
For Grossman, although the role of the writer will never be as visible as explosions in the street, their importance is no less vital.
A mother’s terrified concern for her son’s safety is the central theme of David Grossman’s most recent novel, To the End of the Land (Knopf, September 2010) about which Israeli author Amos Oz remarked, “I believe this is the essence of great literature: the more parochial it is, the more universal it is.”
THE POWER OF CONVERSATION
It’s a tribute to the depth and richness of conversations during the weeklong PEN World Voices Festival, that on the very last night – the last of 67 events (over the course of six days) with over 150 authors from all over the world – that a full house sat in rapt attention.
PEN American Center’s president Francine Prose introduced Israeli novelist David Grossman – this year the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecturer – and South African Nobel Laureate-Nadine Gordimer – two writers who have forged the severe and violent realities of their landscape into unflinching works of literature.
The air buzzed with the power of ideas and words by authors compelled to record and reflect upon the lives beneath the surface of newspaper headlines…beneath the blast of gunshots and explosions, alongside laughter and lovemaking, inside the nuances of everyday life.
In his speech, Grossman referred to Kafka’s short story, “A Little Fable,” and echoed the sentiments of the character of the mouse who, confounded by the limitations of its view (and a nearing trap) lamented, “Alas the world is growing narrower everyday.” In a world of tangled accusations, rapid and repeated media flashes, and seemingly unsolvable problems, Grossman had to agree that “sadly, Kafka’s mouse was right.”
Grossman spoke about the numbing void that grows between the individual and the violent chaos which surrounds his life. “This void never remains empty, but fills rapidly with apathy and cynicism and despair, the despair of the distorted situation….”
To illustrate this narrowness, Grossman talked about the language often employed to describe the complex and terrifying affairs in his own country, Israel. Language that quickly becomes “a sequence of clichés and slogans” and ultimately all that is left are “mutual accusations between enemies” while the mass media “aims to tell a story easiest for digestion.” As Grossman emphasized, the protective layers we build out of fear end up suffocating us.
But, his message was also one of genuine hope.
As an alternative to narrowness, he pointed directly to the liberty he’s experienced in the process of writing. “When I write, the world is not closing in on me.” For even amongst conflict and uncertainty, writing – for Grossman – keeps alive the truth that there is another life.
“As soon as we lay our hands on the pen, we already cease to be a slave,” he said.
Grossman, whose son – a member of the Israeli army – was killed on duty last summer, described the manifold ways in which writing not only enlivens the “power of memory” but renews and reclaims us…”It is a gesture of opening up. I am not frozen and paralyzed before the predator…I can breathe with both lungs….a natural full breathing where I manage to escape the claustrophobia of the cliché.”
Novelist, Nadine Gordimer joined Grossman on stage for conversation, and began with an appropriate Proust quote. “Do not be afraid to go too far…because the truth lies there.” When I spoke with her in the hotel, Gordimer mentioned another quote she paraphrased from Flaubert that seemed relevant to the conversation. “I wanted to live in an Ivory Tower, but the shit kept getting all over the walls.”
Gordimer posed a particularly honest and difficult question to Grossman. “What influence can writers really have?”
Though, Grossman admitted the power of words seemed feeble next to the reality of violence, he concluded that writing was nevertheless essential because it “allows people to know there is an alternative.”
Grossman and Gordimer agreed that the role of good literature is to force readers to look at reality from different points of view. To, as Grossman put it, “identify even a little with the suffering of others and suspend moral judgement.”
Gordimer disagreed with Grossman’s claim that he had turned away from writing about his country for many years (until his oldest son joined the army) for, she claimed, he actually wrote about it anyway, “if you live in an age of conflict, your characters are imbued with the cage of politics and even when a man and a woman are in bed, politics is in bed with them.”
At the end of the discussion, Gordimer asked Grossman how he saw the future of his country, and Grossman agreed when she stressed that justice for the Israelis must mean justice for the Palestinians. Grossman talked about the need for a border, “but not a border that imposes.”
He went on to say, “I want to have hope for the future of my country.”
Salman Rushdie ended the final event of the World Voices Festival applauding the “use of the high language of literature used in the service of human beings.” He publicly hoped the dialogues initiated during World Voices would continue, and that we “continue to listen and continue to engage.”
When I look around me at so many writers, I think of a panel I saw earlier today called “What Makes a Home” and the words of Lee Stringer, author of Grand Central Winter: Stories from The Street, who lived on the streets for 12 years. Stringer commented that one upside to living on the street was that he began to define home differently – as a place to be found deep inside of himself rather than an emotional state dependent on any four walls.
Tonight, Grossman’s words for writers pointed to a mandatory vulnerability and a brave vital awareness with which to exercise their innate voice. A place where we might not always feel comfortable but nevertheless where (thankfully) so many of our finest writers do feel most at home
Note: PEN serves as one of the oldest humans rights organizations and upholds a longstanding tradition of opposing censorship and defending writers around the world. The PEN American Center hosts Here you can create the content that will be used within the module.
In 2006, Kimberly Nagy founded Wild River Review with Joy E. Stocke; and in 2009, they founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC. With more than twenty years in the field of publishing, Nagy specializes in market outreach and digital media strategies as well as crafting timeless articles and interviews. She edits many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
Kimberly Nagy is a poet, professional writer, and dedicated reader who has interviewed a number of leading thinkers, including Academy-Award winning filmmaker, Pamela Tanner Boll, MacArthur Genius Award-winning Edwidge Danticat, historian James McPherson, playwright Emily Mann, biologist and novelist, Sunetra Gupta and philosopher Alain de Botton.
Nagy is an author, editor and professional storyteller. She received her BA in history at Rider University where she was influenced by professors who stressed works of literature alongside dates and historical facts–as well as the importance of including the perspectives of women and minorities in the historical record. During a period in which she fell in love with writing and research, Nagy wrote an award-winning paper about the suppression of free speech during World War I, and which featured early 20th century feminist and civil rights leader, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.
Nagy continued her graduate studies at University of Connecticut, Storrs, where she studied with Dr. Karen Kupperman, an expert in early contact between Native Americans and the first European settlers. Nagy wrote her Masters thesis, focusing on the work of the first woman to be accepted into the Connecticut Historical Society as well as literary descriptions of Native Americans in Connecticut during the 19th century. Nagy has extensive background and interest in anthropological, oral history and cultural research.
After graduate school, Nagy applied her academic expertise to a career in publishing, in which she worked for two of the world’s foremost publishers—Princeton University Press and W.W. Norton—as well as at Thomson, Institutional Investor Magazine, Routledge UK, and Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic.
Kimberly Nagy in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
ARTS – FILM REVIEWS
ARTS – MUSIC
ARTS – PHOTOGRAPHY
The Triple Goddess Trials: Fire in the Head: Brigit’s Mysterious Spark
The Triple Goddess Trials: Introduction
The Triple Goddess Trials – Meeting Virginia Woolf at the Strand
The Triple Goddess Trials: Me and Medusa
The Triple Goddess Trials: Aphrodite and the Lightbulb Factory
The Triple Goddess Trials: Goddess of Milk and Honey
The Triple Goddess Trials: Kali’s Ancient Love Song
ASHLEY – Renee Ashley: A Voice Answering a Voice
BELLI – Giocanda Belli – The Page is My Home
BOLL – Pamela Tanner Boll: Dangerous Women: An Interview with Academy Award Winner Pamela Tanner Boll
DANTICAT – Create Dangerously- A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat
CHARBONNEAU – A Cruise Along the Inside Track: With Le Mobile’s Sound Recording Legend Guy Charbonneau
de BOTTON – The Art of Connection: A Conversation with Alain de Botton
GUPTA – Suneptra Gupta – The Elements of Style: The Novelist and Biologist Discusses Metaphor and Science
HANDAL – Nathalie Handal – Love and Strange Horses
KHWAJA – Waqas Khwaja: What a Difference a Word Makes
MAURO: New World Monkeys: An Interview with Nancy Mauro
MORGANSing, Live, & Love Like You Mean It: An Interview with Bertha Morgan
MOSS – Practical Mystic–Robert Moss: On Book Families, Jung and How Dreams Can Save Your Soul
OGLINE – BEN FRANKLIN.COM: Author & Illustrator Tim Ogline explains why Ben Franklin would be a technology evangelist today
OLSEN – Greg Olsen – Reaching for the Stars: Scientist, Entrepreneur and Space Traveler
PALYA – Beata Palya – The Secret World of Songs
SCHIMMEL – Moonlight Science: A Conversation with Molecular Biologist and Entrepreneur, Paul Schimmel
SHORS – Journey into the Male & Female Brain: An Interview with Tracey Shors
von MOLTKE and SIMMS – Dorothy von Moltke and Cliff Simms: Why Independent Bookstores Matter, Part I
WARD – On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part One, and
On the Rocks: Global Warming and the Rock and Fossil Record – An Interview with Peter Ward, Part Two
WILKES – Labor of Love: An Interview With Architect Kevin Wilkes
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
The New York Public Library at 100: From the Stacks to the Streets
Paul Holdengraber: The Afterlife of Conversation
That Email Changed My Life: Rolex Arts Initiative. Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Tracy K. Smith Celebrates Rolex Arts Initiative
First Editions / Second Thoughts — Defending Writers: PEN and Christie’s Raise One Million Dollars to Support Freedom of Expression
ON AFRICA: May 4 to May 10 — Behind the Scenes with Director Jakab Orsos: Co-curated by Award-Winning Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Page is My Home: Giaconda Belli – Nicaraguan Poet, Writer and Public Intellectual
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
The Power of Conversation: David Grossman and Nadine Gordimer – The Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture
NEW FROM WILD RIVER BOOKS – Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library
Wild River Books Announces the Stoutsburg Cemetery Project: The Untold Stories of an African American Burial Ground in New Jersey
Wild River Books: Surprise Encounters by Scott McVay
Wild River Review and Minerva’s Bed & Breakfast Presents – “BITTER” Writing in a Weekend: How to Write About the Things We Can’t Change
ALLEN – Quarks, Parks, and Science in Everyday Life: Filmmaker Chris Allen’s Documentary Where Art Meets Science in a Vacant Lot
HOLT – Rush Holt: An Interview with Rush Holt
MANN – Boundless Theater: An Interview with Emily Mann
Keeping Time: A Conversation with Historian James McPherson