PEN World Voices Festival As It Happened: Literary Quest: Westbeth Edition


Alexandre Vidal Porto reads from his novel Sergio Y. Photo: Bruna Dantas Lobato.

I grabbed a map of the Westbeth Artists Housing in the West Village and traced a plan for the evening of salon-style readings, part of the PEN World Voices Festival. On Thursday, April 28, residents of Westbeth opened their homes to sixteen authors from around the world who would share their work.

My quest for great literature began in apartment 954H, where Brazilian novelist Alexandre Vidal Porto sat in a corner of the living room under an enormous lampshade and read from his novel Sergio Y., translated by Alex Ladd. Vidal Porto also answered questions from the audience about the inspiration for writing his novel, which he drafted while traveling around the world for his day job as a diplomat.


The view from the tenth floor. Photo: Bruna Dantas Lobato.

I hopped on the elevator to the sixth floor for Yuri Herrera’s reading, which I found out was cancelled, as per the sign on the door of apartment 633B. Wandering through the hallways of the Bethune and Washington Street side of the building, I ended up finding a corner apartment on the tenth floor with a great view of Manhattan, where Fatima Shaik read from her short story collection What Went Missing and What Got Found.

Next up was Burham Sönmez. I was a few minutes late for his reading and I quietly snuck in. Sönmez read from his third novel, Istanbul Istanbul, translated by Ümit Hussein, and briefly discussed his work in a living room filled with original prints by his host for the night. The evening ended with a reception at the Westbeth Gallery, where writers and their hosts mingled with Festival-goers.


Burham Sönmez reads from Istanbul Instanbul. Photo: Jessie Chaffee.

Two hours weren’t nearly enough to enjoy everything the Literary Quest had to offer. I could have spent days just exploring the artists’ community, the thirteen buildings of which take up an entire block. Many of the readings took place at the same time. The list of writers I missed is too long: Dalia Betolin-Sherman, Lorea Canales, Álvaro Enrigue, Saleem Haddad, Andreï Makine, Karim Miské, Mark Nowak, Susanna Reich, Adbellah Taïa, Juan Villoro, Jorge Volpi, and Klaus Wivel. I wrote down their names to make sure I don’t miss them next time.


Read more dispatches from the Pen World Voices Festival: Expats and Translation Slam


Further Reading:

An exerpt from Burham Sönmez’s Istanbul Istanbul on WWBs Dispatches blog, May 2016.