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Our Guide to the 2018 Brooklyn Book Festival & Bookend Events

By Words Without Borders

The Brooklyn Book Festival is coming up on Sunday, September 16, with a wonderful lineup of literary luminaries. The festival is preceded by a week of exciting Bookend Events, including Words Without Borders’s celebration of Punjabi poetry on Wednesday, September 12, with poet and playwright Ajmer Rode in conversation with journalist and literary critic Rafia Zakaria. 

Below is our itinerary of not-to-be-missed events featuring international writers and translators, including WWB contributors. And if you’re at the festival on September 16, stop by WWB’s table for treats from around the world, translation tattoos, and literary conversation!


Tuesday, September 11 

7:30 pm    New Directions presents I Didn’t Talk
(Greenlight Bookstore, 686 Fulton Street, Brooklyn; Free)

Beatriz Bracher, born in São Paulo in 1961, is an editor, screenwriter, author of six books of fiction, and the winner of Brazil’s most prestigious literary awards: the Clarice Lispector Prize, the Rio Prize, and the São Paulo Prize. Her first book to appear in English is I Didn’t Talk (“haunting, powerful”—Publishers Weekly, starred review), translated by Adam Morris. Bracher and Morris will read, followed by a talk about the work and contemporary Brazilian fiction moderated by Words Without Borders editor and Portuguese translator Eric M. B. Becker.

7:30 pm    Not Invisible Today: Winners of the PEN Translation Prize
(WORD Bookstore, 126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn; Free)

Meet the translators behind the prize-winning translations. Sponsored by PEN America’s Translation Committee and moderated by Committee member, Jonathan Cohen, this program showcases three translators talking translation and reading from their works: Pierre Joris, 2005 Poetry in Translation Award winner for Lightduress (Paul Celan); Tess Lewis, 2017 PEN Translation Prize winner for her translation from German of Angel of Oblivion (Maja Haderlap); and Sandra Smith, 2007 PEN Translation Prize winner for Suite Française (Irène Némirovsky). Hear how these translators perform as writers and make the foreign familiar.


Wednesday, September 12

7:00 pm    A River of Images: An Evening of Punjabi Poetry with Ajmer Rode and Rafia Zakaria
(Astoria Bookshop, 31-29 31st Street, Astoria; Free)

Join Words Without Borders for a celebration of Punjabi poetry with poet and playwright Ajmer Rode in discussion with journalist and literary critic Rafia Zakaria. More Information/RSVP

7:00 pm    The Translation Wave
(Berl’s Poetry Shop, 141 Front Street, Brooklyn; Free)

Amid an increasingly inward-looking political environment, American readers are nonetheless reaching out, searching for new and diverse perspectives from around the world, especially in translation. John Freeman, editor of Freeman’s, has been at the head of the trend, promoting work that reaches across boundaries of nationality. Join him and award-winning translators Allison Markin PowellJeremy Tiang, and Heather Cleary as they talk about translators as artists and advocates and how to bring more international voices to American readers.


Thursday, September 13

7:00 pm    Héctor Abad with Michael Greenberg
(Community Bookstore, 143 7th Avenue, Brooklyn; Free)

Join us for an evening with Héctor Abad, author of The Farm, in conversation with Michael Greenberg, cohosted by Archipelago Books.


Friday, September 14

7:00 pm    Puerto Ricans Writing: One Year After Maria
(Leonard Library at 81 Devoe Street, Brooklyn; Free)

September 2018 marks one year after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico. This event features contemporary Puerto Rican writers sharing new creative work, showcasing a variety of innovative styles, genres, and concerns. Readings will include a bilingual element to fully represent the island’s linguistic diversity. Featuring four writers, moderated and introduced by editors of forthcoming Puerto Rican anthologies from The Common and Puerto Rico in mi corazón.

7:30 pm    Annual Brooklyn Indie Party
(Greenlight Bookstore, 686 Fulton Street, Brooklyn; Free)

Greenlight Bookstore once again partners with the Council of Literary Magazines & Presses, as well as some of Brooklyn’s best independent book and magazine publishers, to throw a Brooklyn-sized party celebrating the spirit of literary independence in Brooklyn with food, drinks, and music. Partygoers will mingle with the borough’s great authors and publishers, discover new works, and enter for a chance to win a gift bag with a book from each of the featured presses!


Saturday, September 15

1:00 pm    Writing Resistance: Voices from Korea and US
(41-17 Main Street, Flushing; Free)

What can literature teach us about dissent? Can writing be an act of defiance? How do writers use their art to resist in different parts of the world? Come join us for a relaxing afternoon and explore these questions with Alexander Chee, John Freeman, Hwang Jungeun, and Song Kyung-dong in a discussion moderated by Youngju Ryu. The program will be in English.

7:30 pm    Readings, Rum, & Reasoning—Diaspora Writes Back. An Evening with Lorna Goodison, Rosamond S. King, Negus Adeyemi, and Mervyn Taylor.
(South Oxford Space, 138 South Oxford Street, Brooklyn; $15)
Goodison is the first woman to be appointed Poet Laureate of Jamaica! Join her and Caribbean descendant poets Adeyemi (US/Barbados), King (US/The Gambia/Trinidad & Tobago), and Taylor (Trinidad & Tobago) for an evening of readings and ol’ talk on diaspora, place, identity, and writing at home and abroad when home is abroad. Presented in partnership by Caribbean Cultural Theatre, Caribbean Reads, Jamaica Progressive League, Poets & Passion—A Caribbean Literary Lime, and Read Jamaica. And yes, we have rum!


Sunday, September 16

10:00 am    Multiple Selves/Multiple Views
(Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn)

Whether it’s multiple identities within one character; the different perspectives that drive a sweeping, historical novel; or the range of voices that bridge the worlds of fiction and poetry—the works of these authors deal with ideas of balance and turbulence, cacophony and quiet. Nigerian author Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, Bangladeshi Arif Anwar’s The Storm, and Jamaican Windham-Campbell Prize recipient Lorna Goodison’s stories and poems open our eyes to the myriad dimensions of the self and the world. Moderated by Emmanuel Iduma (A Stranger’s Pose).

11:00 am    Rhythm and Spirits
(Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn)

Whether in Parisian cemeteries, Jamaican clock towers, or echoes on the wind of Angola’s decrepit capital, spirits visit upon the living in these three vibrant, polyphonic novels. Ancestors are awakened and loss reverberates—in the solitary quests of Guadalupe Nettel’s After the Winter, the pulsating bass-lines of Marcia Douglas’s historical séance The Marvellous Equations of the Dread, and the magical lyricism of Ondjaki’s love letter to a disappearing Luanda, Transparent City. Moderated by Anderson Tepper.

12:00 pm    Detained
(St. Francis College Founder’s Hall, 180 Remsen Street, Brooklyn)

In Wrestling with the Devil, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o emerges from a Kenyan prison in 1978 with a novel written on toilet paper. In Dunya Mikhail’s The Beekeeper, Iraqi women abducted by ISIS are ultimately rescued, while in Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls Nigerian students kidnapped by Boko Haram manage to escape and find their way home. These urgent works of nonfiction speak of confinement, enslavement, and torture, yet offer voices of resilience that demand to be heard. Moderated by Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, PEN America.

1:00 pm    The Aftermath
(Borough Hall Courtroom, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn)

Psychological, unseen injuries are often the most difficult to identify and treat. As medicine struggles to diagnose and treat post-traumatic stress disorder, literature is recognizing its reality and import. Novelists Shahriar Mandanipour (Moon Brow), Katia D. Ulysse (Mouths Don’t Speak), and Dan Sheehan (Restless Souls) join Sara Nović (Girl at War) to explore the power of PTSD, whether it’s acquired on the battlefield or on the home front.

1:00 pm    Love and Homelands
(Brooklyn Law School, Room 401, Brooklyn)

For the immigrant, refugee, or exile, the concept of “home” can be fraught, especially as countries continue to build real and metaphoric walls around themselves. Can you ever truly be at home in your adoptive country? How can you build relationships without roots? In their new novels, Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi (Call Me Zebra), Amitava Kumar (Immigrant, Montana), and Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar (The Map of Salt and Stars) explore how the enduring power of love persists across borders, whether traveling from Syria to New York, Iran to Barcelona, or India to Montana. Short readings and a discussion moderated by Ken Chen, executive director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. 

1:00 pm    Discovering America
(Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn)

The strange, twisted enigma of America has long fascinated writers both foreign and local while the questions of who we are and what we’ve become seem even more pertinent today. Join Croatian-born author Dubravka Ugresic (American Fictionary), Joseph O’Neill (Good Trouble), and Hernan Diaz (In the Distance) as they wrestle with the myths, mores, violence, and vulnerability of Americans in new works that glimmer with fresh insight and subversive wit. Moderated by Eric Banks.

2:00 pm    A Matter of Place
(Brooklyn Law School, Room 401, Brooklyn)

Geography plays an important role in storytelling. Oftentimes, the place where the narrative occurs is as equally important to the story as its characters. The setting of these stories provide historical context and shed light on the characters’ actions, attitudes, and beliefs. Neel Mukherjee (State of Freedom), Wayetu Moore (She Would Be King), and Maaza Mengiste (Beneath the Lion’s Gaze) explore the themes of displacement in literature through multiple perspectives. The historical context that each author has chosen forces the novel forward, whether the characters are ready or not. Short readings and a discussion moderated by Shaun Randol (The Mantle). 

2:00 pm    Migration with Baggage
(Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn)

The weight we carry on our shoulders isn’t always our own. Three critically acclaimed novels demonstrate the complicated and fraught journeys of those who have travelled to foreign spaces, often with their past trailing close behind. Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah (North of Dawn), Amitava Kumar (Immigrant, Montana), and Vietnamese-born Canadian author Kim Thúy (Vi) each tell thoughtful stories that probe the self in alien contexts while reckoning with loss and the transformation of cultural identity. Moderated by Gabriel Sanders, Tablet magazine.

3:00 pm    The Fragility of Families
(Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn)

Family bonds are knit together in evercomplex relationships, influenced by history and heritage, tradition and expectations. In Héctor Abad’s The Farm, Colombian siblings wrestle with a legacy of violence that threatens their Edenic country retreat. Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young probes a family divided by power and rivalry in modern-day Delhi and Kashmir, while Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman explores a marriage strained by familial pressure and rigid societal beliefs in southern India. Moderated by Jeanne McCulloch (All Happy Families).

4:00pm    Truths and Fictions
(Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn)

In the works of Javier Cercas (The Impostor), Neel Mukherjee (A State of Freedom), and Marina Perezagua (The Story of H), the stories we craft—and the histories we cover-up or expose—flirt across borders of truth and fiction. Whether it’s the deceptions of an alleged Holocaust survivor in Spain, the underclass’s thwarted dreams of liberation in India, or the fallibility of memory in the dark shadow of Hiroshima, these authors explore depths of individual delusion and historical reality. Moderated by Eric M. B. BeckerWords without Borders.

5:00pm    Re-Writing Africa, from Precolonial Kingdoms to Today
(Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn)

Reconsidering the sagas of sub-Saharan African countries from African perspectives, three current novels have helped reclaim independent voices and reimagine the continent’s powerful, if sometimes anguished, history. Ugandan author and Windham-Campbell Prize recipient Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Kintu), Cameroonian Leonora Miano (Season of the Shadow), and Liberian-American Wayetu Moore (She Would Be King) weave vivid tapestries of their homelands—from precolonial kingdoms and the first shadows of the slave trade to the formation of independent Liberia and today’s worldwide diaspora. Moderated by Julian Lucas, Cabinet and The Point.

Published Sep 7, 2018   Copyright 2018 Words Without Borders

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