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PEN World Voices Festival: Defiance: The Spirit of ‘89

By Austin Woerner

PEN World Voices Festival Under the familiar image of the man staring down the tank, 10 writers and activists presented readings in honor of the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movements at Joe's Pub this Thursday. Excerpts from Gandhi, Levi, and Steinbeck sandwiched several more unusual gems--the novelist and former Nicaraguan vice-president Sergio Ramirez, reading the Neruda poem "I Ask for Punishment" in memory of classmates of his who had fallen in a 1977 protest again the Somoza regime; and the South Korean writer Hwang Sok-Young, who was with the American marines in Vietnam, at Tiananmen in 1989, and has been exiled and since pardoned for going on an unauthorized "cultural exchange" trip to North Korea. Hwang read from his novel, Old Garden, which will be available in English in the fall. Perhaps most stirring was ACLU activist Jameel Jaffer's reading of a declaration by the US military prosecutor Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, who recently resigned his post to defend the innocence of a 16-year old Afghan boy detained at Guantanamo. Such were the tidings of real courage and struggle offered to those of us who, on this balmy spring evening, decided to get up, stand up, and, with the fires of idealism burning in our eyes, brave our way to this quiet candlelit bar.

Published May 4, 2009   Copyright 2009 Austin Woerner

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