Inside Look: Volunteering @ the Pen/World Voices Festival

I want to share with you some things I learned while volunteering for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature event in early May.

I found out about this event from an email sent by our program coordinator, Amy Ortiz.  Not knowing anyone in the publishing field, I thought it was time to go out and make friends.  What better way to make a friend than to help someone out for free?  I hopped on the train to the PEN headquarters at 588 Broadway to meet Nick Burd and the rest of the volunteer group.  We all wore black and were split up by event.  I happened to have been, by the grace of good luck, selected to work the FIAF events, French Institute Alliance Française, on 60th Street.  What’s so lucky about that?  Well novelists Rick Moody and Edwidge Danticat, that’s what.  Rick Moody

Danielewski and Moody

Danielewski and Moody

participated in our Writers @ Newark Series in 2007.  I never had an opportunity to meet him and I wanted know what he thought about our great program.  Now Edwidge Danticat, hmm, well she’s one of my top ten favorite writers and I knew that I’d be a stuttering fool the day I met her, and I was.

As a volunteer I had the special privilege of attending the events for free.  The first event was Rick Moody’s interview of author Mark Z. Danielewski.  I sat in the dark scribbling notes for this blog, and I remember looking up in bewilderment as Danielewski replied to Moody’s teaching approach inquiry, “First I teach my students how to write like me.  Then in time they learn to how write like themselves, and write well.” Interesting.

Edwidge Danticat and Maria V. Luna

Edwidge Danticat and Maria V. Luna

It was on my way up to the events on Haitian writing that I stepped off the elevator and, after getting over the initial shock, had a lovely conversation with Edwidge Danticat. I then took pictures with the poet, dramatist, novelist and artist (whew, I’m out of breath) Frankétienne.  And just how could the night get any better?  I held the door open for Salman Rushdie and Walter Mosley!  That may not sound like much but when one of your literary idols smiles at you and says “Thank you my dear”, you find yourself, or should, eating a fat juicy slice of humble pie.

Frankétienne and Lil 'ol Me

Frankétienne and Lil 'ol Me

I was later invited to the after party at the Hungarian center.  That’s where all the business cards started flying around faster than the bartenders (open bar of course).  I was asked if I wanted to teach, and was handed a business card for a contact at a network of NY charter schools, and another one from a publicity assistant.

I sent out my thank-you emails the next day and those little cards shall sprout again when I look ahead to my post-graduation career.  I say all this to ask that you humble yourself and look for literary events that you can donate a little time to. Go ahead—shake hands, take pictures, exchange cards, have a great time, and most importantly, say thank you.

Hanging out at the after party with fellow MFA-er Caleb

Hanging out at the after party with fellow MFA-er Caleb

For more information on the event above please click on the following links.

PEN Word Voices            FiAF


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