An Interview with Larry Siems, Director of the PEN American Center Freedom to Write Project: Part Two

Administrator | Home | Saturday, November 21st, 2009

PEN AMERICAN

Our front line defense for writers in other countries is that countries need to abide by basic due process standards that are outlined under international law. It obviously undermines that to have Guantánamo. The story in America was that this was somehow a new experience that nobody had ever had. On the contrary, for PEN, now the United States was dealing with something that a lot of other countries had dealt with for some time.

–Larry Siems

Larry Siems is the Director of the PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write Project. He has worked to support writers facing persecution in Nigeria, China, Turkey, and the U.S. Siems is also an accomplished poet and author in his own right who received numerous accolades for his book Between the Lines: Letters between Undocumented Mexican and Latin American Immigrants and Their Families and Friends (Harper Collins). He offers the rare, inspiring combination of fervent advocacy and a passion for the creative arts.

Photograph by Beowulf Sheehan

Larry spoke to FictionthatMatters about his work. I decided to divide his interview into two parts because he speaks in depth about a variety of complex subjects. The first part was roughly dedicated to literature and letters. (Click on the link to read it.) This second half will focus on his work as an activist.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL INTERVIEW.

–Deji Olukotun

  • Share/Bookmark

An Interview with Larry Siems, Director of the PEN American Center Freedom to Write Project: Part One

Administrator | Home | Thursday, November 19th, 2009

PEN AMERICAN

The conversation we’re having at PEN these days is, ‘what is the role of literature at a time that we’re in right now’, like any number of nations that have come through a time where the government has committed human rights abuses. What does literature do at that moment?

–Larry Siems

Larry Siems is the Director of the PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write Project. He has worked to support writers facing persecution in Nigeria, China, Turkey, and the U.S. Siems is also an accomplished poet and author in his own right who received numerous accolades for his book Between the Lines: Letters between Undocumented Mexican and Latin American Immigrants and Their Families and Friends (Harper Collins). He offers the rare, inspiring combination of fervent advocacy and a passion for the creative arts.

Siems spoke to FictionthatMatters about his work. I divided the interview into two parts because he speaks in depth about a variety of complex subjects. This first half is roughly dedicated to literature and letters. The second half will focus on his work as an activist.

Photograph by Beowulf Sheehan

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE.

Photo by Beowulf Sheehan (c) 2009.

  • Share/Bookmark

Stuffed!, by Eichler & Bertozzi

Administrator | Home | Sunday, November 15th, 2009

stuffed

Stuffed!
Written by Glenn Eichler
Illustrated by Nick Bertozzi
First Second Books, 2009. 128 pages.

In Stuffed!, a new graphic novel by Eichler and Bertozzi, a corporate benefits administrator inherits his late father’s amateur museum of oddities. Hidden amongst the nick-knacks and curiosities is a very lifelike statue of an African male, replete with loincloth and what appears to be the broken shaft of a spear. Tim’s father always called the statue ‘The Bloodthirsty Savage’. But Tim’s family doesn’t want the statue around in their suburban home. So Tim takes ‘The Savage’ to a museum, kicking off a convoluted, hilarious journey to give the figure a proper home.

It soon turns out The Savage — which they tactfully rename ‘The Warrior’ — is in fact a real, stuffed man from Eastern Africa. But returning him to his homeland is not nearly as simple as it seems. Add to this mixture a crazed hippie brother, museum bureaucracy, memories of a horrible father, a few diplomats, and racial politics and you get one hell of a nutty fruitcake.

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE.

–Deji Olukotun

  • Share/Bookmark

Fela!, the Musical

Administrator | Home | Sunday, November 8th, 2009

fela-300x250-6

Performing at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York

The music icon Fela Anikupalo Kuti was the unlikely culmination of generations of talent and courage. His grandfather, Jay Jay, was a classical musician with an international reputation. His father was a devout man-of-the-cloth and the strict headmaster of a high school. His mother, Funmilayo, organized a successful women’s movement in Nigeria, stood firm in the face of the colonial authorities, and traveled the world — even meeting Mao Zedong in China during the height of Mao’s cult of personality.

Fela grew up as Nigeria was loosening its colonial shackles, but he soon discovered that colonialism was replaced by equally cruel military dictatorships at the end of British rule in 1960. These many influences led Fela to become a successful band leader and social reformer. He would eventually become so incensed by the rampant corruption that he declared his own independent republic of Kalakuta and ran for president. He became an easy target for Nigerian leadership.

Fela never cut a deal with a major record label because he was afraid to dilute his message. He also didn’t write any endearing love songs like Bob Marley, so his pill was tougher to swallow.

Fela’s story is larger than life, both too beautiful and too awful to imagine, and that is why it is fit for a musical. The new musical Fela! puts a celebratory spin on the musician’s immensely complex personality.

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE

  • Share/Bookmark

Music that Matters: an Interview with Karen Scott of Music for Human Rights

Administrator | Home | Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Noodle_Gorillaz_Amnesty

Music for Human Rights is an ambitious, star-studded project that seeks to effect change through music. Housed at Amnesty International USA, the initiative collaborates with international music acts around the world. U2, REM, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, and Nickelback are just a small sampling of the big name artists that support Music for Human Rights.

But the project goes further than just endorsements. It also promotes artists such as Emmanuel Jal, a survivor of the killing fields in Sudan, and has even co-produced its own music video. Each project encourages meaningful action by musicians and their fans.

karenvoodoo2

I spoke with the Program Manager of Music for Human Rights Karen Scott about her innovative work. She’s a true music lover and a quick glance at the website will show you how busy she really is. Not everyone can imitate such a high profile organization — Amnesty has over 2 million members — but Karen seems convinced that we can all make a difference.

In a few words, what does the Amnesty International Music for Human Rights program do?

Music for Human Rights is a place to find out how musicians are using their voice to promote Human Rights.

How did you get involved in the program?

Music has been my passion since I was a teenager. I’ve worked in the music industry in different capacities over the past 15 years. But I felt a void – I felt like I wasn’t being fulfilled. I got a call about this position and it was one of those right-place-right-time circumstances. I guess you can call it Kismet.

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL INTERVIEW.

Photos courtesy of (and copyrighted by) Amnesty International 2009. Top photo, Noodle of the Gorillaz.

  • Share/Bookmark