(Aspen, CO, May 24, 2011) As revolution — carried on the wings of poetry and social media — dawns across the Middle East, all eyes are on the fabled region, including, auspiciously, those of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation (AWF). Celebrating “the magical literature of the modern Middle East” next month during the 35th annual Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival, the AWF and its boundary-defying festival have once again found themselves at the leading edge of literature today. The 2011 festival, with the official theme, “Papyrus,” will feature some of the most important Middle Eastern spellbinders of our time — Khaled Hosseini, Mona Eltahawy, Firoozeh Dumas, Assaf Gavron, and Reza Aslan among them — weaving stories of their homelands and illuminating timeless themes in ways that shed new light on old worlds. Aspen Summer Words will be held June 19 through 24 at the Doerr-Hosier Center, the Aspen Summer Words’ headquarters on the Aspen Meadows campus. Early bird passes, starting at $150, are available now from Aspen Show Tickets at www.aspenshowtix.com and 970.920.5770.
“We look forward to sharing these magnificent storytellers whose trail of words extends across the Middle East, from Pakistan to Israel to Egypt to the U.S.,” said Lisa Consiglio, executive director of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation. “I can guarantee that this will be an eye-opening, insider view of a long-misunderstood part of the world.”
Firoozeh Dumas, a festival advisor and featured author of Papyrus, adds: “Festivalgoers will come out of this experience with an expansive outlook, and, with any luck at all, a craving for hummus”
Featured Theme & Authors
The Papyrus theme, which puts a spotlight on the ancient lands where paper was born and poetry has flourished since yore, will provide a platform for an international mash-up of authors who by definition offer a dynamic mix of perspectives. East will meet West and time-honored will encounter cutting edge when Papyrus’s eight Middle Eastern authors convene on stage. This diversity — the authors hail from seven countries of origin and write in as many genres — will assure unexpected combinations and a measure of levity for a region that is typically viewed from the West with stereotypes and gravity.
“Even though the Middle East is in the headlines every day, the soul of the region remains a mystery,” says Firoozeh Dumas. “Aspen Summer Words 2011 promises four days of stories, laughter, poetry and the types of discussions that only take place at a festival dedicated to broadening minds.”
Dumas is among the roster of distinguished Middle Eastern authors who will be performing at Aspen Summer Words. All guest authors write in English:
- Born in Jordan to Lebanese parents, Rabih Alameddine is a painter and bestselling author of four books of fiction, including the Roma Prize-winning novel, The Hakawati.
- Iranian-American Reza Aslan is an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions, bestselling author of No god but God, and the editor of the Middle Eastern literature anthology, Tablet & Pen.
- Peter Cole is a celebrated American poet and translator who divides his time between Israel and the U.S. and whose anthology, The Dream of the Poem, won the National Jewish Book Award.
- Iranian-born Firoozeh Dumas is the author of two books of nonfiction stories, Laughing Without An Accent and Funny in Farsi, which was a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor.
- Egyptian Mona Eltahawy is an international public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues and an award-winning columnist for Qatar’s Al Arab newspaper, Israel’s The Jerusalem Report, and Denmark’s Politiken.
- Israeli Assaf Gavron is an internationally acclaimed novelist, essayist, translator, and singer/songwriter whose novel Hydromania won the 2011 Israeli Prime Minister’s Creative Award for Authors.
- Khaled Hosseini is the author of two runaway international bestsellers, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both of which are set in his native Afghanistan.
- Daniyal Mueenuddin is an award-winning fiction writer raised in Pakistan and Wisconsin, whose debut story collection, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, won The Story Prize and was a Pulitzer finalist.
Other special guests, who will also serve as writing faculty, include:
- Colum McCann: National Book Award-winning author of Let the Great World Spin and four other acclaimed novels
- Nikky Finney: poet and author of four heralded poetry collections including Head Off & Split and On Wings Made of Gauze
- Erica Jong: internationally bestselling author whose 20 books include works of nonfiction; memoir; novels; volumes of poetry; and the megahit Fear of Flying
- Elinor Lipman: author of nine critically acclaimed novels including The Family Man, My Latest Grievance, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, and Isabel’s Bed
- and many more
During the weeklong literary extravaganza, booklovers may choose from a schedule of over 12 hour-long events that offer rare opportunities for intimate dialogue with authors, behind-the-scenes glimpses into the publishing industry, and lively interaction between readers and writers. During a typical day, a festival passholder may partake in up to three literary events (choosing from author readings, artist conversations, craft talks, and panel discussions); take a yoga class; attend a book party; and, with their mornings off, still have time to explore Aspen’s recreational, sightseeing, dining, or shopping prospects. A full festival schedule will be available online June 1 at www.aspenwriters.org. Highlights from the program include:
Revolutionary Literature // On the streets of Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and beyond, poems are being used as rallying cries for revolution while social media have become the vehicles for delivering them. Mona Eltahawy and Reza Aslan give voice to literature mirroring the ills of society and poets transforming into journalists, historians, and cultural critics.
Backstory // This sparkling afternoon of on-stage chemistry will feature friends Khaled Hosseini and Firoozeh Dumas sharing the backstories of their lives: who they were before they became writers and how their paths, from Afghanistan and Iran, respectively, led them to this very moment.
Alter Egos // In the tradition of doctor-poet William Carlos Williams, two authors who have hyphenated their time between writing and another fully engaged profession (in this case, artist Rabih Alameddine and farmer Daniyal Mueenuddin) discuss what it means to have a creative and professional alter ego.
Complementing the literary festival that is held during the afternoons and evenings, a morning writing retreat offers beginning through advanced workshops and classes to the registered Aspen Summer Words student. Among the workshop faculty are celebrated author-educators: Colum McCann, Ron Rash, Elinor Lipman, and Derek Green (fiction); Erica Jong (memoir); Nikky Finney (poetry); and Randall Kenan (Young Writers). The AWF will also offer two seminars for literature lovers (no writing experience necessary): a five-day Digital Storytelling course and the 2-day Readers’ Retreat with Mona Eltahawy. All workshops and classes are open to the public. As of press time, limited space is still available in the following workshops: Beginning Fiction, Readers’ Retreat, and Digital Storytelling. To register, visit www.aspenwriters.org or contact Lauren Lowinger at 970.925.3122 ext. 4#.
Early bird passes, starting at $150, and discounted lodging are available now through June 1. Starting June 2, individual event tickets go on sale and pass prices go up to $200. Both are available through Aspen Show Tickets at www.aspenshowtix.com and 970.920.5770.
Lodging deals, with rates as low as $115 (a savings of up to 58%), can be found through the AWF’s official lodging partners, The Molly Gibson and Hotel Aspen. To reserve these rates, contact either hotel by June 1 and mention code: ASW2011. More information is available from www.mollygibson.com and www.hotelaspen.com.
The Aspen Writers’ Foundation, Colorado’s oldest nonprofit literary organization and a program of the Aspen Institute, has been bringing readers and writers together since 1976. The organization’s mission is to provide programs that encourage writers in their craft and readers in their appreciation of literature. Through its repertoire of ten year-round programs and projects, the Aspen Writers’ Foundation annually serves 100,000-plus literary enthusiasts of all ages.