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"Something to Hide" in a Surveillance Society

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May 6, 2008

Last Thursday, we teamed up with PEN American Center once again during its PEN World Voices Festival to host “Something to Hide: Writers and Artists Against the Surveillance State,” a special evening designed to provoke reflection on controversial post-9/11 government surveillance programs in the U.S. The evening featured dramatic readings from writers GyOrgy Dragoman, Wally Shawn, Deborah Eisenberg, Ingo Schulze, PEter Esterhazy; poetry from Chenjerai Hove and Irakli Kakabadze; personal reflections from visual artists Jenny Marketou and Hasan Elahi; and opening remarks from PEN President Francine Prose and ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.

While your gut might not be saying, ‘Gee that sounds like fun,’ important stories were told and a really good time was had and by all, both onstage and off.

If you don’t believe me, here’s what literary, arts, and culture blog The Millions had this to say about Thursday evening:

Both in its intelligent planning and in the sensitivity and humility of its participants, “Something to Hide” focused attention on victims of the surveillance state, rather than flattering the good conscience of the audience.

…In the end “Something to Hide” served not only as a primer on the iniquity of state-sponsored surveillance, but as a reminder that art and politics need not be mutually exclusive. Indeed, given sufficient humility and tolerance for ambiguity on the part of artists, each can be made to further the interests of the other.

In the next few weeks, we’ll have video, audio and photos from the event. And if you missed the New York event, passes are still available for ‘Something to Hide’ during BookExpo America in L.A. on May 31. That event will feature readings by Judy Blume, Jim Crace, Andre Dubus III, Chris Lawford, Dennis Lehane, Azar Nafisi, Roxana Robinson, and others, followed by a PEN / ACLU reception.

To learn more about the ACLU’s work around unchecked government surveillance, visit Recordings of past ACLU / PEN events, ‘Dirty Wars’ in 2007 and ‘An Evening Without’ in 2006, can be found on our podcast page.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this entry, the date of the PEN Event in L.A. was incorrect. The event is on May 31, not May 30.

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