When the PEN American Center decided last year to highlight writers from Mexico at its World Voices Festival this spring, no one, including author Andrew Solomon, the organization’s president, anticipated how large the country would loom in today’s political conversation. From Donald Trump’s vow to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border to the execution-style killing on Monday of a Mexican journalist outside his home in Taxco, Mexico has been cast in a largely negative and, to Mr. Solomon’s mind, unfair light.
“We want to remind people that Mexico is a place of imagination and insight, and that it’s a political act to say everyone [arriving in the U.S. as an immigrant] is a prostitute or criminal,” he says. Since March 2015, Mr. Solomon has been president of PEN American Center, a nonprofit that defends free expression and promotes literature around the world. Its annual festival runs through May 1 in New York City.
Mr. Solomon, known for such nonfiction books as The Noonday Demon (2001) and Far From the Tree (2012), has just published a new collection of essays called Far and Away, featuring stories about his travel experiences over the past 25 years in countries seized by upheaval. The book consists mostly of previously published work, but there is also some new material.
Last year, he says, he was spurred to put the pieces together by the surge in populist, anti-immigration parties world-wide as well as his own worries about the rise of nativism in the U.S. “I became more interested in the idea that we had a damaged relationship to otherness and elsewhere,” he says. “I tried to show the variety of humanity, the variety of experience, and emphasize the commonalities rather than the differences among nations.”
(To read the full interview, please visit the Wall Street Journal.)