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Taboos: Desire and Disgust

30 October 2018, 6:30 pm9:00 pm

£7 – £10

Join us for an exploration into the private spaces that women carve out for themselves with writers whose work examines coming of age as a young woman. How do they capture desire, sex, friendship and alienation? How does adolescence differ from place to place? We discuss with three award-winning writers how their teenage years have affected their craft.
This will be an evening of thought-provoking discussions with authors Margarita Garcia Robayo, Sharlene Teo, and Sarvat Hasin, chaired by Zahra Dalilah.




All three writers have made adolescence the focus point of their recent work: Sharlene Teo‘s celebrated novel Ponti deals with a teenager growing up in 1970s Singapore: sixteen-year-old Szu who lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, they develop an intense friendship. Ponti is a portrayal of the loneliness of teenagehood, of friendship and obsession.
Margarita Garcia Robayo‘s collection Fish Soup similarly deals with teenage girls: in her two novellas, her young protagonists want nothing more than to escape their conservative, coastal towns. Her frank and visceral descriptions of bodies, desire and taboos are reminiscent of Francoise Sagan’s cult novel Bonjour Tristesse or a lyrical version of Girls set in Colombia.
Sarvat Hasin‘s latest collection You Can’t Go Home Again focuses on group of teenagers. When one of them goes missing, the incident sets off ripples through their already fraught education in lust and witches. In her linked stories, Hasin’s young protagonists grow up and apart, move between Murree and New York, haunted by home and djinns.

Join us to discuss adolescence and bodies, horror and faith, Pakistan, Singapore, Colombia and London, fun and fear, and how to turn the private lives of teenage girls public – in fictional form.


About the participants:

Sarvat Hasin was born in London and grew up in Karachi. She is the author of the novel This Wide Night (Penguin India, 2017) and the short story collection You Can’t Go Home Again (Penguin India, 2018). She is the fiction editor of the Stockholm Review.   Read Sarvat’s piece on the hidden secret in text in the Secrets issue of PEN Transmissions here.

Margarita García Robayo is a Colombian author now based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is the author of three novels, a book of autobiographical essays and several collections of short stories. Fish Soup, her first collection to appear in the UK, is a visceral exploration of what it’s like to grow up as a young woman on the Carribean coast of Colombia.   Read Margarita’s piece about sex and adolescence in the Secrets issue of PEN Transmissions here.

Sharlene Teo was born in Singapore in 1987. She has an LLB in Law from the University of Warwick and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she received the Booker Prize Foundation Scholarship and the David TK Wong Creative Writing award. She holds fellowships from the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and the University of Iowa International Writing Program. In 2016, she won the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writer’s Award for Ponti, her first novel.   Read Sharlene’s piece about the role of place in her writing in the Women 2018 issue of PEN Transmissions here.

Zahra Dalilah is a black feminist writer, activist and educator from London. She is involved in social justice education and the land and food movement. Find her work on Media Diversified.

This event is organised by English PEN and Free Word as part of the This Is Private season to celebrate a new issue of   PEN Transmissions.


30 October 2018
6:30 pm—9:00 pm
£7 – £10
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Free Word Centre
60 Farringdon Road
London, EC1R 3GA United Kingdom


Theodora Danek
020 7324 2535