Masha Gessen to Curate Festival Albertine 2018

Masha Gessen to Curate Festival Albertine 2018

Participants in the Fifth Edition of This Acclaimed Annual Festival Include Joseph Stiglitz, Yann LeCun, Siri Hustvedt, Cynthia Fleury, Ingrid LaFleur, James Fishkin, Sophia Azeb, Aleksandar Hemon, Johanna Hedva, Laure Murat, L’Oiseau Mouche Theater Company, Phia Menard,  Eric Fassin, and Many More

All Events Are Free and Will Be Streamed Live at

“To be a democracy, a country has to be engaged in the pursuit of imagining a democracy.” —Masha Gessen

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy and Albertine Books, the dynamic bookshop and cultural center operated by the French Embassy in New York, today announce prominent American and Russian journalist, professor, and author Masha Gessen as the curator of the fifth annual Festival Albertine, which is themed “Reimagining Democracy” and takes place October 30 – November 3, 2018. Informed by experience as a witness to affronts to democracy today, Gessen has often urged people to open their eyes to such challenges, and to use their imagination to picture what is further at stake. Many thinkers from France, America, and across the Francophone world are similarly united by a pressing concern over surging demagoguery and democracy’s fragility.

For the five-day free public event, which exemplifies Albertine Books’ commitment to an intellectual exchange between French-speaking cultures and America, Gessen aims to present a forward-thinking examination of the future of democracy—beyond what some see as its current crisis—building on resonant contributions to discourse on democracy, autocracy, and contemporary politics. Gessen has invited a diversity of artists, activists, writers, social scientists, politicians, and journalists—spanning cultures, generations, and areas of expertise—to come together under the idea that unstable times offer up an opportunity to consider much more than the mere restoration of the status quo. The incisive minds convened by Gessen will look panoramically at what has been missing in democratic society—even in moments where many have presumed it complete or unquestionable—and thus expand the lenses through which we might reimagine it.

Among the speakers addressing these concerns in this year’s festival—which takes place just before the midterm elections in the U.S.—are Sophia AzebEric FassinJames FishkinCynthia FleuryJohanna HedvaAleksandar HemonSiri HustvedtJoseph Stiglitz, Ingrid LaFleurYann LeCunPhia MenardL’Oiseau Mouche Theater CompanyLaure Murat, and many more. Over the course of six panels, topics covered will include the imagination of a post-work world, in which humans are valued not for what they produce, but for being human; of fundamentally different paths to education; of a world beyond states and borders; of an expansion of our consideration of gender; of political parties and the mechanics of democracy; and of mental health outside a framework of normality and disease. How do we drop the assumptions about democracy we don’t even realize we hold? What better ways are there of making decisions, of fostering societies that are actually governed by their people?

Gessen moved from Russia to New York in 2013 (after having lived in the U.S. as a teenager), in response to devastating blows dealt to the L.G.B.T community. Gessen’s writings, including nine books and pieces for the New Yorker, focus on Russian and American politics, dictatorships, autocracy, and L.G.B.T. rights. Between appearances on The Daily ShowFull Frontal with Samantha Bee, and Democracy Now!, Gessen has spoken to vast audiences about experiencing the degradation of democracy from within Russia, as well as the dangers here within the U.S.—topics to which Gessen is now poised to convene this dynamic range of voices around to engage our political imaginations.

Festival Albertine 2018 presents a moment to emphasize that “democracy lives in the imagination—it is always aspirational,” Gessen says, continuing, “In times of crisis of democracy—and we are undoubtedly living through such a crisis now—we need to be doing the work of imagining a democracy. What I’d like to do with the festival is have a lot of smart people articulate and ask what it is we aspire to. There’s something special that happens when something exists in the back of your mind and someone says, ‘here’s a way to think about it differently than you’re used to.’ That can be a life-changing experience. I hope people walk away with an idea or two—and I also hope to be walking away with some ideas I haven’t been exposed to before.”

“France and the United States have traditionally been fierce defenders of democracy, viewing it as an essential element of a functioning society,” said Hervé Ferrage, Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the United States “However, today both countries are facing a radical questioning of both the concept and implementation of democratic government. Modern societies around the world want a governmental system that reflects on the questions and opinions at the heart of the major socioeconomic debates of the 21st century. With panels analyzing democracy from various perspectives—from education to politics, social sciences, professional fields, and international relations—we hope that the Festival Albertine will further feed debate on how democracy can be re-imagined.”

Festival Albertine 2018 will take place at Albertine Books (972 Fifth Avenue). Additional participants and the festival schedule will be announced soon at All events will be streamed live at

This program is presented in conjunction with Festival Albertine 2018, an annual series of conversations produced by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and Albertine Books that invites French and American authors, artists, scholars, and activists to explore current issues from French and American perspectives. More information:


The festival will ask participants to explore six distinct areas: work, borders, politics, gender, education, and mental health:

Beyond States and Borders

Tues, Oct 30, 7PM

With Sophia Azeb, Aleksandar Hemon, Guillaume le Blanc, Fabienne Brugère and Gauz Moderated by Stephanie DeGooyer

The global refugee crisis is another source for the world of anxiety that is another reason for the current crisis—these, too, are uncontroversial statements. But is there a way to think about the global movement of people that isn’t framed in terms of protecting borders? Is it time to question assumptions about our right to police the boundaries of our societies and our lands?

A Post-Work World

Wed, Oct 31, 7PM

With Yann LeCun, Joseph Stiglitz, Rakeen Madub, and Daniel Cohen. Moderated by Judith Shulevitz.

Economic anxiety is one of the culprits of the current crisis of Western democracy. Industrial jobs, along with many others, are disappearing. These are uncontroversial statements. But what is the alternative to the imaginary-past offer of restoring industrial jobs? Indeed, what is the alternative to the fear of automation and other factors in the disappearance of jobs? Can we imagine a future in which people are valued, and rewarded, for being rather than producing?

Rethinking Gender

Thurs, Nov 1, 7PM With Phia Menard, Eric Fassin. Moderated by Jack Halberstam

The current politics of the imaginary past necessarily promise a return to clear and stable gender divisions. Countering that promise has too often involved staking out a clear and opposite position. What other conversations are possible?

The Mechanics of Democracy

Fri, Nov 2, 7PM

With Ingrid LaFleur, James Fishkin and Andreas Kalyvas Moderated by Masha Gessen

Representative democracy is a terrible way of doing politics, but it is the best that has been invented—or is it? It’s easy to blame voters for being unmotivated and under informed. It is harder to acknowledge that representative democracy has not worked for them. It is harder still to dare to imagine what might work better.

A Different Path to Education

Sat, Nov 3, 1.30PM

With Akilah Richards, Antoine Fromental, Emmanuel Davidenkoff, Moderated by Ken Danford

As we consider the possibility of a post-world work, we must also take up the issue of education, of the Western world’s system of schools, which were in part, designed to facilitate and continue the work of factories. Is there a way to learning that doesn’t involve the warehousing of children?

Redefining Normality and Disease

Sat, Nov 3, 4.30PM

With Siri Hustvedt, Laure Murat, L’Oiseau Mouche Theater Company

Moderated by Sara Hendren

It is a point of general agreement that the same countries that are living through a crisis of democracy are also experiencing a crisis of mental health. What we refer to as depression has reached epidemic proportions; suicide rates are rising across the globe. But to address the crisis of mental health, should we not consider thinking about mental health differently? Might questioning our ideas of norms not be in order in societies where large swaths, if not the majority, of the population appear to fall outside of those norms?

About the Curator

Masha Gessen, staff writer at The New Yorker and professor at Amherst College, has written nine books, including The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, which won the National Book Award for non-fiction in 2017; and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Gessen’s writings focus on themes such as Russian and American politics, dictatorships, autocracy, and L.G.B.T. rights. Gessen is also a science journalist, writing about AIDS, medical genetics, and mathematics. Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, a Nieman Fellowship, and the Overseas Press Club Award for Best Commentary, Gessen spent more than twenty years as a journalist and editor in Moscow, and has been living in New York since 2013.

About the Participants

Marie-Claire Alpérine has been a member of l’Oiseau-Mouche theater company since 2008, working alongside prominent directors and choreographers such as Christian Rizzo, Sylvain Maurice, and Michel Schweizer, among others.

Sophia Azeb is a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago. Her current book project, Another Country: Constellations of Blackness in Afro-Arab Cultural Expression, theorizes translational blackness and Afro-Arab cultural traffic in the twentieth century. Her writing has appeared in the Chimurenga ChronicThe Funambulist, Africa is a Country, and KCET’s Artbound.

Fabienne Brugère is Professor of Philosophy at the University Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis. A director of the philosophy research team on contemporary philosophy, she is a member of the editorial board of the Journal Esprit. Brugère has published Le sexe de la sollicitudeL’éthique du careLa politique de l’individu, and most recently with Guillaume le Blanc La fin de l’hospitalité.

Daniel Cohen is director of the Economics Department at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and a founding member of the Paris School of Economics. A former adviser to the World Bank, Cohen was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 2001. His many books include Globalization and Its Enemies and The Prosperity of Vice and most recently The Infinite Desire for Growth.

Kenneth Danford is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens. Since 1996, he has been supporting hundreds of families to live and learn without school by hosting a welcoming community center that makes this approach inspiring and sustainable for all interested families. His upcoming book School is Optional will be released by early 2019.

Emmanuel Davidenkoff is a journalist, specialist in education and innovation. He is currently editor-in-chief at Le Monde, in charge of educational development. He previously worked for several national medias, notably Libération and L’Étudiant, and has produced programs on education for the public group Radio France for the past 20 years. Davidenkoff is the author of The Digital Tsunami, Are universities soluble in globalization with Sylvain Kahn and of the forthcoming Apprendre au XXIe siècle, with François Taddei, which will be published by Calmann-Lévy this Fall.

Stephanie DeGooyer is a Radcliffe fellow at Harvard University and assistant professor of English at Willamette University. She is co-author of The Right to Have Rights (with Alastair Hunt, Lida Maxwell, Samuel Moyn) and is completing a book on naturalization. Her writing has appeared in ELH, Humanity, frieze, The Nation, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Public Books.

Eric Fassin is a French sociologist and professor of sociology at the University of Paris 8 St-Denis. Fassin previously taught at Brandeis University and NYU. His research focuses on contemporary sexual and racial politics in France and the United States. He is author of L’inversion de la question homosexuelle (2005), Le sexe politique : Genre et sexualité au miroir transatlantique (2009), and Populism Left and Right (2018).

James S. Fishkin holds the Janet M. Peck Chair in International Communication at Stanford University, where he is Professor of Communication, Professor of Political Science (by courtesy) and Director of the Center for Deliberative Democracy. He is the author of Democracy When the People Are Thinking (2018), When the People Speak (2009), Deliberation Day (2004 with Bruce Ackerman), and Democracy and Deliberation (1991). His work on deliberative democracy has stimulated more than 100 Deliberative Polls around the world. It has been used to help governments and policy makers make important decisions in many countries.

Cynthia Fleury is a philosopher and psychoanalyst. Her research centers on tools that can be used to regenerate and regulate democracy, and considers the impact of information and communication technologies on stakeholders and decision-makers. Fleury has published Les pathologies de la démocratieImagination, imaginaire, imaginal, La Fin du courage: la reconquête d’une vertu démocratique, and Les Irremplaçables.

Antoine Fromental is a movie director, and sound engineer. He has directed the documentary A Nous de jouer !, a complex portrait of our society and school system. Taking place in a Parisian suburb, at the Jean Macé High school, in which the principal decided to apply alternative technics to address academic failure and to ensure that every student finds his/her way into the world the film follows the students in various classes.

Gauz is a photographer, writer, editor of a satirical Ivorian economic newspaper, and the author of the novel Debout-Payé, published in 2014, by “Le Nouvel Attila” on more recently of Camarade Papa.

Aleksandar Hemon is a Bosnian fiction writer, essayist, and critic. His best known novels are Nowhere Man (2002) and The Lazarus Project (2008). He frequently publishes in The New Yorker, and has also written for EsquireThe Paris Review, the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, and the Sarajevo magazine BH Dani.

Jack Halberstam is Professor of Gender Studies and English at Columbia University. Halberstam is the author of five books including The Queer Art of Failure (Duke UP, 2011), Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (Beacon Press, 2012), and Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variance (University of California Press, 2018).

Siri Hustvedt has a PhD in English literature from Columbia University and is a Lecturer in Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. The author of six novels, four collections of essays, and a work of nonfiction, Hustvedt is the recipient of numerous awards. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages.

Andreas Kalyvas is Associate Professor at the Department of Politics at The New School University. He is the author of Democracy and the Politics of the Extraordinary: Weber, Schmitt, Arendt and the co-author of Liberal Beginnings: Making a Republic for the Moderns. He is currently completing a book length manuscript on a democratic critique of states of emergency, provisionally entitled, “Tyranny Legalized: Republicanism, Dictatorship, and the Enemy Within.”

Ingrid LaFleur is an artist, activist, and Afrofuturist with a mission to ensure equal distribution of the future while exploring the frontiers of social justice through new technologies, economies, and modes of government. As a recent Detroit Mayoral candidate and founder and director of AFROTOPIA, LaFleur implements strategies to empower Black bodies and oppressed communities through frameworks such as blockchain, cryptocurrency, and universal basic income. She has led conversations and workshops at Centre Pompidou (Paris), TEDxBrooklyn, TEDxDetroit, Ideas City, New Museum (New York), AfroTech Conference, Harvard University, and Oxford University, among others.

Guillaume le Blanc (1966): French philosopher and writer. He works on the question of exclusion, precariousness, and normality as well as epistemology, philosophy of science, and the dialectic between the normal and pathologic. He is the author of Vies ordinaires, vies précaires (Seuil, 2007); L’invisibilité sociale (PUF, 2009), L’Insurrection des vies minuscules, (Bayard, 2013).

Yann LeCun is VP and Chief AI Scientist at Facebook and Silver Professor at NYU affiliated with the Courant Institute and the Center for Data Science. He was the founding Director of Facebook AI Research and of the NYU Center for Data Science. After a postdoc at the University of Toronto, he joined AT&T Bell Labs, and became head of Image Processing Research at AT&T Labs in 1996. His current interests include AI, machine learning, computer vision, mobile robotics, and computational neuroscience. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Rakeen Mabud is the Director of the Roosevelt Institute’s 21st Century Economy and Economic Inclusion programs. Prior to Roosevelt, she served in the Obama administration at the Treasury Department. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Hill, and Teen Vogue. She holds a Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University

Phia Menard is a performer and choreographer who created the pioneering company Non Nova. Its inception was based around Menard’s desire to add risk to the entertaining act of juggling. Her work explores notions of body image, influenced by her recent sexual transition. Her performances L’Après-Midi d’un Foehn and Vortex have featured ballets with unusual intricacies, including bio-degradable plastic bags as dancers.

Laure Murat is the Director of the Center for European and Russian Studies at UCLA, and professor in the Department of French and Francophone Studies. She specializes in cultural studies, history of psychiatry, and queer theory. She is the author of several books, including The Man Who Thought He Was Napoleon: Towards a Political History of Psychiatry (2014), and is a columnist for the French newspaper Libération.

L’Oiseau Mouche Theater Company is a permanent theater company, based in Roubaix, which consists of 23 members who are professional actors with mental disabilities. Its working conditions are similar to that of the Théâtre du Soleil; everyone takes part in all aspects of the theater’s operation.

Akilah S. Richards is an unschooling podcaster, consultant, and founding board member of The Alliance for Self-Directed Education. Her work challenges and encourages social justice-minded people to explore privilege and power in their relationships with children. Richards’ focus is helping BIPOC communities use unschooling as a tool for decolonizing learning and liberating themselves from oppressive, exclusive systems.

Judith Shulevitz is an essayist and journalist. She has written about universal basic income for the New York Times and artificial intelligence for The Atlantic. (Her most recent piece, the Atlantic’s November cover story, deals with digital assistants and voice-activated technology.) Her work also has been published in The New Yorker, The New Republic, and numerous other places. Her book, The Sabbath World (2010) addresses the sociology of work and time.

Joseph Eugene Stiglitz is an American economist and a professor at Columbia University. A recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2001) and the John Bates Clark Medal (1979), Stiglitz is a former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank. He is known for his critical view of the management of globalization, of laissez-faire economists and of international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

About Festival Albertine

Inaugurated in 2014 in the newly-opened Albertine Books, Festival Albertine has quickly become a vital summit for discourse between leading French-speaking and American thinkers, and has cemented Albertine Books’ reputation as New York City’s hub for timely French-American intellectual exchange. Author, journalist and cultural critic Greil Marcus curated the 2014 festival, which featured Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, Nobel Prize winner John Nash, filmmaker Olivier Assayas, author Mary Gaitskill, graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, mathematicians John Nash and Cédric Villani. Festival Albertine 2015 enlisted innovators including National Book Award-winner Judith Thurman, Performa founding director RoseLee Goldberg, author Adam Gopnik, novelist Dinaw Mengestu and The New Yorker art editor Françoise Mouly to curate a variety of discussions. Participants included The New Yorker editor David Remnick, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson, and author Katie Roiphe, joined by French-speaking voices including film director Abderrahmane Sissako, novelist Kamel Daoud and cartoonist and film director Riad Sattouf. In 2016, Ta-Nehisi Coates, author, curated the festival and asked participants including Benjamin Millepied, Claudia Rankine and Benjamin Stora to discuss what our national, social and cultural labels mean today. Feminist writers and activists Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan curated last year’s festival, in which speakers dared “to dream of change and of a legitimate equality between women and men.” The vital exchange of ideas included author of Bad Feminist Roxane Gay; the “feminist masked avengers” Guerrilla Girls; president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund Cecile Richards; Act Up activist Marie de Cenival; and others.

About the Cultural Services of the French Embassy

The Cultural Services of the French Embassy promotes the best of French arts, literature, cinema, digital innovation, language, and higher education across the US. Based in New York City, Washington D.C., and eight other cities across the country, the Cultural Services brings artists, authors, intellectuals and innovators to cities nationwide. It also builds partnerships between French and American artists, institutions and universities on both sides of the Atlantic. In New York, through its bookshop Albertine, it fosters French-American exchange around literature and the arts.

About Albertine Books

Described by the New York Times as a “sumptuous, swaddled nest where book lovers can roost,” Albertine, the French Embassy’s reading room and bookshop, is a haven dedicated to bringing to life French-American intellectual exchange. It holds over 14,000 titles from 30 French-speaking countries, both in French and in English translation. Albertine offers the most comprehensive selection of French-language books and English translations in the United States.

Housed within the historic Payne Whitney Mansion, headquarters of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York, the bookshop and cultural space provide unprecedented access to a previously private mansion featuring a stunning new design by one of France’s most celebrated modern architects, Jacques Garcia.

Since Albertine opened in September 2014, the Embassy has welcomed thousands of visitors eager to explore French literature and culture. It has become a veritable must-see destination in New York City. Albertine also provides a venue for cross-cultural programming all year long, with discussions exploring culture through both a contemporary and global lens. Every month, French, Francophone, and American writers, as well as artists, illustrators, scholars and entrepreneurs are invited to discuss various topics.

Funding Credits / Acknowledgments

Festival Albertine is made possible with major support from The Recanati-Kaplan Foundation, Susannah Hunnewell, Van Cleef & Arpels, Air France, Institut français, The Onassis Cultural Center New York, and Emily and James Hamilton. Generous support is provided by Champagne Pommery and Intercontinental New York Barclay. Media Partner: New York Review of Books.


Press contact:

Blake Zidell at Blake Zidell & Associates: 718.643.9052,