The online magazine Words Without Borders is trying to promote international literature:

Few literatures have truly prospered in isolation from the world. English-speaking culture in general and American culture in particular has long benefited from cross-pollination with other worlds and languages. Thus it is an especially dangerous imbalance when, today, 50% of all the books in translation now published worldwide are translated *from English,* but only 6% are translated *into* English.
Words Without Borders undertakes to promote international communication through translation of the world’s best writing—selected and translated by a distinguished group of writers, translators, and publishing professionals—and publishing and promoting these works (or excerpts) on the web. We also serve as an advocacy organization for literature in translation, producing events that feature the work of foreign writers and connecting these writers to universities and to print and broadcast media.

Their archives go back to July/August 2003 (Literary Border-crossings in Iran), and they’ve got a blog with authors from the U.S., the Netherlands, Italy, and the U.K. (Via wood s lot.)


  1. One can always discuss specific choices (I am often surprised at the writers who get to “represent” their country or cultural), but such projects should be encouraged.
    The big-scale Chinese equivalent is (was? It changes so fast) the fifty and more years old Shijie wenxue 世界文学 (“World Literature”), where a single issue may contain Zulu poems near to Icelandic short stories Basque essays. Those are not actual examples, but they do reflect the amazing diversity of the journal. I’ve met a few people who knew some modern Greek history and culture from stories and novel excerpts they’d read in Shijie wenxue.

  2. who get to “represent” their country or cultural area.

  3. At least for the Netherlands, they didn’t make a bad choice. Arnon Grunberg is generally considered as one of the brightest young writers.
    When I made a school report about Blauwe Maandagen (in English translated as Blue Mondays) my teacher in secondary school told me that I was too young to read it. I didn’t really understand the point. I was 16 and the book was about a guy of the same age.
    I can recommend The History of my Baldness.

  4. One more optimistic way to interpret their data is that lots of the people who, two generations ago, were the market for books translated from English into Swedish, Finnish or Dutch, are now reading the corresponding books in English. And as the figures for the books translated into English goes up, their access to different cultures increases. (And, of course, English-speaking culture is hardly monolithic!)

  5. Ach, I read that wrong, and my commentary makes that situation even more depressing …

  6. And it impoverishes our language.
    On the other hand, there are more non-English language films available now, especially through places like Netflix. So the cultural exchange continues through movies.
    But I have wanted to share this quote, so I am going to.
    “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that the English language is as pure as a crib-house whore. It not only borrows words from other languages; it has on occasion chased other languages down dark alley-ways, clubbed them unconscious and rifled their pockets for new vocabulary. ”
                                                  – James Nicoll

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