Should advocates focus more on raising awareness or inclusiveness of world literature?

You may have heard that the National Book Foundation is launching a new annual award for best work of translated fiction or non-fiction. It’s welcome recognition for an area of publishing that’s exploded in recent years, and a return to form, since the NBA gave out a translation for sixteen years, before stopping in 1984. One wonders why they did, considering some of the books they’d recognized — stuff like Gregory Rabassa’s translation of Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch (1967), William Weaver’s translation of Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics (1969), and Richard Howard’s translation of Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil (1983).

How much has…

Read a work of prose from every country in the world, and then some.

Last year, I spent months assembling an anthology that would be free and include a short story from every nation on Earth. Because of the complicated considerations that come into play for a country to be officially recognized by the UN as such, I tried to include nations that sought to be independent as well as those that were officially considered as such. In light of Trump’s recent “shithole countries” comment, I’m reposting this here to help people use literature to familiarize themselves with the many places on our planet. You can read more about my procedure in building it here, but if you can also just dive into the anthology below.

Why are a majority of American novels now being set in cities when so much tumult is happening outside of them?

In 1867, two works of fiction appeared that would have wildly divergent and lasting claims on the American character. Horatio Alger’s serialized Ragged Dick followed a poor but tenacious New York City shoe-shiner who, through a series of fortunate events, becomes a respectable esquire. It became a best-seller upon publication and cemented Alger’s name as synonymous with the rags-to-riches narrative.

By comparison, John William DeForest’s Miss Ravenel’s Conversion from Secession to Loyalty, which told the story of a Southern belle’s passionate support for the Confederacy during the war, and for the Union during Reconstruction, was a flop. But Miss Ravenel

Two Pilgrim memoirs depict the compassion of the Wampanoag tribe toward foreigners, and serve to remind us that hospitality is central to the American holiday.

Pilgrims meeting with Samoset

A long time ago, refugees fleeing their home country’s hostile political environment headed west over the Atlantic ocean in search of a better life. They arrived on a rock, unprepared for the challenges that come with moving to a new land: a shortage of food and inadequate shelter. A group of Americans took pity on these refugees, sharing their soil and helping them gain a foothold on it. In an act of goodwill and diplomacy the immigrants hosted the Americans for a large shared feast. The Americans were called the Wampanoag; the immigrants the Pilgrims. …

Daisy Hildyard’s ‘The Second Body’ examines the meaning of life with investigative journalism, memoir, and literary criticism.

I once edited an interdisciplinary paper co-authored by four Tierra del Fuego-based researchers who had sought to understand what it meant to be an “invasive” species. Taking as their subject the North American beaver, which had been introduced to the region in the mid-20th century and are now being expunged by the Argentine government, the researchers sought to mimic and empathize with beaver behavior . They wandered marshlands in large beaver suits, leaving behind mounds of artificial stool-like castoreum — a pungent smelling secretion that beavers secrete as territorial signals — in hopes of sparking cross-species olfactory communication. In their…

With the files of the Kennedy assassination now (largely) released to the general public, it may be time to revisit the novels that regard it.

from Stephen King’s 11/22/63, courtesy of Scribner

It’s a big day for JFK conspiracy enthusiasts. Current president Donald Trump has announced that thousands of documents kept by the CIA on the Kennedy assassination would be released from confidentiality and accessible to all, further noting that any files still held by the agency would have until April to be prepped for clearance (which, of course, fueled its own conspiracies). The moment partially fulfilled a 25-year promise first made by George H.W. Bush in 1991, that all documents pertaining to Kennedy would be released in 25 years time. That deadline was yesterday.

The baffling November 22, 1963 assassination of…

After a lukewarm international response to Mogadishu’s worst ever bombing incident, it may be Somalia’s own writers who can save its citizens from being seen as mere statistics.

The opening scene of Karan Mahajan’s novel The Association of Small Bombs depicts a car bomb explosion in a crowded New Delhi market as “a flat, percussive event.” People hold their wounds that drip in a “bloody yolk” as if “they had smashed eggs on their bodies.” Dead mothers cover their children, briefcases burn beside the corpses of businessmen, trees are uprooted, market stalls destroyed, cars and busses are dismantled. It’s imagery that is vividly wrought into prose, but to imagine an explosion is far different that observing one first hand.

As reports of the bus that exploded in a…

Why ‘Simone’, Eduardo Lalo’s award-winning novel of Puerto Rican identity, should be regarded as an American classic.

Photo © Wikimedia Commons

I was recently told by a Puerto Rican friend that when the U.S. territory makes news on “the mainland” it is never for a good reason. Prior to the horrific news of Hurricane Maria’s assault on Puerto Rico, which devastated the island and placed it in an unprecedented state of emergency, Puerto Rico was known, at least in American press, for seeking bankruptcy relief after accruing massive infrastructural loan debt, and for the equivocality of its citizens (all of whom legally carry American passports) on the issue of statehood. After Maria, another hurricane struck the island: Trump’s twitter spat with…

By selecting the British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, the Swedish Committee returns to honoring literature.

Kazuo Ishiguro © Faber & Faber

Prizes are not without their controversies, but if there was ever a doozy, it was last year’s selection of Bob Dylan as the Nobel Laureate in Literature, prompting hosannah’s from bookish liberal-art dads and face palm splats from just about everyone else. My UK counterpart and I even went to the ring to debate whether awarding the counter-cultural icon was damaging or dignified. It didn’t help that Dylan nearly rebuked the prize, forcing the Swedish Committee that awards the Nobel to jump through hoops just to get the songwriter on the phone. Patti Smith had to accept the prize in…

How a manuscript smuggled out of the Hermit Kingdom gave the world a unique peek inside of it.

It can be easy during our uneasy relations with North Korea to forget that the country is populated by millions of people. So large does the shadow of their despotic leader Kim Jong-un loom, that we know next to nothing of their daily lives and experiences. Which is why, earlier this year, when a manuscript of short stories smuggled out of North Korea, it was not only championed as a victory for world literature, but served to sate a curiosity that was near famished to know what life inside the Hermit Kingdom was like.

The Accusation, written by the pseudonymous…

Michael Barron

Editor + Writer

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