World Literature: Found in Translation ; Online Magazines and Groups Push for Greater Availabilty of Writings from around the Globe

Article excerpt

Aside from news reports that tend to focus on war or election scandal, Americans generally don't hear much about - or from - people in other countries. One reason may be that very little foreign-language literature is translated into English. Less than 3 percent of all books published in English worldwide are translations, according to a leading publishing database. In the United States, just a fraction of the titles that make it into English are translations of foreign novels, short stories, or poetry.

Since 9/11, when Americans felt an urgency to learn more about other cultures, a number of efforts have taken root to try to bring more global literature to US audiences.

The online magazine of international literature, Words Without Borders, was founded "to address a yawning gap in literary publishing," says Alane Salierno Mason, founding editor. "We just weren't hearing enough from voices around the world." The e-zine is hosted by Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Originally conceived as a resource for publishing professionals like Mr. Mason (a senior editor at W.W. Norton) to become exposed to international authors, ~~a href="http://www.wordswithoutborders.org/ " target="_blank" mce_href="http://www.wordswithoutborders.org/ "~~www.wordswithoutborders.org~~/a~~ has since evolved to serve a larger purpose: connecting the public directly to the hearts and minds of people beyond American shores.

"It was clear that Americans did need and want to know more about the realities of the rest of the world, not just the abstractions that are flung around in political discourse," says Mason.

The nonprofit site, now in its fourth year, offers contemporary writing from places such as Argentina, China, Italy, and Pakistan, often for the first time in English. It gets about 200,000 page views per month and counts roughly 8,000 subscribers, more than one- quarter of whom live in the US. (Some subscribers choose to pay a fee, but anyone can access the content for free.) Last fall, the organization published its first print anthology of works from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria titled - what else? - "Literature from the 'Axis of Evil' and Other Enemy Nations" (The New Press, 2006), now in its third printing.

"There's a wave of interest right now," says Jill Schoolman, publisher of Archipelago Books, a small nonprofit press in Brooklyn, N.Y., established in 2003 to publish world literature in translation exclusively. "People are hungry for perspectives from other countries."

Case in point: One of Archipelago's recent books, "Gate of the Sun," by Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury, was one of The New York Times's 100 Notable Books of 2006.

Rainmaker Translations - a Las Vegas-based consortium of Ecco/ HarperCollins, W.W. Norton & Company, New Directions, and Archipelago Books - was also recently formed to support the publication of more top-quality global writing here in the US. The consortium put out its first three titles (translated from Arabic, Chinese, and Russian) in the spring of 2005 and plans to fund up to four more in the coming year. …