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World Literature Today

World Literature Today
World Literature Today, March 2013 issue
Editor-in-chief Daniel Simon
Categories Literature, Culture, International
Frequency 6 per year
Publisher University of Oklahoma
First issue January 1927
Country  United States
Language American English

World Literature Today is an American magazine of international literature and culture, published bimonthly at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. The magazine presents essays, poetry, fiction, and book reviews from all over the world in a format accessible to a broad audience. Its mission is to serve as an engaging, informative index to contemporary international literature.[1] It was founded as Books Abroad in 1927 by Roy Temple House, chair of the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Oklahoma. In January 1977, the journal assumed its present name, World Literature Today.[2]


  • History 1
  • Sponsored Prizes and Festivals 2
    • Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2.1
    • Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature and Culture 2.2
    • NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature 2.3
    • WLT / Nobel Connection 2.4
    • What to Read Now 2.5
  • A New Era of World Literature 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The history of World Literature Today is a story of men and women of letters deeply committed to advancing the cause of literature, art, and culture.[3] The emergence of an internationally acclaimed journal in a small campus town of the American heartland is a phenomenon conceived as a natural extension of the intellectual encounters of scholars, students, and the reading public within a large academic research institution. The 1980 Nobel Laureate and 1978 Neustadt Prize winner Czesław Miłosz once declared, “If WLT were not in existence, we would have to invent it. It fulfills the unique role of bringing information about works little known or inaccessible in English-speaking countries.”[4]

The journal publishes articles, book reviews, and other features, while its offices function as a humanities center for a variety of cultural activities, as the magazine staff organizes conferences and symposia (see Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature and Culture), bestows literary prizes (see Neustadt International Prize for Literature and NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature), and encourages the work of students, scholars, researchers, and readers of world literature everywhere. Devoted to the presentation and discussion of current literature in major and lesser-known languages of the world, WLT is the only international magazine focused on comprehensive and informative coverage of developments in contemporary literatures worldwide. WLT frequently represents the sole source available anywhere for information on the less familiar—often unjustly overlooked—literary traditions of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.[5]

Roy Temple House’s driving idea for the original publication came from his desire to offer non-ideological commentary on a variety of literatures to counter what he saw as America’s dangerous trend toward isolationism in the 1920s. House hoped to promote more extensive and more thoughtful international understanding through the communication of a variety of opinions on art, literature, and ideas. As he wrote in the first issue of Books Abroad, he was aware of the difficulties of his new enterprise, of the looming challenges and obstacles, but he could also clearly sensed the satisfaction and rewards the future would bring:

"[The editors] are undertaking to distribute four times a year a little magazine of really useful information concerning the more important book publications of Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, the South American republics, and perhaps other countries. [The editors] are hard-worked modern language teachers in a modest institution, without the leisure, the equipment, or the experience to do this work as well and thoroughly as they wish it might be done. They will be criticized for their omissions and inclusions, for their lack of a hard and fast plan as to just what types of books shall be treated and what types left to other publications, for the amateurish character of some of their matter, for the opportunism which fully expects to change their policy here and there as circumstances may demand it. They offer their first number with fear and trembling, but with the conviction that they are undertaking a work which very much needed doing."[6]

In the recounting of the lore surrounding Books Abroad, colorful tales associated with the frequent visits of literary celebrities who traveled to the University of Oklahoma campus under the auspices of the journal’s affiliated programs (see Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature and Culture, for example) arise. One case in point involves Michel Butor, the celebrated French author and critic, who was the featured writer at the 1981 Puterbaugh Conference; he had already established a productive history with the University of Oklahoma as he had lectured on the university's campus in 1971 and had served as a juror for the Neustadt Prize in 1974 (the candidate he championed, Francis Ponge, won the award that year). During the 1981 visit, Butor gave seminars and delivered lectures on such topics as “Literature and Dream” and “The Origin of the Text,”[7] but perhaps the most memorable Butor text connected to his visit was the poem he wrote, adapted from the French by Ivar Ivask, entitled “An Evening in Norman,”[8] of which the first stanza reads: “My window faces west just as it does in Nice / where it’s deep night now / the rays of the moon’s first quarter / illuminate the sky both here and there.”

For Books Abroad, House and his editors began their work, a genuine labor of love, for no extra compensation or release time from their duties as university professors. Even the initial production costs were paid for from their own pockets. In 1931, these costs became more onerous, and the editors imposed a subscription rate—an amount charming to nostalgic readers and editors of today—of one dollar per year, though the editorial staff still received no extra salary.

The original WLT logo
House devised as the journal’s Latin motto “Lux a Peregre,” which can be translated as “Light from Abroad,” or “Light of Discovery.” The phrase accompanied the original logo, also conceived by House, of a full-rigged ship, a rich image which calls to mind not only adventure, as in venturing out toward unknown horizons, but also evokes harbor and beacon, as the academic community and university institution are perceived as a safe haven for the journal’s daily operation. In 1927 the quarterly began as a short publication of 32 pages. By its fiftieth year, Books Abroad had grown to more than 250 pages. In 2006 WLT switched from quarterly to bimonthly publication. It is one of the oldest continuously published literary periodicals in the United States, along with such other publications launched in the early twentieth century such as South Atlantic Quarterly (1902), Poetry (magazine) (1912), and The New Yorker (1925).

At its origins, the publication was democratic in its selection criteria regarding books to review, even excessively so, and for the first years every kind of publication—from entomological studies and naval histories to grammar books and reissued classics—was reviewed in its pages. Soon a clearer, more sophisticated focus on literary works per se was formulated, as the editors opened the frontiers of their publication to a broader geographical and cultural scope, expanding the parameters of the journal significantly to include reviews and articles addressing the work of non-European writers. House also encouraged the inclusion of features of more popular style and wider appeal, as with the surveys of celebrated writers on questions of general cultural interest and a variety of symposium topics, such as the 1932 discussion, the first of many more to come, on the Nobel Prize. Related topics for symposia included “Transplanted Writers,” “Women Playwrights,” “Foster-Mother Tongue,” and “Can’t Book Reviewers Be Honest?” By the early 1930s, such celebrated authors as Sinclair Lewis, H. L. Mencken, Upton Sinclair, and Henry Van Dyke were publishing critical texts in Books Abroad.[9]

House served as editor from 1927 until his retirement in 1949 and was succeeded by the German critic and novelist Ernst Erich Noth, who went on to edit the journal for ten productive and formative years. As a European-born writer and editor, Noth was the first of a series of cosmopolitan, foreign-born intellectuals who would continue to lead the journal’s editorial staff for more than forty years. One of Noth’s major contributions to the ongoing process of establishing a distinctive identity for the quarterly was the move to narrow the editorial scope to focus solely on writers of the twentieth century, and to review only books that had been published no more than two years earlier. He also introduced a new feature, “Periodicals in Review” (sometimes appearing as “Periodicals at Large”), which surveyed the policies and initiatives of a number of literary journals from Europe, the Americas, and throughout the world.

In 1959, Noth was succeeded by Wolfgang Bernard Fleischmann, a Viennese-born scholar who directed the quarterly for two years. His major contribution to the development of Books Abroad was the publication of a continuing symposium on twentieth-century poetry from the Western world. He was followed in 1961 by the Czech émigré Robert Vlach, who had been appointed as a professor in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Oklahoma. Vlach established a new review section in the journal devoted to Slavic languages, and he also initiated the Books Abroad symposia which took place at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association. After Vlach’s death in 1966, Assistant Editor Bernice Duncan carried on with noted success until Ivar Ivask became editor in 1967. In 1977, a truly significant initiative was reflected in the change of name from Books Abroad to World Literature Today, a title that suggests both global and contemporary reflections on a diversity of literary forms and transcends the more limited implications of the former title, which could be interpreted as excessively Eurocentric.

In 1999, the current executive director at the journal, Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma, came to WLT, and was named the Neustadt Professor of Comparative Literature. Today, Davis-Undiano collaborates with the current editorial staff, Daniel Simon (editor in chief, who has been with WLT since 2002), Michelle Johnson (managing editor), and Marla F. Johnson (book review editor), and has worked to enact many modifications—including new directions in magazine content and design—that are among the most significant in the history of the journal.

WLT also sponsors the biennial Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature, and the annual Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature and Culture.

Neustadt International Prize for Literature

The Neustadt International Prize for Literature was launched in 1969 under Ivask. This biennial award, which brought an original purse of $10,000 and currently bestows $50,000, is supported by an endowment through the University of Oklahoma, from the Oklahoma- and Texas-based Neustadt family. The Neustadt Prize was the first international prize for literature of this scope to originate in the United States, and it remains one of the very few literary prizes on an international scale for which novelists, playwrights, and poets are equally eligible (the only stipulation dictates that at least a representative portion of the author’s work must be available in English). Each Neustadt prize winner is selected by a different jury, chosen by the executive director (who is the only permanent member) in consultation with the journal’s editors and the president of the University of Oklahoma. Each juror nominates one author, and all nominations are made public six months before the jury convenes on the campus in the fall of odd-numbered years. The group meets for one to two days behind closed doors, and the laureate then receives the award at a banquet the following year. Also, a special section of the journal is subsequently devoted to that author’s work.[10]

An overview of the twenty-two prizes awarded to date includes the esteemed group of winners selected over the past thirty years: Giuseppe Ungaretti (1970, Italy), Gabriel García Márquez (1972, Colombia), Francis Ponge (1974, France), Elizabeth Bishop (1976, USA), Czesław Miłosz (1978, Poland), Josef Škvorecký (1980, Czechoslovakia/Canada), Octavio Paz (1982, Mexico), Paavo Haavikko (1984, Finland), Max Frisch (1986, Switzerland), Tomas Tranströmer (1990, Sweden), João Cabral de Melo Neto (1992, Brazil), Kamau Brathwaite (1994, Barbados), Assia Djebar (1996, Algeria), Nuruddin Farah (1998, Somalia), David Malouf (2000, Australia), Álvaro Mutis (2002, Colombia), Adam Zagajewski (2004, Poland), Claribel Alegría (2006, Nicaragua/El Salvador) Patricia Grace (2008, New Zealand), Duo Duo (2010, China), and Rohinton Mistry (2012, India/Canada).[11] In 2009 the week’s events were renamed the Neustadt Festival of International Literature and Culture. During the festivals, WLT celebrates the culture and achievements of the Neustadt laureate or features readings by the Neustadt jurors, which allows students from the University of Oklahoma and the Norman, OK community to interact with world-class writers.

Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature and Culture

The second major event associated with WLT, is the Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature and Culture, sponsored by the journal in collaboration with the University of Oklahoma Departments of English and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics. The Puterbaugh series of conferences began in 1968 and was originally named the Oklahoma Conference on Writers of the Hispanic World. It was endowed in perpetuity in 1978 by the Puterbaugh Foundation of McAlester, Oklahoma. In that year, the scope of the conference was expanded to include writers of the French-speaking world, as well as from Spain and Spanish America.[12]

In 1993, all restrictions were removed, and, since that date, all living writers have been potentially eligible for the honor. Now an annual event (previously it was biennial), the Puterbaugh Festival brings a prominent author to the Norman campus for approximately one week, during which he or she visits classes, gives public lectures and readings, and is honored by a symposium featuring scholars and specialists who discuss the author’s work.[13] The list of those who have been featured in the Puterbaugh Festival includes highly visible writers honored (some of whom have also won the Neustadt Prize): Octavio Paz (1971, Mexico), Dámaso Alonso (1973, Spain), Julio Cortázar (1975, Argentina), Mario Vargas Llosa (1977, Peru), Yves Bonnefoy (1979, France), Michel Butor (1981, France), Carlos Fuentes (1983, Mexico), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1987, Cuba), Edouard Glissant (1989, Martinique), Manuel Puig (1991, Argentina), Maryse Condé (1993, Guadeloupe), Luisa Valenzuela (1995, Argentina), J.M.G. Le Clézio (1997, France), Czesław Miłosz (1999, Poland), Kenzaburō Ōe (2001, Japan), Roberto Fernández Retamar (2002, Cuba), J. M. Coetzee (2003, South Africa), Nélida Piñon (2004, Brazil), Orhan Pamuk (2006, Turkey), Bei Dao (2008, China), Sherman Alexie (2010, United States), Dacia Maraini (2011, Italy), and Marina Carr (2012, Ireland).

NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature

In 2003 WLT began awarding the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature, which is intended to enhance the quality of children’s literature by promoting writing that contributes to the quality of their lives. The award—made possible through the generosity of Nancy Barcelo, Susan Neustadt Schwartz, and Kathy Neustadt, the three daughters of Walter Jr. and Dolores Neustadt—is awarded every other year to a living writer with significant achievement. Laureates receive a check for $25,000, a silver medallion, and a certificate at a public ceremony at the University of Oklahoma.[14]

To date, Mildred D. Taylor (2003), Brian Doyle (2005), Katherine Paterson (2007), Vera B. Williams (2009), and Virginia Euwer Wolff (2011) have won the prize.[15]

WLT / Nobel Connection

Another element in the identity of WLT is the relationship with the cultural institution of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Since the inception of Books Abroad, the series of editors associated with the journal has encouraged lively debate about the annual announcement of the Nobel Prize, as with the 1939 “Super-Nobel” election sponsored in Books Abroad, in which contributors and other specialists were invited to choose the writer who they felt had offered the most significant contribution to world literature in the first third of the twentieth century, whether or not that writer had won the Nobel Prize. At the top of the “Super-Nobel” list were several non-Nobel winners, such as Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, and Theodore Dreiser, but the award went to Thomas Mann, who had, in fact, won the Nobel in 1929 and who became a frequent contributor to Books Abroad.[16]

Over the years, Books Abroad often featured the topic of the Nobel Prize, as with the series of symposia published periodically in the journal: “Prodding the Nobel Prize Committee” (1932), “Nominations for the Nobel Prize for Literature” (1935), “Books Abroad’s Super-Nobel Election” (1940), “What’s Wrong with the Nobel Prize?” (1951), and “Nobel Prize Symposium” (1967). In these symposia, critics, scholars, and authors discussed the policies and procedures of the Swedish Academy as well as the very secretive selection process and the sometimes-curious choices of winners for a literary prize (such as Winston Churchill, the 1953 laureate, and Bertrand Russell, the 1951 laureate).[17]

The Spring 1981 issue of WLT was devoted entirely to the presentation of the members of the Swedish academy, many of whom were successful creative writers in their own right. In 1951 the Nobel Foundation chose the University of Oklahoma Press to issue the first English-language edition of its own authoritative volume, entitled Nobel: The Man and His Prizes. Also, the often-synchronistic relationship between the Neustadt Prize, once described by the New York Times as the “Oklahoma ‘Nobel’” (February 1982),[18] and the Nobel Prize itself is demonstrated in the number of convergences. Between 1970 and 2012, twenty-nine writers affiliated with the Neustadt Prize (as jurors, candidates, or winners) who went on to receive the Nobel after their association with the Neustadt, most recently Tomas Tranströmer, the 1990 Neustadt laureate and 2011 Nobel laureate.

What to Read Now

WLT invites prominent writers from different regions of the world to be guest editors of the popular column "What to Read Now". The writers select the most relevant and timely books on a genre, country, cultural theme, or political topic, such as the Puerto Rican poet Giannina Braschi on "What to Read Now: Mixed-Genre Literature" or the London-based Zimbabwean novelist Brian Chikwava on "What to Read Now: Zimbabwe".[19]

A New Era of World Literature

The editors are striving to bring a renewed sense of diversity to the magazine’s global enterprise, and new ideas for expansion and experiment are always under review. In late 2000, the editors worked with forty scholars to establish a list of the “Most Important Works in World Literature, 1927-2001,” a project organized and timed to help celebrate WLT’s seventy-fifth year of uninterrupted publication. The top 40 list was chosen by specialists, but with the non-specialist in mind, with the intention of inviting response and debate among readers and writers everywhere. Further, a forum for readers’ correspondence was also initiated and since 2000 has helped spark dialogue among the editors of WLT and the reading public, contributors, and reviewers.[20]

The editors have also endeavored to reinvigorate the stylistic form, as well as the subject matter, of each issue. In “Back to the Essay: World Literature Today in the Twenty-First Century,” Davis-Undiano argued for a move away from the stilted academic style of the scholarly article, favoring instead the more creative, experimental, and unrestrained form of the essay. He explains:

"The essay tradition is not a prescriptive one of writing in a certain mold, but a capacious one defined mainly by a strategy for maintaining effective ties among writing form, the material being discussed, and the intended audience. Essays in the main tradition tend to have a definable perspective, even on occasion a personal one, and they speak in an idiom that reaches a broad audience. They tend to emphasize the occasion for foregrounding a question or issue as important, and they tend to demonstrate the argument in the form of the essay itself."[21]

He linked the contemporary editorial project embodied in WLT with a time-honored literary tradition, illustrated by the work of such renowned essayists as Michel de Montaigne and Francis Bacon. Davis-Undiano emphasized the etymology of the word “essay,” which evokes experimentation, trial and error, and the exploration of a curious mind faced with the current adventures of world culture. Grounded in innovation, interpretation, and hypothesis, essay writing presents a necessarily personal and subjective perspective as an author explores a myriad of possibilities surrounding a chosen topic.

Currently, with a six-issues-a-year format, professional editing and design, and special sections on broad contemporary topics like Women and War, International Censorship, the International Graphic Novel, International Crime and Mystery Fiction, and Post-Soviet Literature, WLT functions as a hybrid academic/commercial magazine to chronicle and interpret the most current developments in world literature—topics generally outside the purview of purely academic journals or popular magazines. In this way, WLT has fashioned a new category of an academic magazine serving scholars and general readers alike.

See also


  1. ^ "World Literature Today | Mission". World Literature Today. 
  2. ^ "World Literature Today |History". World Literature Today. 
  3. ^ editor, from the editors of World Literature Today ; Pamela A. Genova, (2003). Twayne Companion to Contemporary World Literature. New York: Twayne Publishers. p. 1600.  
  4. ^ Miłosz, Czesław (Autumn 1976). "Homages". Books Abroad 50 (4): 752.  
  5. ^ editor, from the editors of World Literature Today ; Pamela A. Genova, (2003). Twayne Companion to Contemporary World Literature. New York: Twayne Publishers. p. 1600.  
  6. ^ House, Roy Temple (January 1927). "Foreword to Our First Issue". Books Abroad 1 (1): 1–2. 
  7. ^ Butor, Michel (Spring 1982). "The Origin of the Text". World Literature Today 56 (2): 207–208, 210, 212–215.  
  8. ^ Butor, Michel (Spring 1982). "Le Soir à Norman/An Evening in Norman". World Literature Today 56 (2): 199–201.  
  9. ^ editor, from the editors of World Literature Today ; Pamela A. Genova, (2003). Twayne Companion to Contemporary World Literature. New York: Twayne Publishers. p. 1600.  
  10. ^ "Neustadt International Prize for Literature". World Literature Today. 
  11. ^ "Past Laureates of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature". World Literature Today. 
  12. ^ Riggan, William S. (Summer 1983). "The Puterbaugh Conferences". Sooner Magazine 3 (4): 26–31. 
  13. ^ "The Puterbaugh Tradition at the University of Oklahoma". World Literature Today. 
  14. ^ "NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature". World Literature Today. 
  15. ^ "Candidates and Juries for NSK Prize, 2003-2011". World Literature Today. 
  16. ^ Riggan, William (Spring 1981). "The Nobel Connection". Sooner Magazine 1 (1): 16–17. 
  17. ^ Riggan, William (Spring 1981). "The Nobel Connection". Sooner Magazine 1 (1): 17–18. 
  18. ^ McDOWELL, Edwin (February 26, 1982). "'"PUBLISHING: The Oklahoma 'Nobel. New York Times. 
  19. ^ "World Literature Today". World Literature Today. 
  20. ^ editor, from the editors of World Literature Today ; Pamela A. Genova, (2003). Twayne Companion to Contemporary World Literature. New York: Twayne Publishers. pp. xxi.  
  21. ^ Davis-Undiano, R.C. (Winter 2000). in the Twenty-First Century"World Literature Today"Back to the Essay: . World Literature Today 74 (1): 1–5.  

External links

  • official siteWorld Literature Today
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