Bringing world literature to the United States
Americans don't read literature from other countries, but some organizations are working to change that.
This story was originally reported by PRI's Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.
Americans are missing out on some of the best literature from around the world. Less than 3 percent of all books published in English are translations, and just a fraction of those are novels or short stories or poetry. Jim Kates of Zephyr Press in Brookline, Massachusetts, says that's a shame.
"American literature is a kind of gated community," according to Kates. "We tend to let in from the outside only the ones who speak good English or who fulfill certain kinds of roles that we expect from them… or those that look very presentable and respectable to us."
As a result, Kates says, "we miss most of the world."
Part of the problem lies with the publishing industry. Going abroad for literature and translating it "is a certain step of work that most publishers don't want to do," Kates says. "They wait until a writer wins the Nobel Prize, or they wait until a movie is made in Europe of a successful thriller before they pay real attention to the literature from abroad."
Most Americans miss out on books like "All This Belongs to Me," by Czech writer Petra Hulova translated by Alex Zucker. The beautiful book (an excerpt of which can be found on the Here and Now website) isn't about what American audiences expect from a Czech novel. It's about a Mongolian family. According to Kates, "We would accept that comfortably from an American writer, but we're amazed that someone in another country is doing that."
For a list of books recommended by Kates, and for excerpts from some of the books, visit Here and Now.
"Here and Now" is an essential midday news magazine for those who want the latest news and expanded conversation on today's hot-button topics: public affairs, foreign policy, science and technology, the arts and more. More "Here and Now".