World Literature: American Literary Isolationism

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The United States has been taking a lot of heat recently for its unilateralist tendencies, especially on international treaties, foreign policy and trade. But what about books? Champions of literary translation say the U.S. has the same blinkered approach when it comes to foreign novels.

Getting translated and published here takes, well, almost a Nobel Prize. The National Endowment for the Arts calculates that only about 300 works of literature are translated into English and published in America each year, and that, they say, constitutes a “crisis.”

At a time when cultural misunderstandings are breeding dangerous resentments, America’s literary bubble may be both a strategic and an intellectual liability. The last chapter in our series on world literature: the view from here.


Ilan Stavans, professor of Latin American and Latino Cultures at Amherst College, translator, author of “Borrowed Words”

Carol Janeway, Senior Editor and Vice President at Alfred A. Knopf publishing house.