The non-profit organization Words Without Borders was launched in 2003 to help publish works from underrepresented countries and cultures in native English speaking areas. WWB now has an archive of 12,000 articles published in 140 countries and 130 languages. Although their mission has not changed, several new developments are planned to expand the literary conversation.
“I think it’s easy to forget how much publishing and the landscape of international literature has changed since our beginnings in 2003,” said Eric MB Becker, digital director and editor.
The publication was among the first online-only literary magazines, has evolved into a platform for writers and translators, with programs like its Poems in Translation competition, the Indigenous Writing Project, and the Words Without Borders program Campus. Throughout, the mission has remained the same: to provide free access to international literature through online translation to anyone with an Internet connection.
“Our focus has always been accessibility,” explained Karen Phillips, Executive Director and Publisher. “Most of our individual supporters truly believe in the mission of cultivating a better understanding of literature and building bridges between writers, translators and readers.
Among the new features is a complete overhaul of the site, aimed at improving accessibility for readers. The revamped site went live today.
“We started out as a monthly magazine, producing issues organized around country, geography or language, but these days have become constraints,” says Becker. Phasing out the monthly topical publishing model, WWB will publish new work daily. This includes collections of reviews, interviews, reading lists and other resources that further develop the synergy between literature and authors and translators at work.
“It’s a bit difficult to review past issues,” Becker said. “The new site offers a new search tool that allows people to search based on their interests, their travels or a specific country.” The search tool is part of the site’s streamlined design to be small and efficient in giving readers direct access to the entire WWB archive.
In addition to the revamp, the release will put more emphasis on audio and visual content, including an evolving lineup of programming: virtual events, conversations, and more.
“The goal is for an individual to make a connection, to have an experience with a piece of writing and translation,” Phillips said. “However we allow that connection to happen, whether it’s because they see it on TikTok, or they watch an interview on our site, or they listen to an author read their article… all these roads lead to this spark, this connection that we want to facilitate through Words Without Borders.
Over the years, WWB’s passion and drive to be a bastion of international literature has paved the way for many writers and translators who have been unable to gain an audience in English-speaking countries. “So many wonderful things have happened to me through my first publication, like my whole career as a literary translator, basically,” said JB Anton Hur, Booker’s shortlisted Korean translator. Established writers such as Han Kang, Valeria Luiselli, Andres Neuman, and Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk all found a home for work in publishing early in their writing careers.
“I think I also speak for my colleagues, that as an editor I’m more interested in providing a space where writers and translators can converse and dialogue through their work,” Becker said.
Through the redesign of the site, the continuous publishing model and a commitment to exploring multimedia technologies, WWB aims to evolve alongside the dialogue that is formed around the work they publish. “I’m thrilled that we can fully embrace our digital identity,” Phillips said. “We can free ourselves to pursue so many different writers, genres, styles, languages that might not have been possible in our old publishing model.”
Indeed, it’s all part of how the publication is expanding its efforts on the eve of its 20th anniversary – a milestone everyone at the publication is excited to celebrate and explore through events both digital and in person.
“It will be a period of experimentation,” says Phillips. “It’s part of a paradigm shift in how we see the world.”