Celebrating WWB and Drenka Willen: Our Tenth Anniversary Gala

By Susan Harris

Tuesday night WWB staff, board, contributors, supporters, and readers gathered at Tribeca 360, where the panoramic view mirrored the sweep of our content, to celebrate our tenth anniversary and present the inaugural James H. Ottaway Jr. Award for the Promotion of International Literature to the incomparable Drenka Willen.

After cocktails, our executive director, Karen Phillips, welcomed the guests, then introduced WWB favorite Goli Taraghi, whose new collection The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons and Other Stories, translated by Sara Khalili, was just published by W. W. Norton. Taraghi, who lives in Tehran and Paris, spoke of how the censorship she faced in Iran “forces a new imagination,” and avowed, “To publish is freedom.” After a delectable Persian dinner, our founder Alane Salierno Mason reflected on the organization’s origins and introduced poet Charles Simic. Simic noted, dryly, that he and Drenka “shared Hitler and Stalin as our travel agents,” then recited a beautiful poem he wrote for the occasion:

On This Very Street in Belgrade 
for Drenka

Our mothers may have carried us
Out of a smoking ruin of a building
And set us down on this sidewalk
Like two dolls bundled in burnt rags,
Where now I stood years later
Talking to a homeless dog,
Half-hidden behind a parked car,
His eyes brimming with hope
As he inched forward, ready for the worst.

 

In his award presentation, critic and translator Eliot Weinberger read an impressive list of Drenka’s authors, observing that people used to joke Drenka published so many Nobel laureates that she should keep a pied-à-terre in Stockholm. When he presented her with the inaugural Ottaway, Drenka accepted it with her usual modesty, noting her great pleasure in seeing so many authors and editors established in the course of her career. After André Aciman delivered the closing remarks, the crowd adjourned for toasts and talk well into the night. 

Two days later, we're still basking in the warmth of the evening, and the generosity and goodwill shown to WWB and our mission. It would take another ten years to thank all of our contributors, authors, translators, partners, readers, and supporters. If you're reading this, you fall into at least one of those categories. Stay tuned for a gallery from the evening, and for our next decade of promoting and publishing the best literature from around the world.


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