WWB staff, board, contributors, supporters, and readers gathered on Monday night at Tribeca 360 to celebrate Words Without Borders and honor Metropolitan Books publisher Sara Bershtel with the 2015 Ottaway Award for International Literature.
After a spirited cocktail hour, guests sat down to a warm welcome from host Rowan Ricardo Phillips. Words Without Borders contributors Claudia Salazar Jiménez, Wenguang Huang, and Philip Boehm then captivated the room with readings in Spanish, Chinese, and German, respectively, as the audience read along with English translations from the program.
Presenting the 2015 Ottaway Award to Metropolitan Books co-founder Sara Bershtel, Michael Naumann eloquently praised the mission of Words Without Borders, reminding us: “Words do not have passports. Words deserve to be free.” In her charming acceptance speech, Bershtel began by noting that when she got her start in publishing, it wasn’t at all a foregone conclusion that she would one day receive an award for the promotion of international literature. Drawing laughs from the crowd, she talked about the first book she published in translation when she was still “an overeager editorial assistant,” titled Spring Must Come: A European Love Story, and quipped that the book’s subtitle managed to insult an entire continent.
Gala co-chair Jonathan Galassi then thanked all involved in bringing the gala together, after which WWB’s executive director Karen Phillips presented on the successful first year of our education program, Words Without Borders Campus. In a video about the program, which is currently being piloted in twenty-two high schools and colleges throughout the country, students and educators spoke of its extraordinary capacity to foster cultural awareness and sensitivity through literature. Cheryl Smith, a Baruch College professor featured in the video, said it best: “These are some of my students’ stories, and this is a way for them to see themselves in literature. That’s a really important experience to give your students.”
In Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s closing remarks, he spoke of translation as a tapestry that helps us to understand other voices and cultures. The crowd dispersed, inspired by the tribute to international literature and to Bershtel’s career. Some made their way to the second annual Globe Trot, hosted by the WWB Young Publishers Committee and co-hosts Tim Mohr, Alexander Chee, Naomi Jackson, Rebecca Dinerstein, Mia Alvar, and Mira Jacob. A fresh crowd of young literary people swept in to keep the party going, enjoying the music of DJ Dave Sharma, covetable raffle prizes, a delectable array of empanadas and baked goods, and the evening’s signature cocktail, Gin and Roses.
We’re delighted to have shared in such a warm celebration of WWB’s work and mission with a generous group of readers, supporters, contributors, and friends. Thanks to all who made it a terrific event. Until next year!