“We will need new maps as well as the courage and humor of travelers who won’t hesitate to stick their heads outside the sphere of the world-up-to-this-point,” write Olga Tokarczuk and translator Jennifer Croft in “Ognosia,” published in these pages today. They might well have been speaking of this re-envisioned Words Without Borders.
Looking at an engraving first published in France in 1888, Tokarczuk writes of “the almost inexpressible dimensions of the universe that no doubt get more and more complex, into infinity.” Much more than a new look, the reimagined wordswithoutborders.org reflects our aims to reconsider what a global digital literary journal can be, the unique ways in which international literature can act not as a compendium of the world but rather a treasury of its tantalizing intangibility.
As Words Without Borders nears twenty years of publishing, it can boast more than 3,000 writers from over 140 countries and nearly as many languages. Among these writers are Elena Ferrante, Olga Tokarczuk, Jokha Alharthi, Alain Mabanckou, László Krasznahorkai, and Yoko Tawada, all of whom appeared in WWB early in their international careers. In the meantime, the digital landscape has undergone enormous transformation, and the new WWB is about capitalizing on these new capabilities to connect to readers and readers-to-be.
On the practical side, this means Words Without Borders is embracing its identity as a truly digital publication. In place of monthly themes and features, WWB will now publish new content daily, presenting a mix of fiction, essays, reportage, poetry, criticism, and interviews about the most exhilarating writing around the world. Our new home makes it easy to create conversations and connections between writing from across the world—and across our vast archive—by organizing them into compelling collections, which you can browse from our home page. Our new model seeks to become less bound by borders of any kind. By expanding the possibilities of what we publish each day, we aim to deepen the connections between writers (and writing) from the most disparate perspectives and places.
These connections are enriched when they engage literary communities that are often neglected in English translation. As we move forward, we are redoubling our focus on underrepresented literatures, with new installments of our Indigenous Writing Project, as well as the first substantial offering of writing from Gujarati to ever be published by a literary journal in the West.
WWB has always been about reaching across borders and cultures—and more recently, cultivating connection during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this new era, it will harness the remarkable potential of the digital space to bring writers and readers closer together. We will offer you more virtual and in-person events, conversations, live interviews, and recordings with the most thrilling writers around the world. We begin this week with a live virtual conversation between New Yorker critic Merve Emre and WWB Books Editor Adam Dalva. It will be followed in the coming weeks by talks with Parul Sehgal and Brandon Taylor. As just one more example, later this month we will launch Time Signatures, a multimedia series bringing together writing and music and their extraordinary importance in our lives.
As we work to engage the next generation of global readers, we are excited that the new site is designed to integrate the unique curricular resources of our WWB Campus education program. Over the coming months, we will be adding rich contextual materials and teaching ideas to more than 100 pieces of literature on the site—creating a space for learning without borders for students and general readers alike. And as we strive to remove barriers to reading the world, we have improved site accessibility with the support of the Userway widget, which you can access in the corner of your page.
Today we launch a beta version of our new website with complete archives through the last five years, as well as a selection of WWB Campus resources available under the “Learn” heading in the navigation. Our powerful new search tool allows readers to quickly and easily find writing by author, translator, language, geography, genre, original-language text, theme, available educational materials, and more. If you would like us to choose work for you, you can avail yourself of our “Surprise Me” feature, located in the “Read” navigation at the top of your page. Similarly, the site integrates enhanced multimedia features—including work read by the authors themselves in the original language, providing yet another path into a writer’s oeuvre. Each page on the new WWB now offers the possibility of a guided journey, leading readers from one writer to the next according to an array of interests, with improved reading recommendations, contributor bios, and more. Throughout the summer and into the fall, we will continue to roll out our complete archives—over twelve thousand pieces in all—and additional website features.
We are thrilled to bring you our new virtual home today. We would like to express our immense gratitude to the readers, writers, translators, artists, editors, publishers, and other supporters who have made Words Without Borders what it is during these last nineteen years: a venue for discovery and writing that reflects the multiplicity of our world.