I finally got rid of my cat. I thought this would enable me to start a new life. So begins Can Xue's funny, disturbing story, "The Bane of My Existence,"* published this month in the 15th anniversary issue of Words without Borders. The issue's title, "Great Explorations," comes from an essay of Can Xue's, in which she comments:
An advanced modern reader acts like a detective. In the forest of books, he can follow the clues and discover the enormous treasures underlying them. Those books give him messages: his inner concentrated essence receives the messages and immediately produces new ones. These blended messages lead him to enter a tunnel of the spirit, and in that place he begins a great exploration.
In her own writerly explorations, Can Xue follows instinct rather than reason, and "The Bane" is an example of just how far instinct--- both literary and animal--- can take us. As students read about the narrator's attempts to tame a stray cat, they can use this line from the story as a guiding question: Where did it all go wrong?
Or, you might pause their reading at several key moments, and ask what they would have done in the narrator's place. Most likely, some of them will reply that they would give up the cat, which is a logical response. Ask them why the narrator doesn't do that. What is happening to her, on an emotional (rather than logical) level?
This story also offers a window into ancient Chinese and Japanese culture with its mention of the "fox spirit." A short student essay published on the Champlain College website offers an explanation and a warning: "When a fox spirit is introduced in a story it is never a good thing." (A few typos). For a more scholarly approach, and some legends, see an excerpt from Myths and Legends of China, a 1922 book by Edward T.C. Werner. Werner writes:
Generally, the fox is a creature of ill omen, long-lived (living to eight hundred or even a thousand years), with a peculiar virtue in every part of his body, able to produce fire by striking the ground with his tail, cunning, cautious, sceptical, able to see into the future, to transform himself (usually into old men, or scholars, or pretty young maidens), and fond of playing pranks and tormenting mankind.
You might ask students whether they notice any similarities between descriptions of the fox spirit and of the cat in this story.
Pairs Well with…
"The Old Cicada," also by Can Xue, also about fauna, but with a very different mood
Shakespeare and Dante, among the classical Western authors Can Xue cites as influences.
"Cat Person," from the December 2017 New Yorker, also about an ill-matched couple: "Before he got out of the car, he said, darkly, like a warning, “Just so you know, I have cats.” (sexual references)
Fiction: Write your own story, beginning with one character's seemingly small decision. As you write about the consequences of that decision, follow your instincts rather than your reason. What might happen?
Essay: Take one of the narrator's broad statements: ---Nothing is intolerable if you've made up your mind that you have to put up with it, There were always solutions ,or a different one ---and write about whether it seems true to you, given the events of the story.
Essay 2: What does the narrator mean when she writes, All I knew was that I couldn't bear to even imagine everything the future would bring? What has happened to her over the course of the story? What do you imagine for her future?
* Note to secondary teachers: the story includes some off-color language, and a cat is harmed.
If you use this story in classroom, do let us know how it goes!
We’re delighted to share the news that WWB Campus has received an honorable mention for the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize, an annual award for projects that create and sustain a lifelong love of reading.
“This honor from the National Book Foundation is a tremendous affirmation of the goals of WWB Campus. It is a wonderful way of broadcasting the resources the program offers educators, students, and readers to get to know the world—and themselves—through literature.”
—Alane Salierno Mason, founder and president of Words Without Borders
WWB Campus will present at the NBF’s annual Why Reading Matters conference featuring the honorees on June 7 in Brooklyn, New York. We hope to see some of you there...do let us know if you're planning on attending.
Thank you to all the educators, students, authors, translators, and donors who have made WWB Campus’s first public year a success! We look forward to continuing to work together to connect students with eye-opening international literature ---and, ultimately, to build understanding and empathy across cultures.
A line outside a cinema in Kharkov, the Ukraine, USSR, 1981. By Л.П. Джепко
All around the world, perhaps at this very moment, young adults are being subjected to some version of the "When I was your age…" lecture. In the April issue of Words without Borders, an Estonian poem offers a savage précis of an elder's account of how difficult life used to be in the former Eastern bloc:
you’ve no idea
what it means to stand in a sausage line!
a bread line! a milk line! an egg line!
The poem's narrator then muses:
it makes you wonder what the hell
those women fought so hard for then
was it so that in the future they could
rub it in young people’s faces
Did her elders battle Communism only in order to wax sanctimonious about the struggle? Why else would they go on and on about the past?
Of course, some members of the older generation also like to wax nostalgic for the Soviet era, like the saleslady who once told the narrator she misses the days when everyone wore the same uniform (Vladimir Putin apparently feels the same way, according to this article on a state-sponsored website.) The poem skewers this sentimentality, too:
in a childhood of identical pioneer* uniforms
somebody’s always more equal
even if you paint them all red
These lines allude to George Orwell's Animal Farm, with its famous revised precept, "Some animals are more equal than others." Grigorjeva's poem would pair well with that novel, as well as with other work set during or after the Soviet era, such as Ludmilla Petrushevskaya 's "Milgrom", which also discusses clothing, and Natalia Klyuchareva's "None of Your Business," which portrays a young's man's defiance of sanctimonious elders.
To introduce Grigorjeva's poem, you might ask students to talk or write in response to the question: "What do people in the older generation say about you and your peers? About how life used to be?" Or, you might show them Schuyler Holland's recent animation of Al Yankovic's "When I was your age," featuring the line, "We were hungry, broke, and miserable, and we liked it fine that way."
As an assignment, you might have students write their own poems, addressed to the adults or authority figures of their choice, and beginning, as the poem does, with the line, "you're right." To spark or feed an interest in Estonian culture, you might screen the film "Revolution of Pigs," about a group of rebellions teens; the Guardian calls it, "crackling, bawdy fun."
In addition to being one of Estonia's “young angry women” of poetry, Sveta Grigorjeva
is also something of an anti-choreographer; below, you'll find her one-minute "non-dance performance," "Carmina Trash."
We would like to thank our partners at the National Humanities Center for this collaboration. The webinar is part of the NHC's Humanities in Class webinar series, which provides free, interactive professional development from leading scholars on compelling topics. If you're interested in getting more involved with the NHC, applications to the Teacher Advisory Council are now open: "Chosen to represent multiple disciplines in the humanities, these teacher leaders accept an active role in the development, evaluation, and promotion of NHC materials and projects:" https://bit.ly/2HSzRi6.
Are there other webinars you'd like to see from us in the future? Let us know on Facebook or via the Contact page.
This month, the magazine Words Without Borders publishes translator Denise Muir's dispatches from the 2018 Bologna Children’s Book Fair. This year, China was the guest of honor; Muir writes that "it was interesting to see the importance of cultural authenticity in the many titles on display, and the desire by Chinese publishers to . . . give English-language readers a richer, truer picture of their country." (For a culturally rich Chinese story published on WWB Campus, try "The Old Cicada," appropriate for secondary to college students. To see our entire collection of Chinese stories, poems, interviews, and essays, visit the China page.)
Muir also discusses the increasingly popular metaphor of "mirrors and windows," used to describe literature for children and young adults. "Mirror" books reflect readers' own lives, whereas "windows" open readers' eyes to "other cultures, other places, other times, and other worlds." Of course, the best literature often serves as both mirror and window. In his talk at the conference, poet and author Bruno Tognolini put it this way: “Tu sei tutti e tu sei tu,” or, “You are everyone and you are you.”
Below, you'll find links to literature that reflects universal experiences, while also offering new perspectives into people and cultures:
Update: Thanks to all who attended! It was exciting to meet such a committed and passionate group of educators. We will be posting the video of the webinar as soon as we receive it from the NHC.
The evening of April 10th, scholar Julia Trubikhina will be leading a webinar on teaching the Russian texts on WWB Campus. We are very excited to be co-sponsoring this free webinar with the National Humanities Center, and hope you'll consider joining it. There are limited spots available; a description and registration link is below:
Confronting the Past: Russian Fiction in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries
Tuesday, April 10, 2018 7:00–8:30 pm EDT
Russian fiction of the late Soviet and post-Soviet period is deeply rooted in trauma and memory, both collective and personal; characters search for ways to transcend, or even to understand, a complex and contended history. Drawing mostly on the texts collected online on World Without Borders Campus (wwb-campus.org), this webinar will present strategies for contextualizing cultural traditions and histories while still attending closely to specific texts. While the West, during the Cold War, often saw Russia “monolithically,” the view from inside the former Soviet Union provides a different perspective that extends both backward, into the past, and—through a better understanding of Russia’s present—forward, into the future.
Leader: Julia Trubikhina, Adjunct Associate Professor, Division of Russian and Slavic Languages, Hunter College, City University of New York Teacher Leader: Nadia Kalman, Editor and Curriculum Designer, Words Without Borders Campus
This month's issue of the magazine Words Without Borders, entitled Charged With Humanity, features women's writing from Hungary and tales of displacement from Lithuania. The stories below---of a rigged trial and a misunderstood meal--- seem particularly likely to spark classroom conversation. Though vastly different in setting, mood, and style, both stories immediately engage the reader in dramatic and fateful questions.
"Stealing is going to be tough tonight," thinks the teenage girl narrating "The Trial," but what choice does she have? Her mother is dying of thirst; they need wood to melt ice into water.
This story, an extract from a memoir by Dalia Grinkevičiūtė*, describes her trial for stealing logs in a Siberian prison camp, to which she and her family were deported from Lithuania. As part of a discussion of the story, you might ask students:
Would they have done the same?
Would they have admitted to the "crime"?
The memoir juxtaposes the harsh, eternal beauty of Siberia against the prisoners' desperate struggles to survive:
We are surrounded by grandeur: the immense tundra, as ruthless and infinite as the sea; the vast Lena estuary backed up with ice; the colossal, hundred-meter pillar caves on the shores of Stolby; and the Aurora Borealis. Against a background of such majesty, we are the pitiful things here—starved and infested like dogs and nearly done rotting in our befouled and stinking ice caves..
Have students try their own juxtapositions of nature and humanity, perhaps sharing an example or two from the visual arts, such as Breugel's Massacre of the Innocents; the calm landscape in the background of that painting throws the human's horrifying acts into even greater relief.
There are many resources on Soviet prison camps, and the innocent people sent there, in the Context and Playlist tabs for The Wondrous Deer of the Eternal Hunt, an oral history of a teenage boy's experiences in the gulag, from Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexeivich.
For a different side of Siberia, students might read Yuri Rytkheu's A Dream in Polar Fog, set during an earlier time, and depicting an encounter between ethnic Chukchi people and an injured Canadian explorer. Or, you might have students compare this vividly remembered trial to Kafka's parable.
A Tongue's Story
From Krisztina Tóth**, one of Hungary's foremost authors, comes this tale of culture clash between Greek refugees and their Hungarian hosts. In addition to publishing the story,WWB also provides audio of the author reading it in the original. Before students begin reading, you might have them listen to a bit of the recording and speculate about the story's mood.
A few months ago, also in Words Without Borders, Peruvian immigrant Marco Avilés wrote about "the friendly vibes that food never fails to generate." With "The Tongue's Story," we see that food sometimes generates very different vibes indeed, as Hungarian villagers serve a misunderstood meal to a group of Greek refugees. Ground poppy seeds, traditionally sprinkled on pasta in Hungary, look like dirt and ashes to the tired and frightened Greeks. Imagining an insult is intended, the men angrily pour the seeds into the dining hall's sink.
As students read the story, you might stop them at a few key points to ask:
What do you think is happening?
What do you think the men should do?
Writing in the issue introduction, Erika Mihálycsa comments on the story's deeper implications:
“The Tongue’s Story,” having at its core the organ of speech and of taste, recounts a failed encounter between people from different cultures—a group of refugees from the Greek civil war around 1950, and the inhabitants of a rural Hungarian area where these are taken for shelter. Tóth’s sparse, economic prose presents small vignettes of banality, beneath which lurks the symptomatology of a history never fully confronted, a choice bound to reproduce old biases at every step. Her mapping of contemporary Hungarian paralysis shows the inevitable interconnectedness of private and public self-delusions.
After reading and analyzing the story, students might rewrite it from the point of view of one of the Hungarian women serving the refugees.
Some students may also be interested in making the dish that causes the trouble; they can find a recipe on Hungarian Tidbits, a food and culture website. For other stories of food, which can be read alongside this one, see the blog post "Chapatas and McDonald’s".
Or, students may wish to learn more about why the refugees were fleeing Greece. The Origins online history project has published a brief overview of the Greek Civil War, beginning with the stark sentence, "The years 1940–1949 were ones of continuous horror for the Greek people." Another, more in-depth resource is the online multimedia book Dangerous Citizens, from Columbia University ethnographer Neni Panourgiá. This book has a definite slant (and a few expletives), but includes rich, authentic materials.
* Pronounced, to the best of our knowledge, "Grin-kev-i-chi-oo-eh"
What's International Women's Day? It's a March 8th holiday with purported roots in both ancient Rome and Soviet Socialism, according a recent article in Russian Life.
In its modern form, International Women's Day is understood differently by different people. For some, it's a time to give women flowers and "pleasant surprises of the breakfast-in-bed variety"(ibid.) For others, it celebrates women's art, activism, and contributions to public life (See the March 8th bread riots that launched the Russian revolution and the current Twitter feed.) If you're interested in the latter form of the holiday, here's some writing by and about women from Words Without Borders:
Milgrom: Can a new generation of women escape women's traditional fates?
How can literature help us to "bridge divides, create new connections, and deepen understandings"? This year, the National Book Foundation's "Why Reading Matters" conference brings together educators, librarians, writers, and scholars to seek answers to that question. The conference, entitled "Reading Without Boundaries," seems like a particularly good fit for readers of this website.
If you're interested in using materials from WWB Campus in a breakout session, we're happy to assist! (Embedding web pages into PowerPoint is something no one should have to face alone.) You can get in touch at email@example.com, on the Contact page, or on Facebook.
"It's almost impossible to get in, but getting kicked out is easy." So begins "Scandorama", excerpted in this month's graphic literature-themed issue of the magazine Words Without Borders. Written by a Finnish author and illustrated by a Kenyan-Swedish artist, the story centers around a "homo felinus," the result of a medical experiment, a self-described "misfit" turned resistance fighter.
Students might resonate with passages like:
They made me.
I was other people's dreams.
Before I could have a say, they made me.
Graphic literature published in WWB is short, and easy to integrate with other new or classic work. You could teach "Scandorama" alongside "Sharing," another dystopian graphic story with a strong sense of place, also created by an author-artist team.
In comparing the stories, you might discuss the ways in which the authors exaggerated elements within existing culture to create their dystopias. (Plastic surgery in "Scandorama," consumer culture in "Sharing.") As a culminating assignment, students might create their own dystopian stories based on existing cultural trends in your country or region.
Other pairing possibilities include the Chinese story "Death Fugue," in which a man wakes up in an apparent utopia. For young students reading the classic novel The Outsiders, "Scandorama" presents an alternate vision of two worlds colliding. Older students reading Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" might compare "misfits" across the two stories.
Other stories of interest in this month's graphic issue include "The Hundred-hour War"," a nonfiction account of the first U.S.-Iraq War, which could be taught alongside other war writing, or as part of a World History course. The story is illustrated by Eisner nominee David B.
"Spit Three Times," an imaginatively illustrated, empathetic account of a Roma family in Italy, provides a window into ethnic stereotypes and could be taught alongside the graphic story "The Pharaohs of Egypt". (Both of these stories include some explicit language.) It could also be paired with the Russian short story "Pears from Gudauty" or other literature that takes on bigotry.
This Valentine's Day, you can take students beyond the usual hearts and flowers with the dystopian graphic fable "Sharing," from China.
You'll also find many other stories of love---spanning cultures, ages, and even severalspecies---on our website. Just go to the Find page and select "Love Stories" under "Themes" on the right-hand side, or follow this link.
You might have students read several different stories, and then discuss which of the stories seems to represent love the most "truthfully."
Which love stories do you teach in your classrooms? Let us know on Facebook, or via the Contact page.
Are your students interested in human rights issues? They might take a look at an essay and poster contest celebrating the life of Abdelkader, a humanitarian who "was such a worldwide inspiration that a town in Iowa was named after him!" The deadline is May 15.
Could your classroom library use more books? Consider applying to receive up to three classroom sets of books recognized by the MEOC Annual Book Awards "The MEOC Book Awards recognize outstanding books that contribute to a more meaningful understanding of the Middle East on an annual basis, and includes picture books, youth literature and youth nonfiction titles." Accepted on a rolling basis. To download the grant guidelines (in Word), click here. For any questions regarding the application or program, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
These opportunities came to our attention thanks to the excellent newsletter of the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies. You'll find many useful materials on their website---from resources to professional development opportunities to grants and awards like these.
Would you like to hear about more opportunities like these? Let us know on Facebook or our Contact page.
This month, the magazine Words Without Borders features writing by Kazakh women, including Zira Naurzbayeva's essay "The Beskempir," a meditation on the lives of Kakakh grandmothers who were brought from "auls," or villages, to live with their urbanized children in cities like Almaty. The adjustment was not always easy: the essay begins with an overheard scream.
Despite their struggles and confusion, there is a fierceness to the grandmothers, perhaps rooted in cultural traditions that emphasize strength. Towards the end of the essay, Naurzbayeva, an expert in Central Asian culture and mythology, notes that:
Indo-Europeans have their male thunder gods, like Zeus or Thor, but the Turkic peoples have a kempir, what we might call a “thunder grandma” today.
Teaching "The Beskempir"
This essay rewards close reading, with complex and resonant passages such as this one:
It’s only now that I understand how hard it was for our grandmothers to settle in this strange city of stone, where a completely different set of morals is in force, where you needed to stand in a suffocating line of people for hours on end to receive a five-pound bundle of bones wrapped in cellophane, where your grandchildren might not know a single word of your native tongue.
To get a sense of the culture shock the grandmothers in the essay experienced, students might contrast images of the city of Almaty with those of traditional auls, published in National Geographic. (The auls in the story are in Georgia, not Kazakhstan, but have typical Caucasian features.)
Students might also be interested in hearing Naurzbayeva read the first four paragraphs of the essay, in Russian.
For background information on Kazakh culture and history, students can look at a country profile on everyculture.com, or a short overview from the Reconsidering Russia blog. (For a full set of resources, visit another story set in Kazakhstan, Alexandr Chudakov's "Arm Wrestling in Chebachinsk".)
If you teach Russian-speaking students, ask them to note and discuss any differences between the original language and the translation by Shelley Fairweather-Vega. Why might the translator have made the choices she made?
For a culminating assignment, students might interview an older relative or family friend, focusing on the themes that appear in Naurzbayeva's essay: moves, life changes, names, and traditions. They can then put their interviews into an essay that reflects on their relationship with the person they describe.
"I was nobody, like a piece of sesame in a big pot of soup."
So says Wu Wenjian, describing his feelings as a nineteen-year-old cafeteria worker, watching the beginning of the student protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Intimidated by the students, many of whom hailed from China's elite, but also terrified of what the government might do to them, he felt small and powerless.
Yet, when government troops began shooting at protesters, Wu Wenjian climbed atop a scaffold and gave an impromptu speech denouncing the violence. For this, he was sentenced to seven years in prison, but neither this imprisonment nor the government's whitewashing of the history of Tiananmen could silence his voice: he now creates paintings memorializing the protests.
Wu Wenjian was not a public figure, not highly educated, not deeply confident – however, when he witnessed injustice, he raised his voice. His story can provide students with a relateable model of speaking out, to go alongside the more familiar tales of giants like Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. Social movements for equity and justice are driven by the voices of ordinary and imperfect people.
Wu Wenjian and other world voices demonstrate that there are many ways of speaking one's truth, from comics that circulated during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, to the novelistic oral histories of Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexeivich, to translations of banned authors into other languages, to poetry protesting and satirizing Mexico's drug wars. In these texts, students will find both "mirrors and windows," with some authors who share their cultural backgrounds, and others who introduce them to new cultures and modes of expression.
It is also powerful for students to hear local stories of voice, from teachers, family members, or people in the community. You might tell your own story of speaking out and facing obstacles, or have students conduct oral history interviews on the topic. (For tips on teaching oral history, see the Playlist of the Wu Wenjian interview.)
As students hear these stories, help them move from awareness to understanding to action. For example, a student might first encounter a social issue through a text on WWB Campus, learn more about the issue from contextual materials, and, finally, explore ways in which to make a difference in a class discussion, or by using a website such as dosomething.org.
How do you help students raise their voices? Who inspires you to speak out? Let us know on Facebook or the Contact page.
Amina Saïd's poems take on essential questions about life and fate, vision and blindness, death and memory. Marilyn Hecker's lucid translation will help students connect with these universal elements, as well as with the vivid sensory details, in Saïd's series “Clairvoyant in the City of the Blind.” The series appears in the December 2017 issue of the magazine Words without Borders, featuring women authors from Tunisia.
In her introduction to the issue, Cécile Oumhani writes:
Amina Saïd's poetry embraces past and present. Beyond a specific sense of place, it questions our passage on earth. It erases borders between sounds and silence, colors and darkness, the diurnal and the nocturnal, highlighting timeless, hidden currents, underlying our selves, as well as the memory of trees.
Any one of the stanzas published in the magazine could be the basis of a class discussion and a model for students' work. For example, the first stanza, a meditation on fate, begins, "I did not choose to be born / but I must accept life accept death". To introduce the stanza, or after an initial reading, a teacher might ask:
Which parts of our lives do we get to choose?
Which parts have already been determined?
After recounting the choices the narrator could not make for herself, the stanza takes a poignantly brief detour into what she wanted from life ("to predict the future," which raises the question, were all her hopes as impossible to realize as this one?) The stanza ends, however, in a mood of resolution, a commitment to one choice that remains: to continue to speak, despite doubt and despair:
it is painful not to be heard
and yet my speech is not deceitful
it is part of the world’s grief
I must keep a lucid vision
speak the language of the soul
which is light and wisdom
or stupor and confusion
will silence me forever
I was born a woman my speech
is part of the world’s grief
Her speech conveys truth, "is part of the world's grief," and, so, she must speak.
Once they have read and discussed the poem, students might write their own poems, perhaps using a prompt like this one:
Write a poem about the parts of your life you did not choose. If you like, begin the poem with the line, "I did not choose…" As a challenge, consider and write about a choice you do have, using the middle and concluding lines of the stanza as a model.
In its invocation of the purpose of poetry, and in its use of clear, familiar imagery, this series is comparable to Juan Gregorio Regino's "Nothing Remains Empty," available in our collection of literature from Mexico. Or, for another woman poet whose work fights through confusion to reach clarity, students might look at Iman Mersal, from Egypt, beginning with "Things Elude Me." Lastly, students might compare the narrator's sense of vocation to that in Anna Akhmatova's "Requiem," paying particular attention to the section "Instead of a Preface."
For background on Tunisia, students might look at the country profile from the British Broadcasting Service. The "Arab Spring" of 2011 began in Tunisia, toppling a totalitarian regime which Amnesty International had called one of the most repressive in the world. (There's also literature from Egypt's Arab Spring in the "Revolution" section of that collection on WWB Campus.) After reading this history, students might return to Stanza V, and discuss:
Do we all have the same amount of choice in our lives? If not, what are the factors that determine our freedom to choose?
They might consider these questions as they relate to life in Tunisia under dictatorship (culminating in Mohamed Bouazizi's desperate protest), during the upheavals of 2011, and today. Extending these questions beyond Tunisia, students might compare the choices available to them to those available to their global peers in other parts of the world.
"I always knew that I was Mexican. What I didn't know is that I wasn't legal." Pablo*, one of the speakers on a panel discussion of exile in Mexico City last March, spoke for many other young people who live with the fear of deportation—or, as in his case, have already experienced it. Pablo arrived in the U.S. as a toddler, and was deported when he was in his twenties.
Once in Mexico, deportees face many challenges in finding employment or pursuing an education, and are easy, highly visible targets for criminals and gangs, professor María Cristina Hall explained in an interview this fall. Hall was also a speaker on the panel, and, afterwards, she and her colleagues at the Tecnológico de Monterrey wondered how they might be able to help deportees begin to rebuild their lives.
Deportees' written Spanish often lags far behind their verbal ability; they may also struggle with feelings of isolation and cultural difference. To address these issues, Hall and her colleagues Adriana Ortega and Víctor Amaro planned a curriculum that would help deportees become better acquainted with the formal aspects of the Spanish language; get to know a culture they had left behind years ago, often in early childhood; and connect with others like themselves.
Seeking texts with a cross-border focus and compelling subject matter, Hall selected contemporary Mexican literature published on this website. Students read journalism by Fabrizio Mejía Madrid and Juan Villoro, poetry by Luis Felipe Fabre, and an essay on mothers in Mexican culture by Liza Bakewell, among other works.
Classes began in a borrowed music room, and emphasized discussion, reflection, and a sense of openness. Teachers hoped to create an atmosphere in which students were unembarrassed to ask questions and make mistakes, in which they realized that, as Hall put it, "We're all struggling with the same things." As they read literature in many varieties of Spanish, from the formal to the colloquial, students could see that "their language is also considered literary," and that their experiences were worthy of memorializing in literature.
Graduates of the courses reported feeling "a lot more connected, a lot less hopeless," in Hall's words. Students left with enhanced academic and cultural knowledge, a certificate from a prestigious Mexican institution, and a close-knit peer group that has begun to come together around helping other deportees. Many graduates are now active in a not-for-profit organization called Otros Dreams en Acción, where they offer help and support to recent deportees, as well as refugees from Central America.
Graduates have also been able to improve their professional status, moving into managerial roles in their current organizations or finding new work in programming and the education sector. As Hall points out, to have built such productive lives after having experienced a forced break from their homes, languages, and families, "They deserve a lot of credit." So do their instructors.
According to his biography, Peruvian author Marco Avilés is currently working on a memoir about being "a Latino immigrant in a not very nice time for Latino immigrants." The same witty understatement and sense of perspective is evident in his essay "I Am Not Your Cholo," published this month as part of Words Without Borders' issue of literature in translation, written by authors living in the United States.
What does cholo mean? Avilés writes:
Trump has made it easy for me. A cholo in Peru, I told them, is like a Latino in the US: someone with dark skin who has come from far away, from the south, from the mountains.
His essay is notable for the way it weaves together Avilés' personal experiences with a far-reaching discussion of racial history in Peru and the U.S, beginning with the provocative question, "What are two gringos doing serving up hamburgers in the Mecca of Latin American cuisine?" and continuing on to encompass the battles for school integration in the U.S., the author's decision to become a journalist, and much more. It ends with these inspiring lines:
We cholos, Latinos, and immigrants have come a long way and carry a complex history with us. The story of where we come from isn’t our disadvantage, as we’re told, and as we tell ourselves. On the contrary, it is our strength.
In teaching this essay, to offer some context on the U.S. civil rights history to which Avilés alludes, you might show a clip from a film he mentions in the essay, the James Baldwin documentary "I am not your Negro."
This statement from Baldwin is of particular relevance: "It is entirely up to the American people whether or not they are going to face and deal with and embrace this stranger whom they've maligned for so long." (Beginning at 0:58, Baldwin addresses a racial slur, and repeats the slur in making his point.)
Students interested in learning more might watch a short film about Dorothy Counts, who integrated a high school in North Carolina and was viciously harassed; Counts appeared in the Baldwin documentary, and Avilés describes filmgoers' experience of watching her walk to school through jeering crowds.
To help students begin to learn about Peru, and what it means to be called a "cholo" there, you might have students read the "History and Ethnic Relations" section of the country profile on Everyculture.org. If students are interested in further exploration, they can also take a look at the page on the Quechua (KECH-wah) culture, which descends from the Inca civilization; Avilés mentions speaking Quechua with his family.
In a class discussion, you might solicit students' thoughts and opinions on the ideas in thought-provoking passages from Avilés' essay, such as this one:
Is it so hard to see the privilege when you’re the privileged one? Is it so hard to see that if you’re born with white skin, with a “good surname” and with money, things will be easier for you than for the rest? For starters, if you enjoy those privileges, you don’t have that constant voice in your head telling you: You’re cholo, you won’t get the job because you’re cholo, you can’t come into the club because you’re cholo, they’re working you harder than the rest because you’re cholo.
Potential assignments might include personal, written responses to "I am not your cholo," or a more formal essay modeled on Avilés': Write about a social issue you have personally experienced or witnessed, weaving together personal experiences and reflections on relevant history. Challenge: include some thought-provoking questions, like those in Avilés' essay. Or, in a fictional vein, students might try to describe Avilés' classroom visit from the perspective of one of the students in the class.
"Cutting last period was my idea." So begins Yalçin Tosun's short story, "Muzaffer and Bananas," which was translated from Turkish by the former associate editor of WWB Campus, Abby Comstock-Gay, and appears in this month's issue of the magazine Words Without Borders.
The introduction to the story explains, Yalçin Tosun's chubby, despairing Turkish teenagers find solace in visits to the zoo. But an unexpected change to their routine abruptly alters their lives and their relationship. Students will probably be able to identify with the boys' goofy humor and speculations about first kisses, as well as with the uncertainty that underlies their banter, perfectly rendered in lines such as: "I wasn’t sure if he really knew more about women than me or not, but he liked it to look that way, so I believed him."
To learn about Turkish culture, students might visit the Culturetalk page of the Five College Alliance, featuring video interviews with Turkish speakers on a number of topics, including kissing.
And, for a photo gallery of a famous zoo in Istanbul, possibly similar to the one the boys visit, they can visit its page on Trip Advisor, where they'll also see a negative review mentioning balding primates (like the story's Muzaffer.)
Potential Discussions and assignments
After reading the story, students could talk or write about what might happen after the surprising ending.
What might the boys say to each other when they next meet?
How will their friendship change?
They might also look back at the story to look for clues to the narrator's feelings. You might ask them: Do you think he surprised himself, too?
As a culminating assignment, students might compare this story to a different one about an evolving friendship, such as Ryu Murakami's "The Last Picture Show," or the novel A Separate Peace. Or, students might write their own stories of a friendship that suddenly changes.
Like many other educational terms, "flipped instruction" if often tossed (or flipped) around, but rarely discussed in depth. Even more rarely is it considered for use in the English and literature classroom. Yet, any student who's ever drowsed through an hour-long lecture, or educator who's searched for ways to help students understand complex texts, will intuitively grasp the benefits of using class time for challenging, collaborative work.
Below, you'll find Julie Schell's one-minute explanation of what, exactly, flipping is.
Before class, students are introduced to the content via a video or other learning tool
During class, students deepen their understanding through work and collaboration, receiving guidance and feedback.
In a flipped world literature classroom, students might arrive in class with a basic understanding of the cultural influences at play in a poem, and then use class time to expand their understanding of those influences as they closely read the poem, write responses, or collaborate on a project around it. As students work, the teacher circulates, sharing expertise and providing guidance.
Below, you'll find links to some of the most "flippable" poems, stories and essays on WWB Campus. There are video profiles of the authors and translators in the Context tab to the right of the literature, and these profiles can serve as an introduction to the work, opening up class time for close reading, collaborative analysis, and student writing (you'll find suggestions in the Teaching Ideas tab.)
Once you and the students get comfortable with flipping, you might try:
Giving students choice within a collection of introductory materials. WWB Campus posts a selection of multimedia materials (maps, images, audio, video, etc.) alongside the literature; so a teacher might say, "Choose one resource from the Context tab to look at before class tomorrow; be ready to describe and discuss what you've seen."
Creating your own video introductions to new works of literature, or assigning that task to a rotating roster of students (See resources below for examples and guidance.)
Does "flipping" sound like something you might want to try? Let us know what you think, here or on Facebook.
"For you to remember, my star, that some things do still shine.” In an excerpt from the novel An Orphan World, Giuseppe Caputo depicts a father and son's loving relationship amidst poverty and violence. If you teach students from South or Central America, or if your students are wondering about immigration from that region, this story will be of particular interest.
The excerpt is quite long, but students can get a sense of the novel from the first section alone if the class is pressed for time. To launch the story, you might have students brainstorm their associations with the title. After reading, students might discuss or write in response to the question, "What are the things that still shine?"
For literary and political context, take a look at editor Eric Becker's essay, "A Different Solitude," also in the September issue. Among other issues, the essay discusses the country's decades-long war, and attempts to make peace, with the FARC, Columbia's largest guerrilla group.
Wondering how to get students thinking globally starting on the first day of class? Consider one of these activities:
After reading “Nothing Remains Empty,” an invocation poem from Mexico, students might describe their hopes for their own writing.
“Sharing,” a Chinese graphic story about a character's search for connection in a new city, can be a springboard for students to talk about their past or current experiences of arrival in a new environment (a city, a school or university, a country…): “How did it feel? What did you notice right away? What took longer to understand?”
“Amina,” a poem from Egypt, about the “perfect friend,” could launch a class discussion about friendship: “What is a 'perfect friend'? Does such a person exist? What do we hope for in our friendships?”
(These suggestions first appeared in our September newsletter. To sign up for future issues, just visit the Subscribe page.)
(Originally posted in November 2016; now updated with new literature--Eds.)
Education shall be directed to the full development of human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups…
-from UNESCO, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Intercultural education fosters understanding, respect and friendship among nations and between racial, religious, and ethnic groups. We know there are lots of teachers out there looking for ways to incorporate intercultural education in their classrooms, and Melissa Liles, Chief Education Officer of AFS Intercultural Programs, wrote a guest blog post on the topic for Education Week's Global Learning blog.
Following Liles’ suggestions, we’ve outlined how you can use WWB Campus to introduce intercultural learning to your classroom:
1. Start small and build safe spaces.
Liles recommends beginning with warm-up exercises that allow everyone—including the teacher and the students—to get to know each other on a personal level before moving to the cultural level.
You can start with some of these resources from WWB Campus:
The poem “Amina,” from Egypt, is addressed to the “perfect friend,” and the first teaching idea suggests that students discuss their own experiences of friendship and ideas about the “perfect friend;”
“The Last of the Bunch,” a graphic story about a man hoping to reconnect with an old friend, also includes teaching ideas that suggest conversations around friendship, generational divides, and parents and children;
2. Distinguish between personal, situational, and cultural differences.
When dealing with conflicts and differences of opinion between students, you might ask: “What kind of difference is this—personal, situational, or cultural? Why?” You can also use this framework when responding to students’ responses to literature and analysis of characters' relationships. “Do you like or agree with this character? Why, or why not? Why are these characters in conflict? Would you say that their differences are mostly personal, situational, or cultural?"
Literature from WWB Campus that deals with conflicts, differing perspectives and viewpoints, includes:
3. Build up activities and discussions to deepen learning.
Liles suggests that teachers connect local issues that are influenced by cultural differences to issues in the larger world. Begin with local issues, and then connect them with literature on WWB Campus. Learn about the context of that literature, and then return to the local issue. When reading fiction, remind your students that it is, of course, a fictional portrayal of an issue, but one that nevertheless provides a window into an individual perspective and may reveal larger truths.
After a discussion of immigration issues in your community, read "The Gringo Champion," about a young Mexican migrant worker, or "The Bed," about a Russian teenager on Brighton Beach; you might also have students work with the videos, interviews, essays and articles on immigration in the Context and Playlist tabs for these stories.
Consider local environmental issues, then read “Do Not Tremble,” and the accompanying contextual material related to the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 in Japan and their disastrous environmental effects.
You can also talk about income disparities in your community, and compare those with the depiction of poverty in mid-century Egypt in the graphic novel of “Proud Beggars.”
4. Recognize and encourage healthy conflict or sharing of different, or even dissenting views.
Read the pieces that deal with conflict (listed above)—whether social, cultural, or political—and have students choose a certain viewpoint. Or, more simply, have students think about whether they like a piece of literature or not, then have those with differing opinions discuss how they feel.
5. Recognize and redirect conflict that is not productive.
As Liles writes: “defuse [overheated situations] by using historical or literary references to take a step back and provide a more comfortable way to tackle bias or stereotypes.” Use WWB Campus’ many contextual materials, or ask students to use references to the literary text when conflict might get unproductive.
6. Help learners process through a three-step debriefing.
Open up space and structure for students to reflect on and discuss what they learned.
Help students imagine how they can apply the lessons they learned to their daily lives.
Work on coming to a shared understanding about why these intercultural activities were conducted. As Liles writes, “Global competence is necessary in our communities, and our world shouldn’t be kept a secret!”
We want WWB Campus to be a useful resource for teachers who integrate intercultural learning in their classrooms and schools. Our team looks forward to learning more about how teachers use international literature to foster intercultural competence—if you have a moment, let us know here or on Facebookhow you do this work!
Can children understand great world literature, including literature not written specifically for children? Based on our own experiences, and on feedback from teachers using WWB Campus, the answer seems to be yes.
As some readers may know, this website draws on literature from the magazine Words Without Borders, which seeks to publish the "finest contemporary international literature." Although the magazine has published some special issues devoted to children's and young adult literature, most of the work is for a general audience. So, when we started this website, we assumed that it would mainly be used in high school and college classrooms. However, over the past few years, we have heard from a number of elementary and middle school teachers who are successfully using the literature with their students. We've also heard from other teachers of younger students who are interested in doing the same.
As Kenneth Koch, Ken Ludwig, and others have argued, giving children emotionally gripping, complex literature can help their reading and writing grow by leaps and bounds. To help children engage with these works, Koch suggests:
Selecting literature with vivid, dramatic language, imagery, and characters
Giving children the chance to make the literature their own, using the texts as inspirations for their writing
When it comes to great world literature, we would also add:
3. Building children's understanding of the particular cultures within which the works were written.
Below, we've provided suggestions of poems, stories, and graphic literature that work with a wide range of ages, from children to adults. When you click on a piece of literature, you'll find definitions of culturally specific words and other relevant information in the "About," "Context," and "Playlist" tabs. For creative writing suggestions modeled on the literature, just click the "Teaching Ideas" tab on the far right.
Originally written in the indigenous Purépecha language, "Purépecha Mother" begins with the line, "She is not a queen." It would fit into a unit on indigenous cultures and could inspire students' poetry about important, "ordinary" people in their own lives.
"Do Not Tremble," a poem from Japan, was written in response to the 2011 earthquake, and gives the reader a sense of what it feels like to be in the midst of a natural disaster. It could complement a unit on the environment, and students could write their own poems responding to natural phenomena.
Had enough of haikus? Take a look at "Poem to the Tune 'Pure Peace'," which was written in the lesser-known jueju form; the word means "cut-off lines," and the unusual imagery in this poem will inspire students' own efforts. (See Teaching Idea #1.)
"It's a Chick, Not a Dog" is an Egyptian children's story. The main character is a young girl with a pet dog; she is having trouble understanding her mother's relationship with a pet chick.
Do your students draw comics? "A Drifting Life" is an excerpt from the memoir of one of Japan's most famous manga creators, describing a childhood encounter with a personal hero.
For upper elementary to middle school students:
"Once Upon a Swing," from Japan, asks, "What's it like to be the older sister of a genius?" (You might teach it alongside Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, which addresses a similar theme.) It includes the brother's fanciful, fairy-tale-influenced stories, which blend fantasy and reality, and which will help inspire students' work.
From Mexico, "A Failed Journey" features a lovable, relatable main character, a girl who steals her classmate's pencil and sneaks away to McDonald's after school.
If you are also looking for global literature written specifically for children, there are some very good resources that can help you find the books that are right for your classroom. The list below is based on a handout Kathy G. Short distributed at this year's NCTE Whole Language Institute conference; Dr. Short is herself the head of the World of Words program at the University of Arizona.
Thanks to everyone who registered on the site and was automatically entered into our summer raffle! The winner is Rebecca Berg, of Denver, Colorado, who selected the WWB anthologyTablet and Pen as her prize.
Rebecca Berg teaches writing and literature at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. Her fiction has appeared in the Five Fingers Review, the Four Way Review, the Still Point Arts Quarterly, the Water~Stone Review, and Word Riot. She also has three novels in the drawer. The first was a finalist in the James Jones First Novel Contest in 2001, the second won the 2008 Dana Award, and the third was the runner-up for the 2016 Juniper Prize. She has a PhD in English Literature, and has adjuncted and worked as a freelance editor for many years. These days, she also moonlights as a cello teacher.
She found WWB Campus while researching W.G. Sebald's influence on contemporary fiction writing in the magazine WWB, for a course she's currently teaching on Sebald's Austerlitz. (If you happen to be teaching The Emigrants, also by Sebald, the Russian short story "The Bed" could be an interesting companion text; see links and suggestions in the Teaching Ideas.)
"I often have a sense," she writes, "that I'm reading, writing, teaching, and striving in a U.S. bubble. The walls that limit my work stylistically and morally can be hard to spot. If I want to step through, which way do I turn? I expect WWB Campus will inspire many reading and teaching ideas in the years to come."
We will be holding other raffles in the future; in the meantime, check out Carmen Boullosa's poem "Sleepless Homeland," which begins, "Did we lose you in a game of dice?" (Nadia Kalman will be presenting the poem and teaching tools at the National Council of Teachers of English's Whole Language Institute in Tucson this Saturday.)
We are excited to share two new pieces of literature on the site: “Milgrom,” by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya and translated by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers, and “The Golem in the Mirror,” by Nadezhda Gorlova, translated by Deborah Hoffman.
The personal transformation of a Soviet Cinderella, a nameless eighteen-year-old girl, into a young woman in a beautiful new dress is, in Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s “Milgrom,” ultimately a way to tell a story of very different transformations, but also of transcendental permanence. . . .
. . . the features of a demented and eventually dead Jewish grandmother merge with those of her granddaughter: it’s a Golem that keeps returning, threatening to get out of control. The mechanism of time is broken: a “murky Venetian mirror . . . cracked in two in the fall of 1917,” and as a result, “any face bears a scar and the clocks run backward.”
As you may already know, registering on WWB Campus gives you immediate access to teaching ideas, assignments, classroom activities, and all the resources on the "For Educators" page.
Until July 7th, registration also enters you into a raffle to win a contemporary world literature anthology featuring the very best of the magazine; titles include: The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry; Tablet & Pen: Literature from the Modern Middle East; and Literature from the "Axis of Evil”, featuring work from Iran, North Korea, and other frequently demonized nations. (For a complete list, see the anthology page on the main WWB website.)
So, we hope you'll join our community today! And thank you to the hundreds of educators who have already signed up—we're so glad to have you on board!
Looking for an end-of-year lesson that incorporates world literature? We're happy to announce that Words Without Borders now has a sample lesson plan for every collection of literature on the site! (High school teachers: the lesson plans include correlations to standards, and, in several cases, suggestions for extending lessons and using them to support English Language Learning, or ELL.)
The Siberian adventure story "A Dream in a Polar Fog" includes frozen imagery which students might find refreshing at this time of year! The lesson plan for it addresses the stereotypes at play between a Canadian explorer and his Chukchi guides, and includes several ELL strategies.
In "Sleepless Homeland," Carmen Boullosa asks "Quo vadis?", or, "Where are you going?" to the country of Mexico. The lesson plan includes a creative writing activity in which students write their own poems asking "Quo Vadis?" of a person or place. (Includes ELL strategies.)
The short and intriguing story "The Trapped Boy," puts readers inside the mind of a teenage boy being bullied; the lesson plan includes a potential comparison with William Blake's well-known poem "The Tyger." (NYS teachers, we also provide links to the revised standards here.)
"The Guest," one of the most popular works in the Egypt collection, tells the story of a grandmother who married into a Bedouin family. The lesson plan includes a discussion of the power of labels, as students examine what it might mean for a person to be referred to only as "The Guest." (Includes ELL strategies.)
This month, the magazine Words Without Borders has published its 8th queer issue, and WWB Campus is featuring two stories with suggested pairings from our site and resources:
From Turkey, we have a piece of graphic literature named after the battle-cry of the LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex) movement in Turkey: “Where are you my love? Here I am, my love!” Editor Susan Harris writes:
Turkish artist and writer Beldan Sezen, now living in New York, returns to her native Istanbul in the "fearful, despondent" early months of 2016. On top of the threat of war and increased suicide bombings, her friends worry about the Erdogan government's association of the queer community with the opposition party and the loss of their majority, and the resulting escalation of anti-gay police action. They meet the cancellation of the annual pride parade with defiance and ingenuity to remain visible both in Istanbul and around the world.
For more background information about what’s going on in the LGBTI movement in Turkey, check out LGBTI News Turkey, where you can find English-language translations of relevant Turkish news stories.
Read this graphic literature alongside “The Story of a Homosexual: An Interview with Ni Dongxue,” from China. In the interview, Ni Dongxue tells his story as a queer person in China to oral historian Liao Yiwu, who tries (awkwardly at times) to learn and be open. There are videos, photos, and articles about LGBTI people and Pride movements in China in the Context and Playlist tabs, including some news and perspectives about the ways in which the Chinese state interacts with the LGBTI movement. The first Teaching Idea, “An Unusual Interview,” gives students a chance to imagine how they would have conducted the interview and discuss these issues.
Another story in WWB’s Queer Issue is “Miss Eddy,” from Mexico, in which young transgender characters leave home and have to make decisions about love and trust, fear and suspicion. Editor Susan Harris writes:
Another sort of danger informs the transgender world of "Miss Eddy," Mexican writer Milena Solot's English-language debut. The title character and her friend Úrsula fall in with the seductive sex trafficker Tommy. As they work their way toward the border, Eddy's initial infatuation turns to suspicion and then fear; when Tommy announces a change of itinerary, she stays behind in Tijuana, but cannot persuade the lovestruck Úrsula to do the same. The result is no less tragic for its inevitability.
For a story of a young cis-gender man's border crossing from Mexico, read an excerpt from the newly published The Gringo Champion by Aura Xilonen. Like the narrator of “Miss Eddy,” Liborio also has a run-in with brutal law enforcement officers, and you can find resources about border-crossing in the Context and Playlist for The Gringo Champion.
We hope you and your students enjoy this exciting collection of literature. Please be in touch with ways that you have taught international literature about LGBTI issues!
With the online collection of global literature and teaching tools on WWB Campus, we hope to engage students as readers of international literature and informed, active citizens of the world. Today, we take a step further towards that goal as we publicly launch the site, begin a new phase of outreach and community-building, and unveil some exciting technical improvements.
If you're new to WWB Campus, you might want to take a look at this short video, which shows the site in action in a classroom.
New on the Site: Special Access for Educators and More
We're delighted to launch an updated and improved version of WWB Campus, which includes better navigation; new content, such as sample lesson plans and more literature from Russia and Mexico, Recommended Reading lists, and other new features.
We've also added an educator login for teaching-related sections of the site. Registration takes just a minute, and registered users will receive early access to new features as they are added, such as commenting capability.
Today we're also unveiling a WWB Campus Facebook page to make it easier for you to stay up-to-date about new content on the site and to help new users discover the program.
We hope that Facebook will eventually become a space where globally-minded educators and librarians can meet and share resources and ideas for teaching international literature. Please join us by liking and following the page and inviting your educator friends to do the same. Then, come back to the page and join the conversation!
We couldn't have reached this point without the participation, ideas, and feedback of piloting educators and early users of the site: thank you for helping us to shape WWB Campus into the resource we’re proud to launch today.
Please feel free to be in touch with any feedback or suggestions. We look forward to continuing to grow WWB Campus together!
Have you ever explored filmmaking with your students? Projects that adapt literature to the screen can help students actively engage with and imagine settings, characters, and plots in stories. This blog post from Edutopia shares an extensive list of resources for creating “5-Minute Film Festivals” in classrooms.
A great example of student films based on literature from WWB Campus is Alona Guevarra’s students’ film of “Sleepless Homeland.” Guevvara teaches in the English Department at Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, Philippines, and she had assigned students in her Introduction to Poetry and Drama class to work in groups to create their own reinterpretations of the poem, which deals with Mexico’s drug wars.
Although it would be possible to adapt any of the literature on WWB Campus to film, some literature that seems particularly well-suited to student filmmaking includes:
"The Memory"—This story, inspired by Felix Vallaton’s painting The Ball, describes the same scene from several different perspectives. Students could make films incorporating the painting, and representing the characters' varying perspectives.
“The Trapped Boy”—The cinematic imagery and unusual structure in this story could inspire film adaptations of the story, or original films with similarly experimental structures.
“The Farside”—This story features intriguing dialogue and atmosphere, and student films could play with the identity of the mysterious narrator, which switches from second person to third person in the middle.
“The Egyptian Tomb”—This highly metaphorical story offers lots of opportunities for creative cinematic representation. How might the setting evoke an Egyptian tomb? What kind of dialogue occurs between the mother and daughter?
“Hello?”—In this story on a crowded bus, we hear only from the narrator as he watches and listens to the conversations around him. A film version might create adaptations of more busy scenes with voice-over narration.
“Metamorphosis”—This story from Japan portrays the ways in which a real-life tragedy begins to imitate stage theater. Students can adapt this story, or film original stories about the blurring of the line between reality and illusion.
“The Pharaohs of Egypt”—While it would be difficult to set a short film at the Egyptian pyramids, students could create films representing cultural misunderstandings similar to those in the story.
Translating poetry into film allows students the flexibility to connect it to their own life experiences, as did the students who set "Sleepless Homeland" on a college campus. Poetry on WWB Campus that might particularly facilitate such adaptions includes:
Last, in “Director’s Notes on ‘Sway’,” Nishikawa Miwa tells about the dream that gave her inspiration for a film about a possible murder. Based on this story, students could also create film adaptations of their own dreams.
Have your students created any films based on WWB Campus literature? Please send them to us if so—we’d love to feature student work in another blog post in the future!
As an educator, do you ever struggle to motivate students? More research is uncovering the motivational value of helping students connect their learning to a sense of larger purpose. This might be a sense of efficacy in local or global political, cultural, or social change, or a smaller-scale personal or social sense of being needed, or of belonging. Whatever the scale, says researcher William Damon, a sense of purpose always involves being engaged in something larger than the self.
Relate literature to students’ lives—Many of the stories on Campus feature contemporary settings and young-adult characters, which help make it relatable for students. In particular, we recommend Vladimir Vertlib's "The Bed," to connect with students' own stories of arriving in unfamiliar places and situations; shinji ishii's "Once Upon a Swing," for a window into sibling relationships; and Miral Al-Tahawy's "The Guest," to facilitate reflections on previous generations.
Talk about why—Ask students to identify the author's purpose in texts such as "Two Million People in the Square," a pamphlet circulated during Egypt's 2011 revolution; and "This Country Must Break Apart," an awards acceptance speech calling for the dissolution of China. Written in hopes of effecting radical change, these texts underscore the power of the written word and may inspire students to undertake written initiatives of their own. You might also ask students to consider the purpose of reading literature from other parts of the world–grappling with potential answers will help them connect world literature to larger ideas of cross-cultural understanding and global citizenship. Through these conversations, students will find more meaning in what they read.
Explain your purpose as a teacher—When you assign a reading, share with your students why you chose it: "This poem 'Sleepless Homeland' gives you a sense of what it feels like to be in a country over-run by violence"; "I was wondering how people find courage to stand up against oppression, so I re-read 'An Interview with Wu Wenjian'"; "I was looking for something that shows the effects of bullying on a person's mind, and I found 'The Trapped Boy'." Hearing about what you want the students to get out of the literature can be inspiring for them.
Connect the classroom to the world—The resources linked to in the Context and Playlist tabs can help students see the “real-life” context of the literature they read in class. In materials for “The Bed,” for example, you can read and watch videos about current immigration realities; in “Sentimental Education,” you’ll find resources on attachment theory, adoption, and domestic violence.
How do you use world literature to help students find a larger sense of purpose? Let us know!
In literature and in life, leaving home is a powerful theme, which encompasses stories of exclusion and inclusion, hopeful visions dashed by harsh confrontations with reality, and challenging interactions between people with different experiences and backgrounds. At a time when immigration and migration are especially charged and urgent issues around the globe, we’re glad to present the new literature in the Russia unit, all related to the theme of “Leaving Home:” In each story of new places and perspectives, both characters and readers will need to newly negotiate assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudices.
I dreamed I was in America. America, my father said, is a melting pot, where everyone is melted down and becomes an equal part of the whole. There are no “guest workers” there, just immigrants.
Suddenly I realize it’s not a dream but reality. I’m fourteen years old and really am in America, in New York, in Brighton Beach...
As the story continues, we learn about the narrator's Russian Jewish family, the long road they took to New York, and the community they found there. As the character navigates his new life, we also see the complexity of identity: even within a neighborhood composed almost entirely of Russian Jewish immigrants, there are vast differences between characters’ backgrounds, assumptions, values, and dreams. . . Resources in the Context and Playlist tabs for this story include dozens of other accounts of immigration and migration, as well as diverse approaches to the concepts of “America” and the “melting pot.” Teaching Ideas include “New Places: Myths and Realities,” which includes some connections to contemporary immigration, and “America and New Americans,” in which students closely read and analyze the different visions of Americans held by characters in the story.
In the short story “Pears from Gudauty,” by Ludmila Ulitskaya, a mother and daughter travel to the Caucasus for vacation and listen as a neighbor rattles off her long list of slurs about nearly all of the different groups in the region. In the Playlist for the story, you can find resources about all the ethnicities and nationalities the neighbor disparages; and in the Teaching Ideas tab, you can find suggestions for helping students distinguish stereotypes from reality.
An excerpt from Yuri Rytkheu’s A Dream in Polar Fog, set in 1910 Siberia, shows how ingrained prejudices about one another’s cultures influence the interactions of a Canadian explorer and the local Chukchi people. (Teaching Ideas for this story include “Misunderstandings and Stereotypes” and “Other Lands, Other Lives.”)
In “The Only True Guide to Russia: Hidden Secrets Revealed,” Ilia Kitup—himself an emigrant from Russia—presents 1990s Moscow to “everyone who has never been to Russia,” including fantastical stereotypes and alternative versions of the city. Teaching Ideas include a lesson on cities in graphic and prose literature, and activities to help students distinguish between “Truth, Rumor, Exaggeration, and Reality.”
We hope you enjoy this literature as much as we have. Stay tuned—there will be more literature in the “Leaving Home” theme for Russia, but first, we have some exciting new stories to add to the collection from Mexico!
How have you used literature from WWB Campus to discuss themes of immigration/migration, identity, and prejudice and stereotypes? We'd love to hear about your experiences and ideas.
Readers and students of Mandarin Chinese can now read the original text of “The Old Cicada” in addition to the translated version. Thanks to author Can Xue and translators Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping for helping us share this exciting resource!
Keep an eye out for more original language texts soon.
We’re very happy to announce that, just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’ve completed our first collection of theme-based literature from Russia—Love Stories—along with exciting new resources and teaching ideas.
In this literature, you’ll find four stories of love in different times, places, and forms.
Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich said of her work: “I want to emancipate my hero from the big ideas. And to discuss with him things life is built on. And there are only two: love and death.” For a story that touches on both love and death, read “The Wondrous Deer of the Eternal Hunt” in which a widow tells about her complicated, yet true and lasting love for her her husband. The story opens:
Letting someone into your world with so much baggage—twelve years in Stalinist camps, they took him as a boy, sixteen years old. . . . With the burden of that knowledge . . . the differences. That's not what I'd call freedom. What is it? What's the point? Admit that I only pitied him? No. It was love, too. That's exactly what it was: love.
Marina Tsvetaeva’s “To kiss a forehead is to erase worry” is a soliloquy with cadences that for some readers may seem melancholic, whereas for others sound “partly hysterical, near the fall into tears or laughter” (Vladimir Khodasevich). Read more of Marina Tsvetaeva’s love poems, and watch one of her poems in song form, from the classic Russian movie “The Irony of Fate.”
In “Hello?” we see inside the mind of a witty passenger on a crowded bus, whose stream-of-consciousness mental monologue reveals both his thoughts on love and his observations of the crowd on the bus:
We have been worn out by love, the immensity of which has filled us to overflowing, which is why we take up so much space. If we didn’t know love we would have withered and there would be plenty of room for everyone in the bus, which is actually quite spacious.
And in “Petroleum Venus,” we see two kinds of love: a teenage boy falls for the subject of a painting—“A naked blonde, her upturned face registering pleasure,” while his father experiences a cinematically-induced love of country:
“My nose is stinging. I unobtrusively wipe tears from my eyes. It’s just love. I love this whole appalling shambles. I am a part of it. I don’t need any order beyond this chaos, beyond this indefinableness. Thank you, Russia, for the passion, for the atrocities, for your loveliness, for our suffering.”
We hope you find these love stories as intriguing as we do, and keep on the lookout for the next theme from Russia: Leaving Home.
In the introduction to the issue, Dominic Davies makes a good case for comics, or graphic narrative, as places for border crossings. He writes:
…comics might be thought of as an empathetic medium. Readers have to situate themselves in the cultural context inhabited by their authors in order to make sense of the story…Because comics are, one might say, comprised of words (and pictures) with borders, they allow readers to more easily identify those borders, before then moving beyond them in the very act of reading.
The short graphic narrative “Heniek” tells a brief story of an Polish man aspiring to move abroad. As Davies writes in the introduction, “By juxtaposing Heniek’s dreams of working abroad with a sarcastic depiction of the realities for migrant laborers, the comic runs against the grain of mainstream anti-immigrant media discourse, especially in the US and UK.” (This also would fit within the Leaving Home theme; students might read it alongside “Dreams and Memories of a Common Man” or “A Failed Journey” to examine different representations of migration and immigration.)
"The Minibus," from Turkey, illustrates in vivid color a young woman's trip across Istanbul on a minibus. In some ways, it’s a familiar story of crowded metropolitan public transportation, but it also reveals the tensions at different levels of Turkish society today. (Pair this with “Hello?” from Russia, which also takes place on public transportation.)
“Joe” tells the story of a polar bear disturbed by the environmental crisis; he goes to the New York to tell the UN that they’re “misunderstanding everything.” Along the way, he meets people from around the worldand hears their stories of how the climate catastrophe has affected them. (This would work within a theme-based unit on Leaving Home or Transformation; or, you might pair it with Can Xue’s “The Old Cicada” to explore personification.)
"Coloureds," from South Africa, and "Men and Beasts," from Zaire, both tell stories that reveal the structural and other kinds of violence within the poorest communities. (Read an excerpt of Sentimental Education, from Japan, for another story of a rough childhood and parent-child relationship; or, read alongside another work of graphic literature: Proud Beggars, which depicts crime and vice in 1950s Cairo.)
“An Endless Green Line,” from Cyprus, uses the borders of the comic to tell about how the political border in Cyprus affected people’s lives. (Pair this with the poem “Things Elude Me,” which evokes thoughts of previous homes; “Nothing Remains Empty,” a poem about what might be recorded in a book of the “memory of time.” Or, focusing on the father in the story, you could read it alongside “Timid as a Mouse” and “Appendix” to explore different father characters.
Are you looking to start 2017 with a new project, new recognition, or new opportunities to explore and educate yourself and your students about the larger world?
You might be interested in applying one of for the grants and awards below; they are all related to some aspect of international education, and have application deadlines within the next few months.
NEA Foundation Learning & Leadership Grants
Application deadline: February 15th, 2017 (other rounds: June 1, October 15th)
$2,000 to individual projects of professional development and $5,000 to group projects of collegial study. Projects that incorporate global learning are more likely to be funded. (Must be NEA Member to apply.)
Offers educators 12 months of professional development opportunities to cultivate global competence skills and develop lesson plans that will be shared with educators around the world. Opportunities include online coursework, online country-specific resources guides and webinars, a professional development workshop, and a nine-day international field study.
Grants to support overseas projects in training, research, and curriculum development in modern foreign languages and area studies for groups within higher education institutions and other educational organizations where teachers, students, and faculty are engaged in a common endeavor. Considered projects are short-term seminars, curriculum development, group research or study, or advanced intensive language programs.
This is a year-long professional development program for elementary, middle, and high school teachers. The goal is to equip teachers to bring an international perspective to their schools through targeted training, experience abroad, and global collaboration.
McCarthy Dressman Education Foundation Academic Enrichment Grants
Application deadline: April 15, 2017
Academic Enrichment Grants up to $10,000 designed to develop in-class and extra-curricular programs that improve student learning. The Foundation considers proposals that foster understanding, deepen students’ knowledge, and provide opportunities to expand awareness of the world around them.
$1000 grants awarded monthly by autonomous local chapters to any good idea in a range of fields, including the arts, technology, community development, and more. You can apply to a local chapter, global chapter, like “Awesome Without Borders,” or choose “any” on the application.
United States-Japan Foundation Elgin Heinz Teacher Awards
Deadline: February 1, 2017
Award presented annually to two pre-college teachers in humanities and Japanese language who further mutual understanding between Japan and the United States. The award includes a certificate of recognition, $2,500 monetary award, and $5,000 in project funds.
Take this 5-min survey about diversity from the Tanenbaum Center. In developing trainings to combat faith-based bias and bullying at school, they are hoping to draw upon the opinions and experiences of educators.
There is one thing almost all the literature on this site has in common: it has been translated into English from another language.
How is translated literature different from literature that has not been translated, and how should we approach reading and teaching literature in translation? Translators and educators are developing exciting new ways of answering these questions.
In London, Sophie Lewis and Gitanjali Patel have developed and are currently leading an extra-curricular workshop series called Shadow Heroes* after Paul Auster’s observation that “Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world." Lewis and Patel lead workshops in schools to help students develop their translation skills in different media, including literature, film and music. Lewis comments, “[T]ranslation is never 'simply' literary, from written text A to written text B or from discrete national language C to discrete national language D. Creating resources that illustrate and enact this in new, involving ways is something we will always be trying to do in new, improved ways.”
In the spirit of making translation visible in the classroom, we are highlighting resources from WWB Campus to help students learn to better read and think about literature in translation, understand the process of translation, and undertake their own translations.
On reading translated literature: "How to Read a Translation" is an essay in WWB by prominent translation theorist Lawrence Venuti. Here is a paraphrased list of Venuti’s five rules for reading a translation:
Pay attention to meaning and language when you read.
Be prepared for translations to be written in unfamiliar and non-standard dialects.
Pay close attention to connotations and cultural references.
Always read introductory essays and notes from translators, which will help you understand how they interpreted and approached the literature.
Remember that a single translation doesn’t represent an entire body of literature; read other works translated from the same language and compare them.
Any piece of literature could be translated in a variety of ways, and reading different translations of the same work can help students understand the nuances of translation. In the essay excerpt, "Translating a Peony," translator Ilya Kaminsky shows five different translations of one line of poetry Along similar lines, the second teaching idea for “Poems for Parting” outlines how to use multiple translations to help students understand the nuances of Tang poetry. (Find it under the “Teaching Ideas” tab to the right of the poem.)
A valuable question to ask about translation is whether it is ever possible to truly and fully understand another culture. In the short story "The Last Picture Show," a Japanese teenager and a yakuza (or gangster) wander into a screening of the American film The Last Picture Show and are forever changed. The fourth teaching idea for that story, "Connecting Through Culture," asks students to think about how much we can understand and connect with those different from ourselves, and the limitations of translation.
Some words have culturally specific meanings that present particular challenges to translators. In "My Madre, Pure as Cumulous Clouds," a linguist explores the cultural significance of the word madre in Mexico. The second teaching idea for the essay, "Investigating a Word," walks students through the process of better understanding the cultural connotation of words.
The Translation Process
Translation is a collaborative and communicative process, with many drafts and correspondences traveling between authors, translators and editors. WWB and WWB Campus have several examples from “behind the scenes” of the translation process, and we hope to share more in the future.
In his translator's note, Translator Jeffrey Yang wrote about the ways in which his translation of "Poem to the Tune Pure Peace" emulates the original line structure of the Chinese version. (You can find it in the Context tab.)
In their introduction and endnotes to their book of Du Mu's poetry (which includes "Poems for Parting"), translators David Young and Jiang I. Lin discuss the poetic form Du Mu used and describe their translation process.
Translators' own stories and experiences can inform their ideas about literature. Here are some interviews with translators about their lives and their experiences in their careers. Links to these interviews can all also be found in the Context and Playlist tabs of their respective stories.
In this WWB Campus video interview with translator Allison Markin Powell ("Sentimental Education"), she describes how she became interested in Japanese culture and some of the challenges of putting Japanese texts into English.
In another WWB Campus video, translator Wenhuang Huang ("Prison Memoirs") describes taking part in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, some of which were led by the memoir's author, Wang Dan.
Motoyuki Shibata’s essay “Walking the Keihin Factory Belt with Stuart Dybek” is an interesting creative depiction of the connection between a writer and translator. Shibata is a well-known translator of English-language literature into the Japanese, and discusses his work in an interview with the magazine Asymptote.
We at WWB Campus hope to continue providing ideas and resources for teaching literature in translation. To do that, we would love to hear from you. How do you teach translation in your classes? Which resources and tools do you use? Let us know!
* Patel and Lewis would like to thank web designer Josh Nathanson for his work on the Shadow Heroes site.
We are always thrilled to hear from readers and educators interested in international literature. So, you can imagine how we felt when we heard about Aisha Ebhani's project, Reading the Globe. Aisha is a twelve-year-old girl in Pakistan who has embarked on a quest to read a book from every country in the world, and is tracking her progress on her Facebook page, Reading the Globe.
Words Without Borders Campus includes many pieces of literature suitable for middle school readers. We’re including a list of suggestions below, but, alternatively, and as the site grows, you can find middle school-level literature by going to the Find Literature page and, depending on what works best for you, typing the following keywords (in quotation marks) in the search box:
“middle school level”
“sixth grade level”
“upper elementary school”
“early middle school”
A Drifting Life (Japan) shows manga master Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s early years, and depicts encounters with bullies and his personal hero—the “god of manga” Osamu Tezuka.
Sharing (China) portrays a character who moves to a new city and struggles with loneliness and a need for belonging.
Are you interested in receiving funding to integrate WWB Campus into your classroom? Or, maybe you are looking for support to do more projects related to international literacy and global awareness? Or, would you like recognition for the work you are already doing with translated literature and global learning?
You might be interested in applying for the grants and awards below; they all have application deadlines within the next few months.
The Great Global Project Challenge
Application deadline: December 1, 2016
Global educators will design collaborative projects in which other students and teachers may participate during the course of the 2016-2017 school year. Projects will aim to support students to become empowered learners, digital citizens, knowledge constructors, innovative designers, computational thinkers, creative communicators, and most notably, global collaborators. The top ten project proposals will receive grants of $1,500, but all projects will be listed on the Global Collaboration Day website.
Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program for U.S. and International Teachers
Application deadline: December 1, 2016
This program seeks to promote mutual understanding among US and international teachers and their communities by funding U.S. primary and secondary level educators to take part in an intensive professional development program for three to six months abroad, and international teachers to participate in a four-month development program in the United States.
Application deadline: TBA (opens in December 2016)
This is a year-long professional development program for elementary, middle, and high school teachers. The goal is to equip teachers to bring an international perspective to their schools through targeted training, experience abroad, and global collaboration.
International Literacy Association (ILA) Teacher as Researcher Grant
Application deadline: January 15, 2017
Grants of up to $5,000 will be awarded to support [K-12] teachers’ inquiries about literacy and instruction. Grant-related studies may be carried out using any research method or approach so long as the focus is on reading/writing or literacy.
McCarthy Dressman Education Foundation Academic Enrichment Grants
Application deadline: Open January 15- April 15, 2017
Academic Enrichment Grants up to $10,000 designed to develop in-class and extra-curricular programs that improve student learning. The Foundation considers proposals that foster understanding, deepen students’ knowledge, and provide opportunities to expand awareness of the world around them.
Application deadline: February 15th, 2017 (other rounds: June 1, October 15th)
$2,000 to individual projects of professional development and $5,000 to group projects of collegial study. Projects that incorporate global learning are more likely to be funded. (Must be NEA Member to apply.)
Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs International Essay Contest: Nationalism
Competition Deadline: December 31, 2016
Teachers and students are eligible to enter 1,000-1,500-word essays on the topic: “Is nationalism an asset or hindrance in today's globalized world?” Prizes are awarded in three categories: teachers and graduate students, undergraduate students, and high school students. (We encourage you to use literature from WWB Campus to discuss the topic of national identity!)
…we’re observing Halloween with the theme of this month’s feature; but while the supernatural and the otherworldly might be foregrounded in this season, ghosts and all they represent lurk perennially in the universal consciousness and in literature around the world.
In Japan, people honor the spirits of their ancestors during the Bon Festival, which happens around August, but spirits, or yurei, appear in different forms in literature and culture throughout the year.
In "Wheels," a poem from Japan published this month in WWB, we see a ghost in snake form, frightening two young girls. You'll find other ghosts in WWB Campus’ collection of Japanese literature on the theme of “Ghosts, Dreams, and Visions.” “Compos Mentis” tells a version of the Noppera-bo—faceless ghost—story; in “The Kiso Wayfarer,” a young boy senses a ghost tagging alongside a mysterious traveler; and in “Spirit Summoning,” a young girl who is a “fake medium,” surprises herself when she seems to have actually called on a real spirit.
In China, QingMingjie (Tomb-Sweeping Day), in early April, is when people go to their ancestors’ graves to honor their spirits. In “Appointment in K City,” this holiday gives a woman the chance to remember her former lover.
Today, death is not just the inspiration behind rituals, poetry and philosophy. At the corner of Avenida Patriotismo and Río Mixcoac, one of the busiest crossroads in Mexico City, there is a bridge where people often hang advertisements and protest banners. Last week, I saw a yellow sign advertising a newly fashionable profession: “thanatology," the study of corpses and the manner of their death having become an urgent need.
We hope you enjoy these stories, some wildly fantastical, others all too real.
Are you and your students interested in meeting students and educators from other parts of the globe? Or would you like to read the international literature from WWB Campus along with another (perhaps international) classroom?
While WWB Campus isn’t currently facilitating international classroom exchanges, we can help teachers identify resources for doing that. Below, we’ve shared an updated list of several organizations and tools that can help you set up virtual exchanges in your classroom. The first section includes resources that are primarily platforms for educator-designed projects; the next group includes those that act as a platform and provide curricula; and the last section includes resources that offer chances to connect globally with pre-developed curricula.
Resources to connect over self-designed projects (i.e. WWB Campus lit groups)
Skype in the Classroom allows students to take virtual field trips, bring experts into the classroom, and connect with travelers, educators and authors. The Around the World with 80 Schools and Learn NC blogs give examples of projects that are possible using Skype in the Classroom for virtual global learning. (free)
After signing up on ePals (Global Community), teachers and students can message each other; teachers can also choose from a library of "Experiences"—cultural exchange, subject-based learning, and language practice—for their classes. (free)
Resources to connect with self-designed projects or with curriculum provided
iEARN organizes project-based collaborations for classrooms around the world using online (emails, forums, and live chats) and face-to-face (video chats) interactions. On its Project Collaboration Center page, you can browse the many different projects underway; and, after creating an account, you can explore the different platforms for exchange, including a General Discussion Space, Projects Space, and Learning Circle Space. ($100 for individual/$400 for schools)
Resources to connect with curriculum provided
Global Nomads Group provides educators with several different options for education programs that foster dialogue and enhance understanding between students on all seven continents. Find GNG project guides and curricula on Open Educational Resources Commons. (free with registration)
GNG's Youth Voices program provides curricula and platforms for connection, including interactive videoconferences focused around several questions related to global citizenship. The Global Citizens in Action project has a specific cross-cultural focus: classrooms in United States and the Middle East and North Africa connect to explore cultural exchange, media literacy, and global citizenship. (free materials, participation with application)
The Pulse programs are virtual town hall meetings: classrooms across the globe use live chat to discuss current questions and issues. (free)
Finally, with a subscription to Flat Connections, you and your class can take part in collaborative projects with other teachers and students throughout the world. Look at the different levels of project to see what would best fit your class. (fees start at $149 for one 15-student project, $699 for access to all projects)
As you watch the Full Harvest Moon emerge tonight and tomorrow, remember that people around the world will be looking at the moon as they celebrate the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. During the holiday, Chinese people gather together with their families, eat mooncakes, look at the full moon, and think about the family members not with them on that day. The holiday is celebrated in China along with the full moon on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, and falls on Thursday, September 15th, this year.
To celebrate the festival, and connect with the tradition of thinking about family on this day, read two stories that take place in the autumn from WWB Campus’ China unit:
Appendix, by Yu Hua, is the story of two boys and their near-mortal admiration of their surgeon father.
Timid As A Mouse, also by Yu Hua, tells the story of a young boy who struggles with the weaknesses—and strengths—that he inherited from his family.
Here’s an introduction to the holiday, also known as “Mooncake Festival”…
And then, a video that illustrates one of the stories of the origin of the festival…
For those in NYC, you can celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival at the Museum of Chinese in America’s event.
“The series of events unfolding in that year still remain vivid in my memory,” writes Wang Dan, former student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprisings, in his book, Prison Memoirs. The same sentiment shines through in other stories told in the first person, whether or not they describe an equally infamous event.
Here is a collection of 10 first-person stories from WWB Campus; you can find nonfictional personal narratives, like Wang Dan’s Prison Memoirs; fictional, or partly-fictional short stories; and stories illustrated with graphics and poetry:
Prison Memoirs, by Wang Dan: an excerpt from his memoir of his time in prison after being one of the student leaders in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China.
Memories of Chernobyl, by Egyptian doctor Mohamed Makhzangi: an excerpt from what he calls an “anti-memoir” about living in Kiev at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown.
The Last Picture Show, by Ryu Murakami, Japan: the part-autobiographical story of Yazaki, who moves to Tokyo with his blues band and becomes friends with a member of the yakuza.
Appointment in K City, by Li Xiao, China: a fictional narrative that follows the narrator’s investigation of a mysterious death and his developing understanding of poetry and love.
It’s A Chick, Not a Dog, by Jar al-Nabi al-Hilw, Egypt: a short story from the perspective of a child who learns about “the way life works” through a friendship with a dog, and her mother’s friendship with a chick.
A Drifting Life, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Japan: an excerpt from Tatsumi’s mostly autobiographical graphic novel about his development as a manga artist and person.
Sharing, by Duncan Jepson and Xie Peng, China: a short graphic story about a character who moves to a new city and struggles with loneliness and a need for belonging.
“A woman could fall in love for a cheap word. That's women for you!" the street vendor Damao asserts in Ye Mi’s short story, “Love’s Labor.” Damao makes lots of confident pronouncements about women, but they are mostly, blessedly, proven false—the woman in the story is much too complex to conform to aphorisms.
Below, you’ll find that story, along with six other, similarly complex, perspectives on women.
Love’s Labor, a short story by Ye Mi, China: What kind of woman is Fan Qiumian? Wang Longguan and his friend Damao, both street vendors, have very different opinions of Fan—then, she suddenly disappears. (For educators interested in questions of women's characterizations, Teaching Idea 3 is especially relevant.)
The Guest, a short story by Miral Al-Tahawy, Egypt: Memories of a grandmother who was kidnapped into a Bedouin family at the age of twelve and forever referred to as “The Guest.” (Teaching Idea 2: "Labels.")
Amina, a poem by Iman Mersal, Egypt: A poem reflecting one’s woman’s image of another, a “perfect friend.” (Teaching Idea 2: "Complex Friendships." )
Cavities and Kindness, a short story by Nao-Cola Yamazaki, Japan: Femininity as perceived and embodied by a young Trans woman. (Teaching Idea 1: "The Complexity of 'Cute.'")
The Memory, a short story by Mitsuyo Kakuta, Japan: Who is telling this story of a fashion model with a disturbing secret? (Teaching Idea 2.)
Sleepless Homeland, a poem by Carmen Boullousa, Mexico: Drug-war-ravaged Mexico, personified as a woman. (Teaching Idea 1.)
My Madre, Pure as Cumulous Clouds, an essay by Liza Bakewell, Mexico: Why is it so “dangerous” to insult someone’s mother in Mexico? A linguistic researcher describes her search for answers to that question. (Teaching Idea 2.)
These links are only a sampling of all the literature by and about women on WWB Campus—visit the Find page for more, and try searching for “women authors.”
Every once in a while, an educator will write to us requesting suggestions for literature around a particular topic or theme. We made the list below in response to one of those requests, from a professor interested in the literature of food. To our surprise, we found that food-related literature is a much broader genre than we had ever imagined, encompassing a prisoner’s memoir, a ghost story, and more:
To find literature around a topic or theme, you can visit the “Find” page and use the filters on the right-hand side – we have already organized collections around themes such as “Leaving Home,” “Love Stories,” and “Revolution.” Or, if you’re looking for a different theme, try the keyword search in the top box. And, of course, if you’d like to ask us, just fill out the form on the “Contact” page.
“What I like about reading literature from different countries is connection …you have to know about more than what’s right in front of your face.” – Lauren Patterson, LaGuardia Community College
What do you and your students like about reading international literature? How has WWB Campus helped you and your students make connections to other cultures?
Since 2014, we at Words Without Borders Campus have been working hard to bring exciting, contemporary international literature to young readers. With our collections of literature from Mexico, China, Egypt, and Japan, we have already reached more than 1,500 high school and college students in the United States and throughout the world. And, importantly, our site is totally free.
Now we are asking you, -- readers, educators, and even students – for help with a new crowd-funding campaign to spread awareness of WWB Campus and raise $15,000 to take our program to the next level.
We have great things planned for the next phase of WWB Campus, including doubling the number of students we reach, adding new features to the website, and introducing eye-opening literature from more countries (Russia, Iran, and West Africa are in the plans).
Share the campaign with your friends and family on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #InspireGlobalReaders
Reach out to the people in your network, telling them why you think it’s important for students to read more international literature
Will you help us #InspireGlobalReaders by supporting WWB Campus? We’re grateful for donations in any amount, and we’ll be showing our thanks with a range of unique gifts, from temporary tattoos to your name emblazoned on the next collection of WWB Campus literature.
Through its Pre-College Education Program, US-JF supports programs that take advantage of new technology to bring Japanese and American teachers and students together; build human networks among teachers on both sides of the Pacific with a mutual interest in teaching and learning about Japan, the U.S., and U.S.-Japan relations, particularly in the fields of social studies and Japanese-language instruction; and invest in programs in regions in both countries that have been underserved in terms of exposure to and resources for learning about the other country.
The month of May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month! Christina Torres, in an article for Education Week’s teacher blog The Intersection, writes:
It is one thing to be "seen" in a classroom. It is another to know that someone else-- student, teacher, or even text-- sees not just you, but the cultural narratives and traditions that you carry deep inside you and made you who you are.
Reading the literature on this site from China and Japan can be a way to celebrate and recognize the cultural traditions of students of Asian heritage and in doing so, allow them to be “seen” in the classroom.
We also recommend a viewing of our interview with Chinese-American author and translator Wenguang Huang, who eloquently describes his sense of mission in bringing Chinese realities to American readers.
Starting in 2011, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations has joined with UNESCO and other partners to launch the world campaign “Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion.” The campaign aims:
To raise awareness worldwide about the importance of intercultural dialogue, diversity and inclusion.
To build a world community of individuals committed to support diversity with real and everyday life gestures.
To combat polarization and stereotypes to improve understanding and cooperation among people from different cultures.
As we read through the UN’s list of ten things you might do to celebrate the day, we saw that it’s possible to do many of those things from WWB Campus. Here’s the list, with suggestions on how to incorporate WWB Campus in italics:
Visit an art exhibit or a museum dedicated to other cultures (The Guggenheim’s Tarascan Empire materials, for example, complement the poem “Purepecha Mother.”)
Invite a family or people in the neighborhood from another culture or religion to share a meal with you and exchange views on life.
Rent a movie or read a book from another country or religion than your own. (This applies to any piece of literature on WWB Campus! For different religions: “The Veiler of All Deeds” tells a story that centers around religious and social rules in Islam; the contextual materials for “Spirit Summoning” include information on contemporary religions in Japan, including Shintoism.)
Invite people from a different culture to share your customs.
Read about the great thinkers of other cultures than yours (e.g. Confucius, Socrates, Avicenna, Ibn Khaldun, Aristotle, Ganesh, Rumi).
Go next week-end to visit a place of worship different than yours and participate in the celebration.
Play the “stereotypes game.” Stick a post-it on your forehead with the name of a country. Ask people to tell you stereotypes associated with people from that country. You win if you find out where you are from.
Learn about traditional celebrations from other cultures; learn more about Hanukkah or Ramadan or about amazing celebrations of New Year’s Eve in Spain or Qingming festival in China. (“Mrs. Saniya’s Holiday” takes place during Eid al-Fitr, the holiday celebrated at the end of Ramadan; in “Appointment in K City,” Xiaoli’s mother celebrates the traditional Chinese holidays Festival of Ghosts and the Double Ninth Festival; in “A Failed Journey,” which takes place in Mexico, Odette receives a bicycle from the Three Kings.)
Spread your own culture around the world through our Facebook page and learn about other cultures.
The International Literacy Association’s magazine Literacy Today is seeking nominations for its second annual 30 Under 30 list, which aims to highlight innovative up-and-coming literary champions from all over the world. The list honors “educators…administrators, authors, librarians, students, nonprofit leaders, politicians, technology experts, volunteers, and advocates who are advancing literacy for all.”
You can use this nomination form to nominate someone who deserves this honor. Nominations are open until 11:59 p.m. ET on May 16th, 2016.
In honor of National Poetry Month, Words Without Borders is tweeting some of the best worldwide poetry in translation from the archives. Follow on Twitter at @wwborders (and #NPM16) for your daily international poem!
To debut the unit, we are publishing literature around the themes of “Ghosts, Dreams, and Visions” and “Love Stories,” which overlaps with the “Love Stories” theme in the China Unit. We’re also publishing an excerpt from the novel Sentimental Education, which translator Allison Markin Powell reads from and discusses in our newest video.
In these modules, you will have the chance to read a variety of beautiful, inspiring, sometimes dark, and sometimes humorous literature. In the tabbed sections next to the literature, you’ll also find specifically designed lesson plans for each piece of literature, and resources to help students understand the cultural, historical, geographical, and literary context. The Context and Playlist tabs in these modules include links to traditional Japanese ghost stories; a collection of dream-inspired works; maps of locations in the stories; Japanese home-cooking recipes; videos and articles about contemporary issues in Japan, and much more. Also, to facilitate classroom discussions, at the top of each Context tab includes the audio recording of the pronunciation for the Japanese names in each story.
Stay tuned for the following modules to come: the rest of the literature in the "Leaving Home" theme, which overlaps with themes in the Egypt and Mexico units; “Memories;” and "Transformations" will all be published over the next few months.
In addition to the new literature, teaching ideas, and contextual materials, we are also pleased to share a new WWB Campus video, which features translator Allison Markin Powell. Powell talks about her experiences in Japan and take on Japanese culture, introduces some interesting Japanese words, and reads an excerpt in Japanese from Sentimental Education.
During the piloting phase of Words Without Borders Campus, we have worked with teachers of English, world literature, global history and citizenship and other subjects. It has been inspiring to hear about some of the ways educators have used the materials, and how their students have responded.
Alona Guevarra, an instructor in the English Department at Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, Philippines, used Carmen Boullosa's poetic response to Mexico's drug wars, “Sleepless Homeland,” with her Introduction to Poetry and Drama class. In order to extend students’ interpretive understanding into a creative project, Guevarra assigned students to work in groups to create their own reinterpretations of the poem. One group of students made the video below.
The students were able to relate to the poem's symbolic level and tie it up with their generation's concerns. I also think that the poem is relatable given some similarities between Mexican and Philippine socio-historical realities. The problems of 'homeland" are quite similar in the two settings.
Like Alona Guevarra, Vermont teacher Whitney Kaulbach, of Lamoille Union High School, connected the contemporary literature on the site to current events. Kaulbach used Iman Mersal’s poem “Sometimes Wisdom Possesses Me” after the Paris attacks in November. First, Kaulbach had her AP World History students read and pass around the poem, annotating favorite passages and highlighting questions or connections. Then, she played a video of Mersal reading her poem “The Clot” in Arabic. Kaulbach says she wanted the students’ first experience hearing Arabic to be “pretty and peaceful and not connected to the news.”
Finally, Kaulbach posted documents on the wall for students to walk around and read, leave comments on and look for connections with: a BBC timeline of Egyptian history available in the Context tab of Mersal's “Sometimes Wisdom Possesses Me;” a quote by Bernie Sanders on international forces; and a map of ISIS attacks from the New York Times.
Hussey began a culminating class discussion with the question, “What’s one issue you would write about if you were writing a novel?” Gentrification, economic equality, racial equality, and freedom from oppression topped the students lists; they were then able to find similar themes in the readings (gentrification in Alonso and Mersal’s literature; freedom from oppression in Prison Memoirs.) In class, students watched the "Tank Man" video filmed during the Tiananmen Square protests, available in the Context tab of "Prison Memoirs," and discussed their responses to Wang Dan and the other authors. These kinds of discussions contributed to students' understanding of the overall theme of Hussey’s class – world literature and human connection.
We would love to hear from educators who taught with materials from WWB Campus. If you’d like to share new ideas, or were inspired by the ones in this post, please write to email@example.com.
UNESCO recently released an inspiring video that expresses its approach to Global Citizenship Education.
UNESCO’s Global Citizenship Education (GCED) initiative “aims to empower learners to assume active roles to face and resolve global challenges and to become proactive contributors to a more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure world.”
The materials on WWB Campus can help teachers meet the goals of the GCED initiative by fostering empathy across cultures and helping students to appreciate cultural diversity.
The criteria for the list were that the works had to be available online for free, and also “accessible, interesting, compelling, well-translated, and worthwhile for students aged 11-18.”
For those who are familiar with the Egyptian literature on WWB Campus, you’ll recognize some writers and translators featured on WWB Campus as well: Nawal El-Saadawi, Khaled Mattawa, and Elisabeth Jaquette. You’ll also find the graphic story “The Apartment in Bab el-Louk” on the list. It was originally published in Words Without Borders; now we’ve re-published it on Campus, along with contextual materials and teaching ideas.
a teacher of English, world literature, global history, or a related subject? Do
you enjoy international literature, and want to use it in your classroom? Sign up to be part of
a new round of pilots for Words Without Borders Campus, WWB's online education
Words Without Borders Campus presents exciting texts from WWB's monthly magazine,
organized by country and by theme; alongside each piece of literature are
multimedia contextual materials, resources for further exploration, and ideas
for lesson plans. To date, WWB Campus features units of literature from Egypt,
China, and Mexico; units on literature from Japan and Russia are planned for
2016. Our goal—with the help and invaluable feedback of educators and students —is
to create opportunites for students to engage with the thousands of rich global
texts in the WWB archives, fostering deep cross-cultural understanding and
stimulating lasting interest and passion for international literature.
in the pilots will teach one or more of the many poems, stories, or essays on
the site and provide feedback in surveys and an online forum. To allow
participants a large window of time for participation, pilots will begin in
early February and end in late April. If you are a secondary or college-level
educator who might be interested in taking part in the spring 2016 round of
pilots, please write to
include the name of your school and the class(es) in which you'd like to pilot
Thank you for your consideration, and we hope to hear from you soon!
Reading literature from other countries brings us closer to the people who live there, and can stimulate students’ desire to connect with peers around the world. Virtual exchanges use technology to facilitate live, international interactions right in the classroom. In a virtual exchange, classrooms use technology to connect with other classrooms or individuals outside of their local community, either once or over a longer period of time. Often, virtual exchanges come with curricula for enhancing knowledge before, during, and after the interactions.
Below we’ve put together a list of several organizations and tools that can help you set up virtual exchanges in your classroom.
Global Nomads provides educators with several different options for education programs that foster dialogue and enhance understanding between students on all seven continents.
The Youth Voices program provides curricula and platforms for connection, including interactive videoconferences focused around several questions related to global citizenship. The Global Citizens in Action project is coming soon, and has a specific cross-cultural focus: classrooms in United States and Saudi Arabia will connect to explore answers to the question, “How do we, as youth, promote dialogue between our countries and cultures?”
The Pulse programs are virtual town hall meetings: classrooms across the globe use live chat to discuss current questions and issues.
After signing up on ePals (Global Community), both teachers and students can message each other; teachers can also choose from a library of "Experiences" – cultural exchange, subject-based learning, and language practice – for their classes.
In a recent column of Education Week’s Global Learning column, Jason Harshman, Assistant Professor of Social Studies and Global Education at University of Iowa, writes about the three ways that educators can help students truly become global citizens: through reflection, action, and variation in the classroom.
Working with international literature can fit especially well into the reflection part of global citizenship education. When reading international literature, students may come upon ideas and practices that seem strange, different, or disturbing to them. Harshman writes that educators can remind their students that being uncomfortable with difference is an important part of the learning process. Indeed, what we strive for as global citizens is not to never feel uncomfortable, but to learn to restrain from judging when we do. Confronting the sometimes-unfamiliar worlds in international literature is a good way to practice this.
Harshman suggests the following questions as part of the reflective process:
Whose perspective is missing?
What influences my global perspective and how does my perspective inform my decision making as an educator/student?
Read the full article for more thoughtful and powerful suggestions.
We are thrilled to present our new introduction to the Mexico unit, a powerful essay by writer Francisco Goldman. The essay discusses recent events in Mexico as well as Mexican politics and the rich and diverse history of Mexican literature.
“I live in Mexico City. If I’d read the texts from Mexico collected on Words without Borders Campus over a year ago— that is, before late September and early October 2014—I would have read them differently than I do now. Many of the writings here refer to Mexico’s Aztec past, or are written by members of its indigenous minority, and describe native traditions and the hard but often spiritually rich rural lives those traditions are closest to—before, I might have considered some of these writings to be folkloric, or simply experienced them as interestingly distant from urban realities. Not anymore…”
In honor of Translation Tuesday, we’re sharing the lesson plan “Found in Translation: Parsing and Appreciating Difficult Texts” from The New York Times Learning Network blog. By comparing the King James Bible with other more contemporary translations, students assess the value of reading difficult texts in their original language and consider how various translations can change the feel of a text.
Possible extensions of the lesson include assignments for students to create their own translations from archaic English into contemporary language; or alternately, to translate a contemporary piece into King James-style English. (Scroll down the page for these activities.)
What is Daesh? What is ISIS? What are the meanings and implications of these names?
Words without Borders contributor and Arabic translator Alice Guthrie’sblog post “Decoding Daesh,” which appeared on the Free Word Centre's blog last February, delves into the complexity of language and translation – and how our understanding and use of words could affect politics in potentially important ways.
Daesh – the term that more and more global leaders are using to refer to the Islamic State – is the transliteration of the Arabic acronym for “Islamic State in Syria and Iraq,” but as Guthrie explains, it’s much more than that. Because acronyms are not as commonly used in Arabic as they are in English, the acronym “Daesh” comes across “inherently funny, disrespectful, and ultimately threatening of the organization’s status.” And, change one letter of this word, and it sounds like daes, which means “to crush or trample” in Arabic. The result, says Guthrie, is powerful:
[T]he use of this word is part of a multi-pronged, diverse range of efforts by Arabs and Muslims to reject the terrorists’ linguistic posturing, their pseudo-classical use of Arabic, their claims to Quranic authority and an absolute foundation in sacred scripture, as reflected in their pompous name.
This is why Syrian activists who oppose terror are working hard to encourage using this word instead of ISIS. And though it has been in use by France, other countries, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for over a year, most English-language news sources still use “ISIS.” Guthrie, however, agrees with Khaled al-Haj Salih, the Syrian activist who came up with the term, and who recently wrote: “the people who suffer most at the hands of Daesh should decide what they are called.”
Though Guthrie wrote the post last February, it remains relevant. Listen to Guthrie and writer Zeba Khan talk about recent Daesh developments on PRI’s November 17th episode of The World in Words.
Interested in receiving funding to integrate WWB Campus into your classroom? Looking for support to do more projects related to international literacy and global awareness? You might be interested in applying for the grants below; they all have application deadlines within the next few months.
Scroll to the bottom for student grants related to global citizenship.
International Literacy Association (ILA) Teacher as Researcher Grant
Application deadline: January 15, 2016
Grants of up to $5,000 will be awarded to support [K-12] teachers’ inquiries about literacy and instruction. Grant-related studies may be carried out using any research method or approach so long as the focus is on reading/writing or literacy.
Global Diversity Mini-Grants are established for educators and community leaders to create projects that help young people appreciate the similarities and diversity of global cultures. Examples of possible projects include creating multicultural or international teaching materials, inviting international guest speakers to a classroom or library, or organizing a literacy program in an underserved community.
The goal of the program is to help raise global awareness in the classroom and prepare students for global citizenship and study abroad. Teachers who receive an enrichment grant can conduct any learning activity in the US or abroad that enhances their international outlook and global experience. Through their experiences, they will be able to further internationalize their classroom and advance their role as global educators to positively impact student learning.
Grants for high school students and recent high school graduates:
Kennedy-Lugar High School Abroad Grants
Application deadline: December 1, 2015
The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Abroad program offers American high school students and recent graduates full scholarships to study for one academic year in countries with significant Muslim populations. In 2016-2017, students have the opportunity to go to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Macedonia, Malaysia, Morocco, Philippines, Senegal, Thailand, and Turkey.
The Global Citizens Youth Summit (GCYS) brings youth scholars from around the world and thought leaders to Cambridge, MA for a nine-day program to investigate the idea of global citizenship. The program serves as a springboard for ideas and collaboration in the year to come. Following the Summit, students take action and follow their passion in taking on complex global problems in their local communities.
For teachers in U.S. public schools, an initial question about international literature may be, "How does it support the Common Core Standards?" The short answer is, "pretty well": international literature provides opportunities for the kind of deep, close, careful reading that the standards promote. On the WWB Campus site, you'll find:
A balance of fiction, nonfiction, and poetic texts, with additional nonfiction in the Context and Playlist tabs (Increased study of nonfiction is one of the CCS's Key Shifts in ELA)
1. Finding Standards
On Words Without Borders Campus, you'll find "Teaching Ideas" next to each piece of literature. Click on the "Teaching Ideas" tab on the right-hand side to view a selection of ideas, all aligned with the CCS. Here's a screenshot of Teaching Ideas for the Chinese poem "Two or Three Things from the Past," by Yu Jian. "Teaching Ideas" is circled in red.
There are two to five different teaching ideas for each piece of literature. At the bottom of each Teaching Idea, you'll see an italicized list of the ELA Anchor Standards the idea addresses.
All of the Teaching Ideas on WWB Campus support Reading Standard 10 (Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently) as well as New York State Reading Anchor Standard 11, which specifies that students should be reading literature from a variety of "world cultures." Also, although we only specify the Anchor Standards for Reading and Writing, the ideas also support the standards for Speaking and Listening, as well as Language, especially if students revise the writing they produce.
2. Specifying Grade Levels
Teachers can adapt the Anchor Standards to students' grade levels by simply matching them to grade-level-specific versions for literature. For example, Reading Anchor Standard #1 is:
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
For an 11th or 12th-grade classroom, the grade-level-specific version of this standard for literature, RL11-12.1, is:
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain. (Page 52, New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy, PDF format)
3. Specifying Types of Literature
The Common Core Standards for reading are split into two categories: literature and informational texts. Although most of the texts we publish are literary, the Teaching Ideas on WWB Campus provide opportunities to address both sets of standards. Many of the teaching ideas suggest specific informational resources to help contextualize the literature for students -- essays on culture, journalistic pieces, maps, etc. By using those resources in class, you can address some of the CCS for reading informational texts as well as literature.
For instance, Teaching Idea #1 for the poem "Two or Three Things from the Past" has students analyze images from propaganda posters, and compare those images to the ones in the poem. As part of the activity, students evaluate the persuasive power of propaganda posters, which addresses Standard 7 for informational texts in 11th and 12th grades: Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.
If you'd like to look at an example, we've created a detailed sample lesson plan using Teaching Idea #1 from "Two or Three Things from the Past," the poem discussed above. (Thanks to Sophie Danis Oberfield, an English teacher at Stuyvesant High in New York City, for feedback and advice about the plan!)
So, if you're working at a public high school in the U.S., and would like to address the CCS with international literature from this site, just click on the Teaching Ideas, find the CCS at the bottom, and customize as needed. Feel free to contact us with any questions or comments -- or to let us know how you're teaching and learning with international literature.
We're pleased to share an excerpt from translators David Young and Jiann I. Lin's work on Du Mu on WWB Campus! Young and Lin translated "Poems for Parting," published on Campus and written by Du Mu in Yangzhou, China, in 835.
Young and Lin have also published a book-length collection of translations of Du Mu's work, and are generously allowing us to publish several excerpts on WWB Campus. In these excerpts, we learn about "Poems for Parting," Du Mu, and the process of translating ancient Chinese poetry. Young and Lin write:
That poetry can retain its freshness and force over such a time-span, not to mention in the face of considerable cultural and geographical obstacles, feels little short of miraculous. It suggests that there is indeed something in poetry that lasts and matters, as few other things do.
The Toast, Noah Cho argues for the importance of diverse literature from his
experience as a student and teacher in high school English classes. Keeping in
mind “students of color, LGBT+ students, and students at other intersections…”
he writes, “I
do not want students to think they can’t be writers or engaged in literature
simply because they don’t see themselves being portrayed in their coursework. “Why I Teach Diverse Literature”
Caroline Levine, an English professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, jumps
into the debate around the value of world literature in her review of three
recent books, concluding:
I’d like to expand my own tastes, and my students’, through
encounters with surprising, perplexing, and remarkable works. Since only 3% of
books sold in the US are translations from foreign languages, we are hardly a
culture drowning in other worlds. Wouldn’t it be better, politically, if we began
to hunger for cultural multiplicity?
making tweaks on your syllabus? Trying to decide which "Great Books" will
be great in the classroom?
New York Times has asked some
educators, students and writers about their must-read lists. We especially appreciated
Felice Nudelman’s insistence on diversity in reading lists: “It is one thing to
study the ‘Great Books,’ quite another to let that list be narrowly defined by
a small legacy subset of our culture.” (From “Don't Let Reading Lists Limit Students' Understanding of the World”)
Thanks to M. Lynx Qualey at Arabic Literature (in English) for the generous review of WWB Campus,
which she called "the best teaching resource for translated Arabic
literature freely available online."
Thanks also to everyone who's been reading materials on the
site, trying it out in classrooms, and letting us know what you think. Your
feedback is invaluable, which is why we're launching a new round of pilots in fall 2015.
Piloting the WWB Campus program will involve teaching one or
more of the many poems, stories or essays from the site, and completing several
short surveys with your students. If you are a secondary or college-level
educator who might be interested in taking part in the pilots, we'd like to
hear from you! Email firstname.lastname@example.org
to learn more.
We're very happy to announce that our video interview with noted author, translator and journalist Wenguang Huang is now up on the site! Watch the video to find out what it was like to be at Tiananmen Square in 1989, why "a calf is not afraid of the tiger," and why some Chinese idioms have to be translated directly to be understood.
We've just posted an interview with author Miral Al-Tahawy, author of the short story The Guest, in the Egypt unit. In the video, Al-Tahawy talks about becoming a writer, describes the roles of girls and women in Bedouin communities, and explains why her mother hid her book covers.
You can watch the video below, or find it in the Context tab for The Guest.
In their introduction to the issue, guest editors Briony Everroad and Daniel Hahn make a passionate case for the genre:
If you can get past the thick fog of casual snobbery that always seems to envelop this subject, it seems perfectly obvious that a lot of the most interesting writing happening in the English-speaking world just now is being published as YA (young adult) fiction.
That same passion was evident during the panel discussion itself, which included Everroad, who spent a decade as an editor at Random House UK and founded the Harvill Secker Young Translators' prize to recognize new and emerging translators. Other panelists included Roxanne Hsu Feldman, the Middle School Librarian at the Dalton School, who is originally from Taiwan; Arthur A. Levine, who heads an eponymous book imprint at Scholastic, and is a leading publisher of translated children's and YA literature; and Padma Venkatraman, an award-winning author, most recently of the novel, A Time to Dance. The panel was moderated by Marc Aronson, an author and a professor at Rutgers' graduate library school.
The panelists spoke about the joys, as well as the challenges, of publishing international YA literature. The wonderful thing about many works of contemporary YA fiction, such as the pieces published in Words Without Borders, is that they avoid didacticism and seek, instead, to see the world through the eyes of their protagonists. "There's a world of great authors," Arthur A. Levine said, and Briony Everroad spoke of being "thrilled by the breadth and quality" of the work she read for the YA issue.
However, as with mainstream fiction, there is always the danger of exoticizing people from other parts of the world. Roxanne Hsu Feldman described "Asian-flavored" metaphors and an over-emphasis on historical tragedies, often redeemed through the heroics of white outsiders, that can accompany well-intentioned books about Asia written by American authors . Padma Venkatraman suggested that authors "need to be really careful when [they] write outside [their own] culture."
Publishing international authors helps to address this issue, since they write from within their own cultures, and are perhaps more willing to write the small, "slice-of-life" stories that are sometimes missing from the field. And yet, even if an international author is being published, it's important to make sure the book's cover is not sending an exoticizing message. "If it's China, can we please have calligraphy all over the cover?" Briony Everroad said, with irony.
Another issue, which Arthur A. Levine described, is that, in order to decide whether to publish a work from another language, publishers may need to commission a translation into English. That hasty, "first-draft" translation sometimes fails to do justice to the original work.
Levine talked about a recent experience: a German-speaking editor spoke highly of a hilarious German book, so Levine commissioned a translation. However, when he read the translated book, he found little humor in it, and called the editor into his office, where she re-translated sections of the book, patiently explaining, for instance, "This is a joke about cow piss."
The questions at the end of the panel included, somewhat poignantly, a request for the full, translated texts of the novels that were excerpted in the magazine. Many of those novels have not yet been published in English, and that is one of reasons Words Without Borders produced the YA issue. The magazine provides an opportunity for editors and publishers in the Anglophone world to learn about exciting international writing. As Executive Director Karen Phillips put it, "Our hope is always that someone will find it, and fall in love, and get it to you."
Click below to listen to the panel discussion. Audio courtesy of New York Public Library.
Thanks to the efforts of our talented videographer, Luisa Leme, professor Caron Knauer, and Caron's students at LaGuardia Community College, a video explaining the WWB Campus program is ready! You can watch the 5-minute video below.
This December we invite you to join us on a romp through the world of international Young Adult literature. The writers in this month’s issue broaden our perspective on this popular genre, bringing new life and a sharp literary focus to the wide world of YA literature from around the globe.
In “The Boys,” Swedish writer Jessica Schiefauer’s memorable take on gender and adolescence, a group of young girls gets a transformative new view on the world. From Norway, Inga Sætre’s young teenage protagonist deals with the prospect of an unexpected new arrival. Germany’s Zoran Drvenkar sets the scene for two young boys out and about on New Year’s eve, while Georgia’s Tamta Melashvili pens a haunting account of friendship in a time of war. Bangladesh’s Muhammed Zafar Iqbal tackles corporal punishment in schools through his plucky young protagonist, and Canadian Michel Noël describes the world of a young Inuit boy about to embark on a life-changing journey. From South Korea, Koo Byung-Mo delves into the heart of a magical local bakery. From Mexico, Ricardo Chávez Castañeda imagines a secret book with sinister intentions and Palestinian author Ahlam Bisharat shows a girl shielding a younger child from the harshness of war while struggling to understand it herself.
We're thrilled to have begun the pilot testing stage of WWB Campus. If you are interested in piloting the site in your classroom this spring, we'd love to hear from you -- just email email@example.com. We'll be adding more content to the site and making improvements over the coming months.