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'Reading the World Festival' features writers from around the world

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Distinguished authors from around the world – and the campus – will take part in the first annual “Reading the World Festival” April 18 to 20 (Tuesday through Thursday) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

All of the festival events are free and open to the public and will be held at the Illini Union Bookstore, 809 S. Wright St., Champaign. The format will consist of conversations among panelists – authors, scholars, translators and publishers – followed by author readings from their works.

The festival, which is aimed at widening the scope of American cultural influence, is part of a joint effort to make international literature available to English speakers and to build an audience for works in translation.

The featured speakers are William Gass, Sahar Tawfiq and Eloy Urroz, and from the U. of I., Marilyn Booth, Rigoberto González and Philip Graham. The schedule:

• April 18, 6:30 to 8 p.m., “International Literature in the 21st Century: Reading the World,” Gass, professor emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis; Philip Graham, professor of English, author of two short story collections, a novel and a memoir and co-founder of Ninth Letter; Chad Post, associate director of Dalkey Archive Press, Illinois State University; and Anne-Sophie Simenel, program director for the Book Office of the French Cultural Services, New York.

Gass is considered to be one of America’s most important living writers. He is the author of several novels, a book of short stories, “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country,” and two essay collections, which earned National Book Critics Circle Awards for criticism. Gass published his monumental novel, “The Tunnel,” in 1995.

Panelists will discuss the importance of “reading the world,” the profound influence translations have had, and continue to have, on American literature. In addition, they will consider the obstacles to and advantages of publishing, reading and promoting the works of writers from beyond our borders.

• April 19, 4 to 5:30 p.m., “Translating From the French: Why Translators and Publishers Don’t Agree,” John O’Brien, founder and publisher of Dalkey Archive Press.

Because there are many different theories of translation, the viewpoints expressed by translators and by publishers often are at odds. So, who decides, or should decide, how the published book should read?

• April 19, 6:30 to 8 p.m., “The Future of Latin American Literature: A Conversation With Eloy Urroz,” conducted by González, professor of English and of Latino studies and the author of two books of poetry and two children’s books.

Urroz, born in New York, is a member of the “Crack” group – young Mexican writers trying to break away from the magical realism literary tradition and return to the ambitiously innovative prose of writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Cortázar.

Urroz’ novel, “The Obstacles,” the first of his novels to be translated into English, recently was published by Dalkey Archive Press. Urroz, a professor at James Madison University, is the author of 12 books of poetry, literary criticism and fiction.

• April 20, 6:30 to 8 p.m., “Arabic Literature in the World Market: A Conversation With Sahar Tawfiq,” an Egyptian author and translator, conducted by Booth, professor of comparative and world literature, the author and translator of seven Egyptian books, including Tawfiq’s “Points of the Compass.”

Tawfiq will talk about the treatment of Arabic literature in the United States, including the recent surge of interest in works from the Arabic world, and the role American readers play in the process of translating Arabic works into English. She also will talk about the reception of translations of American books in the Middle East.

A native and resident of Cairo, Tawfiq is the author of two novels and many short stories, including stories for children. She also is an English-to-Arabic translator, and has translated several academic books, including Maxine Hong Kingston’s “The Woman Warrior” and Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace.”

Tawfiq is on the Illinois campus until April 22 as a 2005-2006 Fulbright Visiting Specialist in Fulbright’s Direct Access to the Muslim World Program. At Illinois, Tawfiq is speaking to classes, giving lectures or short courses and meeting with service clubs and with campus, community, religious and school groups.

The Reading the World Festival is sponsored by the Dalkey Archive Press, Florence Gould Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, PEN America and the U. of I.

The festival is an important aspect of the Reading the World Program, which is a collaboration between 10 publishers and more than 250 independent bookstores to promote international literature to readers.