World Literature Today

World Literature Today is an American magazine of international literature and culture, published at the University of Oklahoma. The magazine presents essays, poetry, fiction, interviews, and book reviews from all over the world in a non-academic format accessible to a broad audience.[1] It was founded as Books Abroad in 1927 by Roy Temple House, chair of the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Oklahoma. In January 1977, the journal assumed its present name, World Literature Today.[2]

World Literature Today
Cover of the WLT March 2013 issue.jpg
World Literature Today, March 2013 issue
Editor-in-chiefDaniel Simon
CategoriesLiterature, Culture, International
Frequency4 per year
PublisherUniversity of Oklahoma
First issueJanuary 1927
CountryUnited States
Based inNorman, Oklahoma
LanguageAmerican English


The journal publishes articles, book reviews, and other features. The magazine staff organizes conferences and symposia (see Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature and Culture), and bestows literary prizes (see Neustadt International Prize for Literature and NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature).[3]

The original WLT logo

In 1927 the quarterly began as a short publication of 32 pages. By its fiftieth year, Books Abroad had grown to more than 250 pages. In 2006 WLT switched from quarterly to bimonthly publication. It is one of the oldest continuously published literary periodicals in the United States, along with such other publications launched in the early twentieth century as South Atlantic Quarterly (1902), Poetry (1912), and The New Yorker (1925).[citation needed]

House served as editor from 1927 until his retirement in 1949 and was succeeded by the German critic and novelist Ernst Erich Noth, who went on to edit the journal for ten years. During his tenure the editorial scope was narrowed to focus solely on writers of the twentieth century, and to review only books that had been published no more than two years earlier. He also introduced a new feature, "Periodicals in Review" (sometimes appearing as "Periodicals at Large"), which surveyed the policies and initiatives of a number of literary journals from Europe, the Americas, and throughout the world.[citation needed]

In 1959, Noth was succeeded by Wolfgang Bernard Fleischmann, a Viennese-born scholar who directed the quarterly for two years, and was followed by the Czech émigré Robert Vlach, a professor in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Oklahoma, in 1961. Vlach established a new review section in the journal devoted to Slavic languages, and he also initiated the Books Abroad symposia which took place at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association. After Vlach's death in 1966, Assistant Editor Bernice Duncan carried on until Ivar Ivask became editor in 1967. In 1977, the name was changed from Books Abroad to World Literature Today, a title that transcends the more limited implications of the former title, which could be interpreted as excessively Eurocentric.[citation needed]

In 1999, the current executive director at the journal, Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Professor of English at the University of Oklahoma, came to WLT, and was named the Neustadt Professor of Comparative Literature. Today, Davis-Undiano collaborates with the current editorial staff, Daniel Simon (editor in chief, who has been with WLT since 2002), Michelle Johnson (managing editor), and Rob Vollmar (book review editor).


WLT also sponsors the biennial Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature, and the annual Puterbaugh Festival of International Literature and Culture.

Nobel Prize connectionEdit

Another element in the identity of WLT is the relationship with the cultural institution of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Since the inception of Books Abroad, the series of editors associated with the journal has encouraged lively debate about the annual announcement of the Nobel Prize, as with the 1940 "Super-Nobel" election sponsored in Books Abroad, in which contributors and other specialists were invited to choose the writer who they felt had offered the most significant contribution to world literature in the first third of the twentieth century, whether or not that writer had won the Nobel Prize. At the top of the "Super-Nobel" list were several non-Nobel winners, such as Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, and Theodore Dreiser, but the award went to Thomas Mann, who had, in fact, won the Nobel in 1929 and who became a frequent contributor to Books Abroad.[5]

In 1948, WLT founding editor Roy Temple House was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The South Central Modern Language Association held its annual meeting in Norman, Oklahoma in October of that year, and the membership formally endorsed Professor House for the prize on the occasion of his seventieth birthday.[6]

Over the years, Books Abroad often featured the topic of the Nobel Prize, as with the series of symposia published periodically in the journal: "Prodding the Nobel Prize Committee" (1932), "Nominations for the Nobel Prize for Literature" (1935), "Books Abroad's Super-Nobel Election" (1940), "What's Wrong with the Nobel Prize?" (1951), and "Nobel Prize Symposium" (1967). In these symposia, critics, scholars, and authors discussed the policies and procedures of the Swedish Academy as well as the very secretive selection process and the sometimes-curious choices of winners for a literary prize (such as Winston Churchill, the 1953 laureate, and Bertrand Russell, the 1951 laureate).[7]

The Spring 1981 issue of WLT was devoted entirely to the presentation of the members of the Swedish academy, many of whom were successful creative writers in their own right. In 1951 the Nobel Foundation chose the University of Oklahoma Press to issue the first English-language edition of its own authoritative volume, entitled Nobel: The Man and His Prizes. Also, the often-synchronistic relationship between the Neustadt Prize, once described by the New York Times as the "Oklahoma 'Nobel'" (February 1982),[8] and the Nobel Prize itself is demonstrated in the number of convergences. Between 1970 and 2016, thirty-two writers affiliated with the Neustadt Prize (as jurors, candidates, or winners) went on to receive the Nobel after their association with the Neustadt, including Tomas Tranströmer, the 1990 Neustadt laureate and 2011 Nobel laureate.

Recent historyEdit

In late 2000, the editors worked with forty scholars to establish a list of the "Most Important Works in World Literature, 1927-2001," a project organized and timed to help celebrate WLT's seventy-fifth year of uninterrupted publication. The top 40 list was chosen by specialists, but with the nonspecialist in mind, with the intention of inviting response and debate among readers and writers. Further, a forum for readers' correspondence was also initiated in 2000.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "World Literature Today | Mission". World Literature Today. 2011-11-21.
  2. ^ "World Literature Today |History". World Literature Today. 2011-11-21.
  3. ^ Genova, Pamela A. (2003). Twayne Companion to Contemporary World Literature – from the editors of World Literature Today. New York: Twayne Publishers. p. 1600. ISBN 978-0-8057-1700-6.
  4. ^ Riggan, William S. (Summer 1983). "The Puterbaugh Conferences" (PDF). Sooner Magazine. 3 (4): 26–31.
  5. ^ Riggan, William (Spring 1981). "The Nobel Connection" (PDF). Sooner Magazine. 1 (1): 16–17.
  6. ^ Simon, Daniel (May 2015). "Editor's Note". World Literature Today. 89 (3).
  7. ^ Riggan, William (Spring 1981). "The Nobel Connection" (PDF). Sooner Magazine. 1 (1): 17–18.
  8. ^ McDOWELL, Edwin (February 26, 1982). "PUBLISHING: The Oklahoma 'Nobel'". New York Times.
  9. ^ Genova (2003). Twayne Companion to Contemporary World Literature. p. xxi.

External linksEdit