Words Without Borders hosts 20th Anniversary Gala

Merve Emre, secretary of the board of directors at Words Without Borders (WWB), who hosted the virtual gala on Nov.2.
Photo by Milette Millington

On Nov. 2, Words Without Borders (WWB) held its virtual gala, hosted by Merve Emre, to celebrate 20 years of its mission to “cultivate global awareness by expanding access to international writing and creating a bridge between readers, writers, and translators,” according to the website.

Emre is the secretary on WWB’s board of directors. Authors and translators in attendance included Ukrainian-Jewish-American poet Ilya Kaminsky, Afro-Puerto Rican author Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro, Iranian-American writer/translator Poupeh Missaghi, and Moroccan-American novelist/essayist Laila Lalami.

Kaminsky opened by reading his poem “Author’s Prayer,” which is featured in his poetry collection Dancing in Odessa (2004). Here’s an excerpt:

“If I speak for the dead, I must leave / this animal of my body,

I must write the same poem over and over, / for an empty page is the white flag of their surrender.”

Next, Maria B. Campbell, who was a founding member of WWB and the gala chairperson, gave remarks. She now runs her own scouting company, Maria Campbell Associates.

Maria B. Campbell, gala chairperson and founding member of WWB.
Maria B. Campbell, gala chairperson and founding member of WWB. Photo by Milette Millington

“Translation is constantly challenged in the United States, and needs Words Without Borders, to be ever strengthened. Reading writers from all over the world is a necessity in helping us understand our own society along with so many others.

Then, Missaghi read part of a passage from “I am a Witness.” It is from the Woman Life Freedom series, based on the Woman Life Freedom movement in Iran. It is also part of a book called In the Streets of Tehran (2023) by Nila, with an introduction by Christina Lamb, which was translated by Massaghi.

“The series gave a platform to witness narratives and personal expression across genres, as they were being produced as immediate response to the regime atrocities and the bravery, either shared on social media or sent to me directly,” Massaghi stated.

Here is an excerpt:

“One day, as I walk over the desiccated remains of a huge ditch in the middle of the boulevard, I suddenly come upon a poignant, familiar scene. Three high school girls, wearing navy blue uniforms, have pulled down their maghnaeh (hijab) all the way down to their shoulders. They wear the same mandatory, military-like uniforms that I, too, was forced into for years when in school.”

To read the rest of Author’s Prayer and the other poems in Dancing in Odessa, interested persons can purchase the collection here: https://www.amazon.com/Dancing-Odessa-Ilya-Kaminsky/dp/1932195122.

To read the rest of I’m a Witness and the other stories in In the Streets of Tehran, interested persons in the US can purchase the ebook here: https://www.amazon.com/Streets-Tehran-Woman-Life-Freedom-ebook/dp/B0CCMD8JFM/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=.

Those in the UK who are interested can purchase the hardcover version of In the Streets of Tehran here: https://books.telegraph.co.uk/Product/Nila/In-the-Streets-of-Tehran–Woman-Life-Freedom/28889291.