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How foreign writers make it to US bookshelves

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Yet it's still a difficult journey for young literary voices from foreign shores to make their way to the US, still the world's largest book market. In the past 20 years, English and Irish universities have been nourishing more US-style writers' programs. (The best known, the 40-year-old master's degree in creative writing at the University of East Anglia, is modeled directly on the Iowa Writers' Workshop.)

But for the most part, says Gerry Feehily, author and arts critic on French national radio station France Culture, you "don't hear much about young [European] authors emerging out of a workshop or creative writing class." In fact, he says, "in France a writers' workshop would be considered 'Anglo-Saxon' – something shameful and commercially oriented."

The best way for European writers to reach a global audience, he says, is to win one of the growing number of big-ticket English-language literary prizes, such as the Man Booker, the Orange, or the Costa Prize.

It's the same for young African talents, says Geoff Wisner, author of "A Basket of Leaves: 99 Books that Capture the Spirit of Africa."

Engaging an American audience is anything but easy. Winning one of Africa's two biggest literary prizes – the Caine or the Wole Soyinka – is the best bet but even that is no guarantee.

Mr. Wisner notes that Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina won the Caine Prize in 2002, founded the influential literary magazine Kwani?, and teaches at Bard College in the US. Yet he is still best known (if known at all) to American readers as the author of "How to Write about Africa" – a short satirical piece mocking Anglo writers who set novels in Africa.

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