U.Va. literary journal covers new ground

New Literary History, a groundbreaking journal founded more than 30 years ago at the University, has achieved another first: translation into Chinese.

By Elizabeth Wilkerson (MA, English '86)
New Literary History, Chinese edition.

New Literary History, Chinese edition.

New Literary History, a groundbreaking journal founded more than 30 years ago at the University, has achieved another first: translation into Chinese.

With annual volumes that will include about a quarter of the articles NLH carries a year, the publication will be the first English-language literary journal to be printed in Chinese. Published in collaboration with Tsinghua University Press of Beijing, it was distributed this summer to universities throughout China.

The journal’s journey east began about five years ago when Wang Ning, a professor at Beijing University, invited Ralph Cohen, who founded the New Literary History in 1969 and remains its editor, to lecture. Wang knew him only through the journal and was the one who suggested the Chinese translation, said Cohen, who is Kenan Professor of English at U.Va. and an honorary professor at Beijing University.

NLH began, said Cohen, “in a period when literary study was almost all completely conducted either in terms of the individual text or in terms of some philosophical or ideological position.” The journal concerned itself with raising questions about every type of literary analysis and inquiring into the grounds of any critical position.

“One of the great values of the journal as I started it was that it introduced into the United States critics from France, Germany, England and the Soviet Union,” Cohen said. The journal’s circulation and advisory board span the globe.

Launched with financial support from then-U.Va. President Edgar F. Shannon Jr., the journal had three years to establish itself or discontinue. “By three years it became the model for a number of journals,” Cohen said.

It has been recognized by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals six times for special issues.

“The skeptical inquiry which this journal represents is what made it important to people of different cultural backgrounds,” he said. “Its openness to intelligent inquiries of all types that pertain to writing is what makes the journal valuable.”