FORGIVENESS (story)

Walking the streets of Milan, I found myself faced with a drunken beggar. […] Suddenly dawned on me that he, with his few begged coins, had long before the rest of us reached, a happiness, some of us have striven for all of our lives, and which we, with all our ambitions and efforts, never reached.
St. Augustine, „Confessions,“ Book VI, Chapter 6

The short story „Forgiveness“ by Bistra Velichkova, translated by Eireene Nealand, was published in English language in the US magazine „Catamaran Literary Reader“, Issue: Spring 2016.

I went out to beg in the streets just after Christmas Eve. This year, for the first time in my life, I had neither sarmi (1) nor pumpkinbread on the table for the occasion. Up until then, I’d scraped together enough money to make ends meet despite the difficult times. Eh, I’m not complaining. Though not easy, my life has been good. Most of it, I spent as a photographer for The Bulgarian Union of Photographers, yes, the official photography company of the Bulgarian state. After the 90’s, however, everything fell apart. Our union, you see, was dismantled. It was part of the Communist Minister’s Council. My husband was also a photographer, so after The Changes (2), we had no idea what to do – no money coming in, unemployment everywhere. We owned a small room on the ground floor of the building we lived in and so, in the spirit of the new times, we decided to start our own business and to open a restaurant. For two years, we tightened our belts, and poured in all our savings, decorating the place with love and our dreams. At the beginning, we managed to break even and even earned a little money. Soon after, however, some unpleasant people began to appear. Parked out front in were black cars with tinted windows. They entered, ordered, and purposefully failed to pay, drank, fought and even shot guns. My husband, when he asked them to leave, or at least to deal with their problems outside, found a gun pinned to his head. Finally, they set the whole place on fire and that was the end of it. Soon after, came the Videnov’s winter of massive inflation and no bread on the shelves – that must have been 1997. It was incredibly hard. People were cold, starving, and miserable. Our family struggled with the question of where and how to find enough money just for bread. Then, my son went abroad, emigrated, to seek a better life – at least for himself. Shortly thereafter, my husband unexpectedly died, and suddenly I found myself a single woman without work or money. Those years were hard, but even then, I didn’t fare so badly that I had to beg on the streets. Somehow, I pushed through those times. Then, with the coming of the new century, which arrived along with our king, the situation became even worse. His majesty and I are almost the same age. I was born in ’36, he – ‘37. But we were like the Prince and the Pauper, same ages, different situations. Along he came, ruled the country for a while, made promises – for things like a better life – reclaimed some land he said was his own, and left. Ah well… What haven’t I seen! Next came the kind of politicians that make highways their priority, as it is now proclaimed on the news. Well I do not know how one can have such a priority while people are starving. But it’s their business. Here I am, 70-odd years old, with nearly 40 years of service behind me, and a minimal pension of 150 leva (3). Don’t ask me how long it’s been since I’ve paid for heating and water. I’m barely feeding myself, let alone paying for something extra. For several months during the summer, I lived completely by candlelight. Thank god it was warm, so I didn’t have to switch on the heater. A good woman, a neighbor, took pity on me and helped me get a job as a cleaner in a shop. I was grateful, since at my age hardly anyone would have hired me for another job. And after all a salary is a salary, I managed to pay for electricity and heating, and water. After three months, however, a new boss arrived and as soon as he learned how old I was, he ordered me not to come back the next day. I was not of a „working age,” he said. For a while, I went from friend to friend, in search of another job, but no one would take me on. I don’t blame people. I already had difficulty walking. I could barely see. I’m not as flexible as I was before. And there are so many young people who can do even the lightest work more nimbly than I can. It was just before winter and I decided: I’ll wait for Christmas to pass, for our savior to be born, and then, shame or no shame, I’ll go out into the streets, begging. The first day, when I showed up on Vitosha Boulevard, I wondered where and how should I stand. „Poor you, Angelina, how can you bear it: to bring out your cardboard box and spread it on the pavement like you’re the poorest person on earth?” I thought to myself. My internal struggle was excruciating. I seated myself lightly on the window ledge of a closed shop, under construction, in front of the cartons pasted on the window. I sat and pretended I was waiting for someone. Looking from side to side, blinking my only seeing eye, while the other, clouded by glaucoma, went deep into sleep under its eyelid, I slouched in a hand-knit cap, given to me by my grandmother. I also wore an old jacket of my husband’s. It was thick and warm, a bit big, but I thought – come now, this is excessive vanity, I don’t need to go out dressed as if for a ball? After two hours I gathered the courage to pull out the cardboard box and place it in front of me. Then, I waited. I had no gloves, so I kept my hands curled into each other to keep them warm. The wind howled, flurries and snow began. I was freezing like a dog and all the while busy people passed by me and the empty box. I knew what they must be saying to themselves, „Another beggar!“ And they would be right, it wasn’t just me! A little way down from me, a young boy, ragged, poor and slim as a recently-planted willow had also stretched out his hands. Later I realized he was a junkie. And surely not yet eighteen. Across the street, one dark-faced guy made himself look like a cripple. He’d wrapped his supposedly wounded leg with bandages, and was dragging it while begging for money. Around two hours must have passed since I had been sitting there when a gypsy woman arrived, all in rags. She began berating me, scolding me and menacingly waving her hands, telling me to clear out of there immediately. Her point: this was her spot! She had “worked” here for years. She kicked away my box, and I left. What else could I do? Even in the streets, it’s a struggle, you know! There are positions, a hierarchy, rules that must be followed if one wants to survive. The next day, I saw this same woman, wrapped in scarves, and deliberately hunched like an old woman, so that people would pity her. Anyway, I moved to another place and slowly began to get used to my new role. Shameful or not, every day I sit out on the streets, starting at noon, when it is the warmest, until 5 or 6 in the evening. I stay there on the street with the little cardboard box in front of me, watching dozens of empty faces pass by. Women in high boots proudly knock their heels on the pavement, and by the guilty looks they cast toward me and my empty box, I can see that they suffer too, begging for love. Men in suits, walking confidently with mobile phones in their hands, talk importantly, while from the look in their eyes, I can see they also beg for a little truth in their own world of lies. Families with children pass by, souls begging for something to fill the emptiness eating them from the inside. And while they pity me, I cry with my only good eye for them. Hell is on earth! I realize. Here we suffer so that we can purify ourselves for a better life after we disappear into the great beyond. So let me tell you, I am not ashamed of what I do, because I realize that everyone on earth is a beggar. Each of us begs for a piece of his own missing truth. And so, I pray for forgiveness for all the sinful souls who pass by me every day.

Author: BISTRA VELICHKOVA
Translator: EIREENE NEALAND


(1) “Sarmi” is a Bulgarian traditional dish cooked for Christmas. It is made by cabbage leaves, stuffed with minced meat and rice

(2) „The Changes“ is a widespread term in Bulgaria (in Bulgarian – “Prehod”), which addresses the period after 1989. It is related to the changes that happened right after this year, connected with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. After 1989 started the transition of the country from a totalitarian political system and socialist economy toward democracy, capitalism, and a free market economy.

(3) 150 Bulgarian leva (BGN) is approximately 90 US dollars (USD). This amount is the minimum monthly pension in Bulgaria after the 90s and up until now. It is the full income of many of the retired people.


*The short story „Forgiveness“ was published in English language in the US magazine „Catamaran Literary Reader“, Issue: Spring 2016. The story is part of Velichkova’s first book short stories collection „Small, Dirty and Sad“.

The short story „Forgiveness“ by Bistra Velichkova, translated by Eireene Nealand, was published in English language in the US magazine „Catamaran Literary Reader“, Issue: Spring 2016.

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Бойко Ламбовски: Поетът е поет в някои мигове от живота. Иначе е мъж, жена, шофьор или безработен

Бойко Ламбовски. Снимка: Личен архив

Поетът Бойко Ламбовски. Снимка: Личен архив

Каменоделство

Ръката и длетото методично
почукват Идеала. Става скучно.
Това е жилав навик – да си камък,
и бавен, мъчен подвиг – да обичаш.

Stone cutting

Hand and chisel carve methodically
The Ideal. It is a boring work.
A stubborn habit – to be a stone,
and a slow, hard exploit – to love.

Автор: Бойко Ламбовски
Превод: Анета Денчева-Манолова

Стихотворението „Каменоделство“ на поета Бойко Ламбовски представи България на ежегодния фестивала Транспоези (Transpoesie) в Брюксел, през септември тази година. Като част от фестивала, неговата творба, заедно със стиховете на още осем съвременни поети от цяла Европа, бяха поставени на спирки на метрото и градския транспорт, давайки възможност на повече хора да се докоснат до поезията на международно признати поети. Стихотворението на Ламбовски е избрано за участие в събитието под общата тема „Ангажиментът“. Освен на български, стихотворението е отпечатано на афишите и в превод на френски, фламандски и английски език. Стихотворението „Каменоделство“ е посветено на Едварда – героиня от роман на Кнут Хамсун, публикувано във втората книга на Ламбовски. Преведено е на 14 езика.

Бойко Ламбовски e роден в София, през 1960 г. Завършва Френската гимназия, а висшето си образование по Литература, получава в Москва. Той е автор на девет книги, лауреат на различни награди за поезия, между които „Владимир Башев“ – за дебютна книга, „Гео Милев“ – за принос в съвременното изкуство, „Дървената роза“ – за книгата му „Ален декаданс“ и др. Негови стихове са преведени на 20 езика. Отскоро поетът е и председател на българския ПЕН-център.

– Г-н Ламбовски, Ваше стихотворение вдъхва духовност на една от спирките на метрото в Брюксел, как се чувствате?

– Е, тази дума „духовност“ малко ме напряга. Разбира се, приятно е чувството текстът ти да става повод за размисъл на случайни минувачи, но не вярвам това да качва общото равнище на „духовността“ особено. Просто е хубаво да мислим повече, и да не го правим по стаден, а по индивидуален начин, да провокираме и изобличаваме щампите. А поезията е добър начин за подобно поведение, защото обикновено концентрира провокативност на интелектуално ниво.

– Бихте ли ми разказали малко по-подробно как се стигна до Вашето участие в ежегодния фестивал „Transpoesie“ в Белгия? Защо избрахте да участвате именно със стихотворението „Каменоделство“? Какво послание бихте искали да поднесете на публиката в Брюксел с него?

– Българският ПЕН-Център в лицето на дотогавашния му председател Георги Константинов предложи участието ми, заедно с Националните институти за култура на Европейския съюз (EUNIC) в Брюксел, и това бе подкрепено от нашето Министерство на културата, вероятно поради дотогавашните ми интензивни участия в международни прояви и наличието на доста преводи. Аз пък предложих „Каменоделство“, защото е кратко, и отчасти отговаря на темата на тазгодишния фест – „Ангажиментът“. Посланието ли какво е – нищо не е розово и романтично априори, дори любовта е труд.

Transpoesie Festival in Brussels

Transpoesie Festival in Brussels

– Стихотворението „Каменоделство“ е посветено на Едварда – героиня от романа „Пан“ на норвежкия писател Кнут Хамсун. В книгата героинята има романтична връзка с лейтенантът Томас Глан, бивш военен, отшелник и ловец. Връзката им обаче се оказва невъзможна. С какво ви впечатли тази героиня и защо решихте да й посветите стихотворение?

– Аз имам цяла книга „Едварда“, така се нарича третата ми книга. Кнут Хамсун е един от любимите ми писатели, а отношенията в романа „Пан“ между Едварда и Глан са за мен символ на земната любов – стремеж към идеала и невъзможност за постигането му, ерго – обратното на сладникавите представи за романтичен хепиенд, но и красота на живота тук и сега с неговите сурови противоречия. Едварда е илюстрация на антитезата любов-омраза, забележителна героиня, харесвам я.

– Стихотворението Ви е преведено на три езика – френски, фламандски и английски език. До колко според Вас превода на друг език променя посланието на стиха?

– О, това не знам, езикът е много сложна структура, и това могат да кажат само големи познавачи на френския, фламандския и английския. Големи познавачи на всеки език са впрочем поетите.

– Вие сте писател и поет, творящ на българския език, който е, нека го наречем „малък“ език. В световен мащаб се говори от много малък брой хора. Можете ли да кажете какви са предимствата и недостатъците на това и как такива езици могат да излязат на световната литературна сцена и да достигнат до по-широка, международна аудитория? 

– Трудно се излиза на широка аудитория. Но когато четях на български в „Паса Порта“ (в Брюксел, по време на фестивала Транспоези – бел.а.) стихотворения, които в същото време излизаха на видоестена зад мен едновременно на английски, френски и фламандски, чувах как публиката реагираше с „ах“ или с „оу“, точно в моментите, в които се казваше нещо парадоксално и важно, и на български. Повярвайте, тогава разбрах, че тази инициатива има смисъл, и че с добър превод и поезията може да прекрачи границите на езика си.

transpoesie– Забелязвате ли някакви общи тенденции в съвременната поезия и литература в Европа и в света днес? Във време на криза, в каквото живеем в момента, къде е мястото на поезията? Има ли въобще място за нея или и тя е в криза?

– Поезията не е масово изкуство, в редките случаи, когато се е превръщала в такова, обикновено е била товарена и с политически, дори публицистични функции. Докато е жив езикът, ще е жива и поезията, защото тя е и игра с езика, и възможност на човека на думите да живее втори живот, често по-смислен от първия.

– Европа е населена от много и разнообразни националности, всички със свои собствени характеристики, манталитет, начин на възприемане на живота, какво според вас е най-важното и същественото нещо, което обединява всички хора и нации?

– Хората се обединени от тайната на живота, от желанието си да надникнат в нея. А тази тайна има конкретни специфики, които правят живота толкова разнообразен.

– Как един поет оцелява в днешния материален свят?

– Не обичам хората, които се кичат с определението „поет“ непрекъснато. Поетът е поет в някои мигове от живота си, иначе е мъж или жена, или зъболекар, или журналист, или безработен, или шофьор и разносвач на пици, или учител, или пияница…Той не е нещо по-висше от другите хора, просто понякога му е дадена дарбата да извлича енергия от думите, която служи като кратък или дълъг проблясък. Този проблясък осветява част от тайната на житието, както за него, така и за някои други хора. През останалото време поетът оцелява като всички останали – така и трябва да бъде, впрочем. Така че бих приел по-лесно въпроса „Как един човек оцелява в днешния материален свят?“ И бих му отговорил – както понякога става, или остава поет.

IV-logoИнтервюто на Бистра Величкова с поета Бойко Ламбовски е публикувано първо на английски език в белгийското издание „Internal Voices“, 18 Nov, 2013 г.

English_flag_small2Английската версия на интервюто можете да намерите ТУК. The interview is available in English language HERE

Boiko Lambovski: „The poet is a poet only in certain moments in his life“

Written by Bistra Velichkova for Internal Voices

In September, poems were placed in metro, tram and bus stations throughout the city of Brussels, giving every passenger the chance to discover the work of international artists and providing everyday life with a new source of inspiration.

The poem Stone Cutting by Boiko Lambovski from Bulgaria, was one of eight poems written by European poets and presented at this year’s poetry festival, Transpoesie, in Brussels.

Transpoesie Festival in Brussels

Transpoesie Festival in Brussels

Boiko Lambovski is one of the most famous contemporary Bulgarian poets. Born in Sofia in 1960, he graduated from the French Language High school there and acquired his university degree in Literature in Moscow, Russia. He has published 9 books and is a laureate of many literary awards for poetry. His work has been translated into 20 languages around the world and he has recently become the president of the Bulgarian PEN centre.

I talked with Lambovski about his participation in Transpoesie, the position and possibilities for lesser-known languages in global literature and about how a real poet survives in the harsh economic climate of today.

„It is a very nice feeling to know that your poem allows casual passersby to read and think about it“, says Lambovski about his poem, which is now displayed in a metro station in Brussels. But rather than consider the effect his poem might have of on this broad audience as a whole, Lambovski sees poetry as more of an individual experience: „It’s better to think less about how it affects a group as a whole, and more about how it provokes and exposes a generally accepted framework on an individual basis. Poetry is good in this sense, because it provokes people to engage on an intellectual level“.

Boiko Lambovski was encouraged to participate in the Transpoesie festival by the chairman of the Bulgarian PEN centre at the time, Georgi Konstantinov, and the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC), in Brussels. He chose to present the poem Stone Cutting because he felt it corresponded well with the topic of the festival: Engagement. When asked what kind of message the poem was intended to impart, the Bulgarian author replied: „It is about this: that nothing is bright, pink and romantic a priori; even love requires hard work“.

Бойко Ламбовски. Снимка: Личен архив

Boiko Lambovski. Photo: Personal archive

Lambovski has dedicated this poem to Edvarda, a heroine from the novel Pan, by the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun. In the book, the heroine has a romantic relationship with Lieutenant Thomas Glahn, an ex-military man and a hunter, who lives alone in a hut in the forest. Their relationship, however, is fated to fail. „Knut Hamsun is one of my favourite authors”, explained Lambovski. “The relationship between Edvarda and Glahn in the novel Pan is a symbol of the real love that happens in life; the one that strives for the ideal of the best love, but faces the impossibility of achieving it“, explains Lambovski. „This is the opposite of the sweet, romantic idea of love with a happy ending. It represents the beauty of life here and now, with its severe contradictions. Edvarda illustrates the antithesis represented in love and hate. She is a remarkable heroine. I like her.“

Stone Cutting, was originally written in Bulgarian, but has since been translated into English, French and Flemish. When asked about the issue of language, Lambovski admitted that it is difficult for literature written in a language that is spoken by only a small number of people to reach a wider global audience. At Transpoesie, he read his poem in Bulgarian, but with translation into English, French and Flemish appearing on a video wall at the same time as he spoke, Lambovski was able to hear people’s reactions to certain phrases and words; an experience he clearly appreciated. Thanks to good translation and international festivals such as Transpoesie, he strongly believes that „even poetry can cross language boundaries.“

When pressed on the relevance of poetry in a world beset by economic difficulties Lambovski conceded that „Poetry is not an art for the masses“ and that „in the few cases that it has been turned into such an art, it has been burdened with a political or even publicity function“. But he believes that as long as language is alive, poetry will be alive too, no matter in what kind of times we are living. For him, it is a language game and an opportunity for people to discover a second life, one which is „often more meaningful than the first“.

But then how does a poet survive in today’s world?

„I am not fond of those people who constantly ‘honour’ themselves with the title ‘poet’“, admits Boiko Lambovski. „The poet is a poet only in certain moments in his life. Otherwise, he is a man or a woman, or a dentist, or a journalist, or unemployed, or a driver, or he delivers pizzas, or he is a teacher, or just a drinker… He is not something more than or superior to other people, it is just that sometimes he is given the gift to derive power out of words and thus to provide illumination. This illumination lights part of life’s mystery, both for the poet and for other people“. „The rest of the time“, he says, „the poet survives as all others do. And it has to be like this. In that sense, it is more appropriate to ask to the question: „How does a man survive in today’s world?“ And here is my reply: either as I said above, like everybody else, or he remains a poet.“

Stone cutting

Hand and chisel carve methodically
The Ideal. It is a boring work.
A stubborn habit – to be a stone,
and a slow, hard exploit – to love

Author: Boiko Lambovski
Translation: Anetta Dancheva-Manolova

IV-logo* The article by Bistra Velichkova was published in the Belgium journal Internal Voices, 18 Nov, 2013

bulgarian_flag_smallThe interview is available in Bulgarian language HERE.

SOFIA, BULGARIA by Delaney Nolan

Delaney Nolan, American writer.

Delaney Nolan, American writer.

I knew Bistra as my Bulgarian roommate. With her dimpled smile and dark Balkan eyes, Bistra shared not just a room with me in Sozopol but also bottles of wine and walks to the cold beach at night. She and I were fellows at the Sozopol Fiction Seminar, where we joined four other Bulgarian and American writers in cross-cultural writing workshops on the Black Sea Coast. We were a funny mix—including a boxer, a priest, a criminal—though everyone was warm and gracious. During workshops, our stories were translated into wiry Cyrillic letters, and some of the Bulgarians spoke English learned from Mad Max movies.

On my last night in Bulgaria, Bistra picked me up from the central Sofia train station, with its three-story Communist statue out front, and drove me to her apartment for a family dinner and an overnight stay. On the way, we passed the old Monument to the Soviet Army, topped by a copper-cast giant of the proletariat with his rifle lifted above his head. Bistra told me that years before, a graffiti artist had spray-painted the figures along the base to look like superheroes—the Joker, the Hulk, Batman.

“Most people thought it was very funny,” she said, “but I think it made the city officials angry.”

As Bistra turned into an underground garage to a building so identical to others that I’d never again be able to find it, she explained that three generations of her family lived in her apartment. The garage was dark and dank even as a fluorescent light struggled on and then clicked off. I followed Bistra up the stairs toward the delicious smells of home-cooked food. In contrast to the blank, dirty hallway, the apartment Bistra shared with her mother and grandmother was cozy and neat, blooming with color, thanks to two balconies planted with Japanese rose trees, geraniums, and poinsettias. Inside, portraits, masks, and scraps of poetry hung on the walls.

Bistra introduced me to her grandmother, who smiled and looked me over with her one good eye, speaking in a mix of Bulgarian and French as she pressed her soft and wrinkled palms into mine. There was no common language. Although every line of conversation had to be filtered through Bistra, we were all eager to talk as we sat to eat—white Balkan cheese on toast, tarator soup in a glass bowl, cups of pear juice squeezed from fruit out of their own small garden.

I told Bistra’s mother and grandmother how much I loved Sozopol, looking them in the eye as I said what they couldn’t possibly understand even as they smiled and urged me to eat, eat, eat.

Bistra’s grandmother was born in 1929, when there was still a Bulgarian king, and I ventured to ask about her life under Communism.

“There were no beggars,” the grandmother told me. “We were poor, yes, but everybody was poor, so things were cheap. But we were never allowed to talk to foreigners, not at all—a dinner like this, back then, would get us all arrested.”

She spoke in small blocks, peeling the skin off a pepper as she waited for Bistra to finish translating.

“We wanted to see American movies, but we were allowed only Russian movies, and we thought they must be the best. Then capitalism came, and we got to see the American movies finally, and—ah! They were nothing much after all.”

Both mother and grandmother talked about illicit visits to church when religion was frowned on and faith was a risk they took. Later on, they learned that most of Sofia’s head priests were Communist informants.

“Did you ever think about emigrating? Ever try to leave?”

Bistra translated: “She received an offer to work in West Germany, but had she left, she would never have been allowed to return.” The grandmother watched as I absorbed the information and nodded that I understood. The next morning, I was up before dawn, ready to leave. In her nightgown, Bistra’s grandmother hugged me good-bye and said, “Bon voyage.” For good fortune, she tucked a leaf of geranium into my bag, the plant named здравец, zdravets, which also means good health.

“There is one more tradition,” Bistra said with a glass in her hand. “Before a trip, we throw some water before the traveler’s path. For good luck.”

She splashed water in the hallway as I thanked her, hefted my bags, and walked into the lifting dark. The morning birds were singing in the lindens and they, like the skaters in the park, the laundry on the panelki, the superheroes replacing the proletariat, like so much of this country after decades of oppression—they all seemed to be proof of freedom coming around every corner.

* The essay „Sofia, Bulgaria“ by Delaney Nolan, was published in Narrative Magazine, on 5 June, 2012, in the section Readers’ Narratives. It was also translated and published in Arabic in Alef Today Magazine.

Delaney Nolan’s fiction has been published or is forthcoming in The Chattahoochee Review, Guernica, Grist, The Huffington Post, Narrative, Oxford American, PANK, The South Carolina Review and elsewhere. She’s been a Bread Loaf work-study scholar in Vermont; a Sozopol fiction fellow in Sozopol and Sofia, Bulgaria; and the artist-in-residence in Skriðuklaustur, Iceland. Her prose chapbook, Shotgun Style, is the winner of the 2012 Ropewalk Press Fiction Editor’s Chapbook Prize. Her debut prose book – a short story collection Shotgun Style: A Diagram of the Territory of New Orleans“, was the winner of the 2012 Ropewalk Press Fiction Editor’s Chapbook Prize.

Elizabeth Kostova: Writing is like a carpenter craft

Interview by Bistra Velichkova

Елизабет Костова. Снимка: Дебора Фейнголд

Elizabeth Kostova. Photo credit: Deborah Feingold

Elizabeth Kostova is a writer who publishes fiction, poetry, and essays. She holds degrees from Yale University and the University of Michigan. Her first novel, “The Historian” (Little, Brown, U.S./ Ciela, Bulgaria), set partly in Bulgaria, has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold nearly five million copies worldwide. Her second novel, “The Swan Thieves” (Little, Brown, U.S./ Ciela, Bulgaria), was published in January 2010. Elizabeth Kostova is married to a Bulgarian scientist. She has a strong interest in Bulgarian history, literature, and culture. In 2007, together with Svetoslav Zhelev, she becomes co-founder of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for Creative Writing in Bulgaria. Each year, the Foundation organizes the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, based in the city of Sozopol, on the Black sea coast, in Bulgaria. The seminars are opened for participants from all over the world who write in English or in Bulgarian language. At the moment, Elizabeth Kostova lives in the U.S. She has taught fiction writing at the University of Michigan, as well as, in the MFA Program at the University of North Carolina (Wilmington). At the moment Kostova is working on her new novel, which is expected to be published in 2015, both in USA and Bulgaria.

– This year was the sixth edition of the Sozopol Fiction Seminars. Could you please tell us what is your impression of it and how does this seminar differs from the previous years? 

– It’s funny that you asked that, because, today I told to somebody in the group that this was the best group so far. They laughed and said, you say this every year! I know, I am enthusiastic, but this was a very, very strong group, both the Bulgarian and the English writing fellows. They were an older group. Especially the English writing fellows were older than those we had in the past. On both sides, there were many people who had already some awards, published very well, very good professionals as writers. Of course, that’s not a criteria when we choose the fellows, because we have had writers in the seminars before, who did not have a published book, but we value them as much as the others. But really, the groups this year were professionally remarkable set of people. I have to say that, this year we have received a lot of applications and it was very difficult to take the decisions and to make the choices. We could have taken many more people in each group, because there were a lot of very good participants.

– Could you please tell, for future candidates who would like to apply for some of the next editions of the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, what are you looking for in the applicants’ documents?

– First of all, we are looking at the quality of writing. The committees always include people who are invited to teach in the seminar or they have some choice of people with whom they can work well. That’s because, sometimes you feel like – I can help this writer more than this one, because of my particular knowledge. So, there is a little bit of that, but we try to be as objective as possible. Usually, I look at people’s writing samples. I do not even look at resumes until I really thought how I liked the writing.

– What is the most important things that you are telling your students about the writing process?

– If we are talking about the workshops in Sozopol, they are really like conversations between writers. So, I do not think of myself as a teacher in the traditional sense. The Bulgarian group follows the same model. So, we really have two groups, where we do conversations about particular text, submitted to be looked at the workshops. One of the things, we always talk about and look at, is how to learn to edit your own work well; how to learn to revise your own work and to be your best critique. We do this, quite technically sometimes, because we are looking at particular text. We are not just having philosophical conversations about writing.

– What is more important in the writing process – the inspiration or the hard work and the rational order of what you are planning to say?

– In my experience, you can not really have only one of those things. Piece of writing becomes excellent, because of both of those things. Inspiration by itself certainly does not go very far, because writing is ultimately the work of writing and revising. But, you can work as hard as you want, but if you do not have some passion in what you are doing, this certainly shows in the final piece of writing.

Тазгодишната писателска група на Семинара по творческо писане в Созопол. Елизабет Костова е в средата. Снимка: Джеремая Чембърлейн

The Bulgarian and the American writers at the Sozopol Fiction Seminar 2013. Mrs. Elizabeth Kostova is in the middle. Photo credit: Jeremiah Chamberlin

– Since you speak both English and Bulgarian, you have the opportunity to read all the contemporary literature in those languages in original, could you please tell us, according to you are there any differences in the nowadays literature of those two languages?

– That’s a very hard question to answer. I think, there are writers who are doing the same experiments in the two countries. I think American writers are grappling more with history, in fiction and poetry. But it is also becoming true for Bulgaria. I am very happy to see this. There are different styles and traditions in some ways, but there is such a variety of voices in both countries, so it is really hard to generalize.

– Do you think that writing can be learned at the university? Can one learn how to be a writer there?

– There are many things about writing that clearly can not be taught. At the same time there are many aspects of the process of writing that can be taught. I will give you metaphor for this. For example, if you want to build pine furniture as a master carpenter, you would not do this unless you have some desire and enthusiasm, and some natural skill. But you also, would never become a carpenter without looking at what other people build, looking at their beautiful tables and cabinets and learning from them.

– What inspires you to write and do some of your fictional characters exist in the reality?

– I am inspired to write by the desire to explain the world to myself. I usually make up my characters. May be they contain some elements of real people, but I do not usually write autobiographically, they are more like creations.

– At the moment, you are working on your new novel, could you tell us more about it? When should we expect it to be published?

– Well, I am still working on the title of the novel. It is very hard to decide what it would be. The story happens mainly in Bulgaria, but over a long period of time. Not the whole story happens there, but a big part of it. Some of it is connected with contemporary historical events. There is a lot of 20th century history in it, but also some from the 21st century. I will include some of my own impression of the country, but I am also doing a lot of research – interviewing people, reading about Bulgaria in the different periods. Much of it will be things that I can not learn by myself, only by observing. I think the book will come out in the year of 2015. I am still writing it now and it will take a year to publish it. I hope it will come out in Bulgaria in the same time as in the USA, or soon after.

* The interview was published in Bulgarian in the cultural magazine Kultur Bench, 3 June, 2013.

bulgarian_flagThe interview is available in Bulgarian language HERE