The second Elizabeth Kostova Foundation creative writing seminar connects Bulgarian and English-speaking writers in the tranquil beauty of pre-season Sozopol
Issue 34, July 2009
by Jeremiah Chamberlin; photography by Anthony Georgieff
One of the shifts that has been slowly taking place in Bulgaria since "The Changes," as most Bulgarians refer to the collapse of Communism 20 years ago, has been the re-emergence of an independent Bulgarian literary tradition. Not that it had disappeared. Simply that it had been quieted. There was once a time when merely to distribute self-published poetry or fiction among friends would have been punished by the thought police. Yet now Bulgarian writers are finding their voices again, and finding an audience, both in their country and abroad. Authors like Alek Popov, Georgi Gospodinov, Emilia Dvoryanova and Teodora Dimova, for example, are being translated into various languages.
The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation was created as a means of encouraging creative writing in Bulgaria, and also to find readers for Bulgarian authors in other countries. One of these projects is the Sozopol fiction seminar, which brings together five native-speaking English writers with five Bulgarian counterparts – along with publishers, editors, and translators from around the world – to foster an international dialogue on writing.
This was how I found myself boarding a bus in Sofia in early June, with more than a dozen other literary types, to travel to Sozopol. As one of the NES fellows, I'd been honoured to have been chosen from more than 100 applicants from 13 different countries. However, I was equally nervous. Not only because I didn't speak a word of Bulgarian, but also because I knew very little about the literary tradition in that country. Yet, as soon as we arrived in the seaside town with its cobblestone streets and terracotta-tiled roofs, I was made welcome – both by the locals and my fellow participants. As Kodi Scheer, one of the other NES fellows would say afterwards: "From the moment we stepped into the fairy-tale realm of Sozopol, I was enchanted. Every part of the experience – from my gifted Bulgarian colleagues to the luscious food to the relaxing Black Sea – was pure magic. I left giddy and exhausted because I was in love."
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers