Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Bulgarian Adventure

The special Bulgarian issue of Absinthe was published last month and I had the opportunity to go to Bulgaria to launch the issue at the invitation of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation is a wonderful organization, founded by the American writer Elizabeth Kostova, that works to promote Bulgarian literature and writers through a number of programs, including the Sozopol Fiction Seminar. More on that later. 

View of Black Sea from my room
My trip to Bulgaria got off to a rough start when, as I feared, I missed my connecting flight in Paris despite arriving at Charles de Gaulle 50 minutes before my flight for Sofia was scheduled to depart.  I arrived at the gate to see my plane still sitting there. I was not allowed to board even after explaining that my flight arrived 15 minutes late from Detroit, we were then not allowed to leave the plane for several minutes due to a mentally ill passenger (seated directly behind me) needing medical assistance. Instead I was informed (as if I was travelling for the first time) that this was not a bus and I could not arrive at the last minute and expect to get on my plane. I came very close to shouting a few ugly American profanities but, thankfully, the presence of a cute 2-year old Bulgarian boy standing nearby caused me to edit my protests. I did, however, decide to boycott French Fries for one week.

I then discovered that the international phone service I had set up with Verizon before I left was not set up properly so I could not use my phone until I’d spent an hour on a pay phone calling my wife and then Verizon. Once that problem was fixed and I’d called Bulgaria to let my hosts know that I would not be arriving until that night, I “enjoyed” five hours in the airport before catching the next flight. But onto the great part of my trip …

I was greeted in Bulgaria by the smiling (and amazing) director of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, Milena Deleva, and my first experience in Bulgaria was welcoming. By the way, Milena spent many hours working on the Bulgarian issue of Absinthe and we owe great thanks to her for helping to get the issue done.  Since I arrived late (and tired after 18 hours of traveling) I did not get to see Sofia that first night.

Jill Schoolman, Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, and Anthony Georgieff

The next morning it was on a bus for the drive to Sozopol and the drive, though fun, was much longer than advertised. It was a good way to become acquainted with the others heading to Sozopol for the fiction seminar and to see the country. Much of the drive reminded me of driving in the western U.S., particularly Colorado.
After we arrived in the beautiful, Black Sea town of Sozopol, we got settled into our rooms at the lovely Hotel Diamanti and then headed over to the art gallery for an opening reading. At this opening evening I briefly introduced Absinthe #17 to the seminar participants, faculty, and guests.

Ben George enjoying absinthe
While the writers participated in workshops in the morning, I was able to enjoy the sights. Sozopol is a beautiful town and despite the rain and cooler-than-normal temperatures it was great to explore its old churches and small shops. Unfortunately, the closest I got to a swim in the Black Sea was dipping my toes in one afternoon.
With Garrard Conley, Kathy Flann, and Barry Lopez

The best part of the trip was meeting so many great people: writers, publishers, and translators. It was great to get to know the fellows and one of the highlights of the trip was the reading by the 10 writers who participated: Bistra Velichkova, Cab Tran, Delaney Nolan, Garrard Conley, Garth Greenwell, Kathy Flann, Nikolay Fenerski, Nikolay Petkov, Palmi Ranchev, and Philip Anastassiu.

The afternoons and evenings  included panel discussions, readings, and interesting conversations over dinner and drinks with the seminar faculty (writers Krassimir Damianov, Elizabeth Kostova, Deyan Enev, and Barry Lopez) and other visiting speakers (Ecotone editor Ben George, Vagabond publisher Anthony Georgieff, writers Debra Gwartney and Steven Wingate, Archipelago Books publisher Jill Schoolman, Istros Books publisher Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, and editor of Fiction Writers Review Jeremiah Chamberlin. 

Virginia Zaharieva, photo by Jeremiah Chamberlin
Back in Sofia, my final day in Bulgarian started with a live appearance on Bulgarian TV and I discovered that I am not ready for prime time (or any time, really). The best part of the experience was meeting the Bulgarian filmmaker Konstantin Bojanov, director of the film Avé, recommended in the current issue of Absinthe.

After leaving the studio we headed over to + tova, a cool little cafe, for a reading from Absinthe #17 by many of the writers and translators featured in the issue, including Virginia Zaharieva, Milen Ruskov, Kristin Dimitrova, Krassimir Damianov, Zdravka Evtimova, Maria Doneva, Yanitsa Radeva, Ivan Dimitrov, Nikolay Boykov, Theodora Dimova, Jonathan Dunne, and Angela Rodel. Thanks to Bistra, we also had some absinthe to imbibe after the reading!

The remainder of the day was spent exploring Sofia with Jonathan Dunne and Tsveta Elenkova, and attending another reading by the fellows.

With Garrard Conley; photo by Jeremiah Chamberlin
During my week in Bulgaria I conducted a few brief video interviews that I'll be posting here over the next few weeks so be sure to check back for those.

I'll conclude with a random list of some of the things I'll remember most about my trip to Bulgaria: meeting Cab Tran at breakfast my first morning after arriving late the night before; the lovely hosts at the Hotel Diamanti; the view of the Black Sea from my room; looking forward everyday to the video chats with my son and wife; a dinner conversation with Ben George; Barry Lopez flashing gang signs (!) at me; wishing I recorded all the wisdom I heard during discussions with Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney; entertaining walks around Sozopol with Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, Anthony Georgieff, and translator Christopher Buxton; the nearly underground Orthodox Church in Sozopol; getting to spend time with Jill Schoolman, a publisher I greatly admire; the kindness of Elizabeth Kostova, conversations with Garrard Conley (a future Absinthe editor, I hope!); a conversation with Nikolay Fenerski; getting to know two of my new favorites--Milena Deleva and Simona Ilieva; the warm reception I received from the Bulgarian authors and publishers I met; the incredible generosity of Jonathan Dunne and Tsveta Elenkova; the flat tire on the drive back from Sozopol; the authors at the reading signing a copy of Absinthe for me; the fun discussion about religion and other topics with Kathy Flann, Garrard Conley, Delaney Nolan, Boris Deliradev, and Cab on my final night; and many other great moments.    

Poster at airport in Sofia
If you get an opportunity to attend the Sozopol Fiction Seminar I highly recommend it. You'll have a great time and make many new friends. I look forward to seeing my new friends again very soon.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Are you ready for some Russian Lit?

Fyodor Dostoevsky

At BEA Overlook Press announced it was partnering with Read Russia on the launch of THE RUSSIAN LIBRARY, “an ambitious one hundred and twenty five volume series of translated Russian fiction, drama, and poetry to be published over the next ten years.” The project will commence in the fall of 2013 with the publication of 5 volumes in both print and digital versions, and continue with 10 books published each year thereafter.
According to Overlook Press President & Publisher Peter Mayer, “the goal of THE RUSSIAN LIBRARY is to transcend the well-respected classics and broaden the awareness of Russian culture by making available for the first time in uniform editions these important works of literature, so many barely known outside Russia. The English language is the key. Obviously a uniform series is easier and is more commonly published in the original language; however, this Russian project has value both for Americans and British readers and internationally as well, as English comes as close to a lingua franca as one can get. Our intent is to expand the appreciation of Russian literature wherever Russian isn’t widely spoken.”
This sounds like a great project and you can learn more about it here.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The State of German Cinema

from Christian Petzold's "Barbara"

Over at the Goethe Institut site there is a discussion about the current state of German cinema. 

From an outsider’s view it would appear that German film is going strong with recent successes by Christian Petzold, Wim Wenders and his documentary Pina, films by Fatih Akin, and 2007 Oscar-winner The Lives of Others, among others.

However, in order to receive funding from the German Federal Film Fund a producer must demonstrate that the film has already been signed by a distributor and so there is concern that some films that receive distribution are not worth being screened and prevent innovative films from receiving funding: “it is not surprising that there should be a trend to funding proven forms, stories and names. The air on which artistic risk lives is getting thinner and thinner, because the public image of funding institutions is also at stake and uncertain ventures may endanger it.” 
There’s more on German film here

Monday, June 4, 2012

no man's land #7 seeking submissions

no man's land, the excellent online magazine of German literature is accepting submissions for its next issue, #7, through August 1st.

More information is available here.