In addition to supporting the publication of one Bulgarian book a year through the “Contemporary Bulgarian Writers Contest,” the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation also supports an annual fellowship opportunity, allowing one Bulgarian-to-English translator to spend a few weeks in Rochester, NY, learning about the American publishing scene, participating in both of my classes, and having their project workshopped at Plüb (our weekly translation-bar experience).
This year’s winner is Bistra Andreeva, a freelance translator who has spent the past few years working at One Magazine, a quarterly publication for arts in culture, with expert Bulgarian translator Angela Rodel. In addition, Bistra: translated over ten film screenplays (frequently collaborating with Angela Rodel), translated pieces by Sam McPheeters and Tao Lin into Bulgarian, translated Selected Works and Events by One Magazine and Napalm Graffix into English, and participated in the “Literary Translation Workshop on Translating” put together by the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and the Union of Bulgarian Writers.
Here’s an excerpt from Irina Papancheva’s Annabel, the project that Bistra applied with:
A brief biographical note
Annabel S., 32, was born in a small European town. She acquired her secondary education at an art school and then completed an M.A. in Public Administration in the capital. At the age of 25, she started working for the state authorities. Currently, she is Director of the International Relations directorate at the Ministry of State Administration. She is single and lives with her partner Nikola. The beginning of the narrative coincides with the end of her one-week stay in the Netherlands on account of a project that she is coordinating.
As soon as she got off the plane and stepped into the Amsterdam airport, she felt a few butterflies in her stomach. For a second there, she had the sense of déjá vu. Thirteen years later, she was back. She took a breath, pulled together all of her will power and got down to business. Upon exiting the airport, she hailed a taxi to her hotel. It was a narrow five story building, squeezed between other narrow buildings, meaning a typical Amsterdam hotel. She handed her ID to the habitually polite reception woman, waited until she was checked-in and headed towards the elevator. She passed by an aging man and their eyes met for a moment. She noticed his were an intense gray.
A typical hotel suite, small, but nice – that was going to be her home for the following week. Yet another hotel home in the succession of trips and projects.
She pulled the curtains to let the day into the square living-room. After the whitish, rainish morning, the sky was clear, and the sun light was pouring unimpeded over the freshly wet city.
She had two hours and a half until her first project meeting. The hot shower stream was soothing. She put on her jeans and a shirt, and she left.
The hotel was in close proximity to the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. She hesitated for a second and started in the opposite direction, slowly and aimlessly. During the week, Amsterdam was, for the most part, like any other city. The tourist crowds were gone and the daily routine was in the air.
She found it revamped, but unaffected at its core, it was like she had left yesterday. She had expected to feel excited, but instead she was unruffled. Maybe it was the circumstances surrounding her departure that had blunted her sensitivity. Or, maybe it was the circumstances in her life over the years that had detached her from her past in Amsterdam and before that, so much so that it was now difficult to reconnect emotionally. Impassively and indifferently she walked against the backdrop of her early youth.
She saw cafe tables by the canal and sat down at one of them. She ordered cappuccino. On the table next to hers, a boy and a girl were whispered to each other and laughed. To their side, an old lady was dreamily staring at the water.
Annabel took out her cell phone and switched it on. She had forgotten to do that right after she landed, which was unusual for her. She had a connection with her phone and her laptop that was stronger than the one she had with most of her colleagues. Six missed calls. Of them, two were from Nikola, one from Erika. The rest were from unknown numbers. She finished her cappuccino and headed back to her hotel.
The winners were going to be invited to Amsterdam. Maybe that was what drew me to participate in the essay competition on the topic of “The New Cosmopolitan.” I could swing by Amsterdam any time I wished, and I had done it more than once, but somehow I saw more than a mere coincidence in the chance to participate in this discussion in that very city. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I was cooking up my new novel and I envisaged the plot unwind in Amsterdam. Maybe my taking part in the competition was going to flush me with a new wave of inspiration.
It was approximately at that time that my boss at the Information and Communications European Commission Directorate General assigned me to work on a European citizenship report. So I started to think about Europe, citizenship, the national, the cosmopolitan and the connection between all of them. And the connection between all of them and Amsterdam.
Once, during a lunch break, that connection took on the image of a woman. Beautiful, composed, with a nationality that was hard to pinpoint, distant, magnetic, unflappable. She was having lunch on her own, and although she was surrounded by many socializing people, she remained reclusive and she didn’t seem to notice them. Her eyes glazed over me with a disinterestedness, which was in no way offensive or personal. There she was – my heroine. Annabel.
That same day, in the early evening, I created my first blog.
Congratulations, and I’m looking forward to working with Bistra and sharing some of her experiences and work with all of you.
Albena Stambolova’s novel, This Being How, translated by Olga Nikolova, has been selected as the winner of the third iteration of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation’s annual novel contest supporting Bulgarian literature.
Open Letter will be publishing this book in October 2013, making it the fourth Bulgarian title to be published by OL as a result of this award. Past winners include Milen Ruskov’s Thrown into Nature, Zachary Karabashliev’s 18% Gray, and the forthcoming A Short Tale of Shame by Angel Igov. All three of these novels were translated by superstar Angela Rodel.
(We’re also going to publish Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow, after which, we will have effectively have a monopoly on Bulgarian literature. BOOM.)
What’s particularly interesting about this year’s winner is that the translator Olga Nikolova was selected as the recipient of last year’s Bulgarian Fellowship Contest, and spent three weeks here in Rochester working on her translation of This Being How, learning about the American publishing scene, and enjoying the cougar-tastic vibes of Taylor’s, a local dance club. (Which, interestingly enough is run by Cuban author Jose Manuel Prieto’s brother.)
In terms of Albena Stambolova, she is a language specialist and a psychologist, with a MA from the University of Paris VII Jusseu and a PhD from Sofia University St Kliment Ohridski. This Being How (2002) is her debut novel, which has also been transalted into Polish. It was followed by Hop-Hop the Stars (2003), and An Adventure, To Pass the Time (2007). The author of numerous articles and translations, she is now working on a book about fairy tales and a collection of short stories.
I’ll post an excerpt from This Being How separately, but here’s a brief description of the book as a whole:
Boris, a young boy painfully uncomfortable around people, feels at ease with bees. The apian approach to life, admirable in its single-mindedness, makes human existence appear imperfect and burdensome. He falls in love with a girl who wears a pleated skirt. He never speaks to her but he feels her presence as a spatial relationship his body cannot avoid. She disappears one moonlit evening magically climbing the wall of a house. In the meantime, Philip, a 27-year-old pathologist meets Maria, a woman whose eyes, we are told, are like fog. Philip proposes to Maria as if driven by some mysterious compulsion. They marry and have children, the twins Valentin and Margarita . . . And the story continues, accumulating archetypal events and relationships, until, one Christmas Eve, the fates of all its seven protagonists become tied in one existential knot. Unlike more traditional narratives, the novel does not provide the reader with the pleasures of a classical denouement. No character reaches a higher moral ground, no relationship is resolved, no mystery is solved. Rather, as with many a musical composition, the reader is led through a high-spirited climax, a detailed love-making scene in a chapter appropriately called “Erotica,” and a tragic one, the death of the mother, Maria, whose evasive yet intense presence in the book has formed its center of gravity. For a Christmas tale, which the novel is in so many ways, the lesson is not obvious, and if any, it concerns mostly the impossibility of making the deep as immediately accessible as the shallow.
In its scalpel-worthy succinctness, and in its psychological astuteness, which enhances the fairy tale elements of the novel in unexpected ways, Stambolova’s style is quite unique. An openly allegorical assemblage of stories, written with a preference for simple structures, This Being How is both highly readable and profoundly meaningful.
And here’s a quote about that appeared in Kultura newspaper from Milena Kirova:
This Being How as the title suggests, is not a conventional narrative novel. Its plot is not smoothly interwoven into an easy-to-follow logical sequence. . . . The novel begins with a series of seemingly unrelated individual stories, which gradually collide, overlap and blend into a whole, building a complex, and yet astonishingly simple, picture of life’s paradoxically chaotic order.
The runners-up this year—samples from which will appear here on Three Percent and at the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers website—are:
Ivan Dimitrov’s “Life as a Missing Spoon”
Kristin Dimitrova’s “Sabazius”
Milen Ruskov’s “Little Encyclopaedia of Mysteries”
Momchil Nikolov’s “The Spherical Fish”
Neli Lishkova’s “The Unborn”
Stanislava Ivancheva’s “Fake Is a State of Mind”
Teodora Dimova’s “Mothers”
Vladimir Zarev “Ruin”
If any publishers are interested in taking a look at these, you should contact Milena Deleva (milena.deleva[at]gmail.com), and I’m sure she’d be willing to send you the samples. (Which are pretty substantial, BTW.)
And thanks again to the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for making this all possible!
Following up on the announcement from a few weeks back of the co-winners for this year’s Contemporary Bulgarian Novel contest, below you’ll find a long excerpt from Angel Igov’s A Short Tale of Shame. I would try and summarize this, but the summary would be long and confusing and much broader than what I want to share. Although the plot is interesting, it was the style and writing that grabbed me and fellow judge Courtney Hodell. Just check it out:
(from Chapter 5)
Irina passed away in January. It had been four months now: just as long as she’d been in a coma, still alive, without knowing it. Krustev remembered his wife’s body, shrunken, thin, worn-out and misshapen, bound by unquestioning tubes to mysterious devices which allowed it to exist a bit longer on the threshold between life and death. He felt like tubes had been stuck into him, too, pouring first fear into his blood, then hope and finally a colorless, watery liquid, the very essence of futility. You do understand, don’t you, the head doctor had told him some time in October, when it was already clear that there wouldn’t be any quick recovery and that they could only hope for a miracle, but miracles like that do happen, don’t they, in these kinds of cases, yes, but you do understand, he told him, that if your wife recovers, it is very possible that she will not be the same person, right now it’s difficult to say how disabled she might be. Irina could come out of the coma drained of her identity, without memories, without thoughts even, without taking in anything around her, a vegetating presence in a wheelchair. Yet he nevertheless nursed hopes until the last, he had clung to his wife after all that creeping marital coldness, after they had lived almost separately for the past four years, her boyfriend, the theater director, also came to see her as often as Krustev did, but they had asked the hospital staff to stagger their visits, neither one wanted to see the other, Krustev now remembered that there had been a similar story in one of the books he had read in the early spring, only there the husband and the lover took care of their shared wife together, it wasn’t like that in his case, perhaps both of them blamed each other at least a bit for what had happened. Krustev was constantly wondering about guilt, not just whether he himself was guilty, but whether guilt even existed at all as something you could touch or feel or whether at the end of the day everything was a sea of dreams and wakings, which we all will drown in some day, a sea like that one down below, he lifted his head and saw the kids looking at him rather worriedly, so he suggested they get a beer and this time he wouldn’t take no for an answer, went over to the ferryboat’s concession stand and came back with four cold cans.
So why, Spartacus asked, abruptly jerking him into a completely other time, did Euphoria really break up? Good question, why had they broken up really, perhaps because the singer had started acting more and more like the head, heart and ass of the group, or because the keyboardist was against the more commercial sound of their final years, or maybe – and this seemed the likeliest answer to Krustev – because nobody felt like playing anymore. When he stopped to think about it, they had only been around thirty – thirty-something, pretty early for exhaustion, but the rock-band life had sucked them dry unexpectedly quickly, they needed to be reborn as new people, they still had the strength and opportunity to do it, and yes, well yes, they did just that. Krustev suddenly felt, or at least he thought that he felt as if not only his mind, but his very senses were beginning to run on memories, he felt the pain from the metal strings running through his fingertips, the pain that had been so persistent in his early teenage years when he was just starting to play, later, of course, his fingers had calloused over and didn’t hurt anymore. Man, you’re a serious rocker, he told the boy, and he really was impressed by his taste and knowledge, the boy shrugged his bony shoulders humbly. Only here, on the deck where the four of them were standing together, upright, only here could Krustev get a clearer idea of what his fellow travelers looked like: the boy, tall and skinny, taller than he was, with a constantly distracted expression; the blonde Maya, who had a rather ordinary face, but lively eyes and a compact, athletic figure; and finally the slightly mysterious and distant ringleader of the group, with curly black hair and blue eyes, Krustev guessed she had lots of admirers and then immediately wondered whether that word was even still used, the truth was that at times he felt like a old man in their company, even though he had gotten used to always being young, both in his life as a musician and in that as a businessman, he was always the youngster, they didn’t take him seriously at first, then suddenly they’d be shocked at how much he’d accomplished for his age, what are forty years, he could still live another forty, and he was sure that within a week he could get back into shape after those months spent in the empty house, that he could once again feel energetic and healthy, but hey, his body would never be as quick and flexible as the bodies of these people around him ever again. He could feel the beer filling his bladder insultingly quickly, impudently squeezing his prostate, he excused himself and found the grimy toilet down below by the cars, poorly lit by a yellow bulb, his stream gushed with gurgling relief, he zipped his fly and slowly started back up the stairs, climbed up on deck and stood by himself for a while before going back to the trio.
The strangest part was that he had gradually gotten used to it all: the visits to the hospital, the silent Irina tangled up in plastic tubes, the white sheets, the nurses, the smell of bleach in the hallways, where men and women padded around in green pajamas. Krustev sat by his wife’s bed and talked to her in his mind, that way the words weren’t left hanging in the startling absence of an answer. He talked to her about Elena, about the dog, about the house, sometimes about business, a few times he tried to clear up how exactly, imperceptibly and secretly, like the rotting of a seemingly sound fruit, their relationship had gone cold. Her coma couldn’t turn back time, he still knew that he no longer loved Irina the way they had loved each other in their wild and sunny younger years, but now, when she inhabited the space between life and death, when she was so far from him that he couldn’t reach her with words or touch, he suddenly felt close to her again, or rather he felt close to her in a new way, almost as if she were a sister. Irina was now the only person who didn’t want anything from him. And even though he secretly hoped for a miracle up to the very end, sometimes he caught himself fearing that possible moment when Irina would flutter her eyelids, heavy from sleep, the long sleep of the sea, when he thought about the dead current that was sweeping her along, Krustev shuddered and suddenly imagined how, if he put his ear to his wife’s body, he would hear the sea roaring inside her, as inside a shell. She really was a shell, the form of a living creature, emptied of her soft, slimy and slithering substance, at once alluring and repellent. And he would talk to that shell, sensing how everything around him withdrew and he was left alone with her in the white silence of the hospital room, as if time had stopped. But before Christmas, Elena came back from the States again, pale, thin, with circles under her eyes, she burst into tears when she saw her mother and the thread was broken, the whole quiet harmony that Krustev had built up day after day fell apart. At that moment he felt hatred for his daughter, that intruder from out of nowhere, a part of both of them, who had cunningly leapt into the world and come between them. Then he told himself that he was probably going crazy, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that this young woman was a stranger to him, now much more than ever, and the shell in the hospital bed could not fill up the chasm between them, on the contrary, it opened it all the wider. And after that, shortly after New Year’s, which he and his daughter spent at home, staring at the television, almost without speaking, Irina died. As if during that whole time she had been hesitating and had finally made a decision. Sepsis, the head doctor said, poisoning of the blood, her liver couldn’t hold out, I was also hoping until the last, I’m sorry. And he really did seem sorry, perhaps he, too, had gotten used to the empty body and its plastic tubes, perhaps he had even clung to the possibility of her coming out of the coma so as to reaffirm his belief in the power of his work and his science, except that Irina died and Krustev suddenly felt his whole life withdrawing, his senses, his memories, as if he were once again in the silent white room, only now there was nothing inside it, nothing at all, so much so that he couldn’t even be sure whether he himself was there. Now, when he thought back on those days, he would tell himself that he had been on the edge. He didn’t remember the funeral. He remembered how he had shut himself up at home and had sunk into the TV, watching sports channels from morning until night, he had taken his blanket out to the sofa in the living room, where he had also spent the nights, lulled to sleep by the figures running back and forth across the screen, Elena hovered around him, they only spoke about everyday household things, she made clumsy attempts at cooking and Krustev gulped down her dishes without even noticing whether they were any good or not. And so several days passed, then she suddenly appeared at the start of some football game, sat down next to him and said Barcelona’s going to win, Krustev suddenly sprang out of his apathy and looked at her amazed, she had never been interested in football and he could’ve sworn she didn’t even know how many players were on a team, but now here she was talking about corner kicks, off-sides and poor performance in the Champions’ League, she was talking about things that sounded strange to him, as if coming from some world beyond, he perhaps wouldn’t have even noticed that volleyball had been replaced with football, she mentioned the players’ names, reacted more quickly than the commentator, kept track of who had gotten yellow cards, and when the game indeed ended with a win for Barcelona, Krustev said, yes, Barcelona won, moved his crackling joints, gingerly got up off the sofa, took a bottle of scotch from the bar, poured two glasses, set them abruptly on the table and said, so now tell me what’s going on with you.
In addition to the Bulgarian Contemporary Novel contest, Open Letter and the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation also sponsor a special fellowship that allows for one Bulgarian translator to stay in Rochester for three weeks and learn about the American publishing scene and interact with the literary translation students at the University of Rochester.
This year’s recipient is Olga Nikolova, who got her Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University and currently teaches English at the Université de La Rochelle, France.
The project that she applied with is Albena Stambolova’s This Is the Way It Happens, which Nikolova described in this way:
Boris, a young boy painfully uncomfortable around people, feels at ease with bees. The apian approach to life, admirable in its single-mindedness, makes human existence appear imperfect and burdensome. He falls in love with a girl who wears a pleated skirt. He never speaks to her, but he feels her presence as a spatial relationship his body cannot avoid. She disappears one moonlit evening, magically climbing the wall of a house. In the meantime, Philip, a 27-year-old pathologist meets Maria, a woman whose eyes, we are told, are like fog. Philip proposes to Maria as if driven by some mysterious compulsion. They marry and have children, the twins Valentin and Margarita. . . . And thus the story continues, accumulating archetypal events and relationships, until the fates of all its seven protagonists become tied in one existential knot. In its scalpel-worthy precision and succinctness, and in its psychological astuteness, Stambolova’s novel can be compared with Albert Camus’s L’Etranger. Yet, unlike the latter, This Is the Way It Happens is not a manifesto, nor a “philosophical novel.” As the author herself claims in her brief introduction, the book aims to be “the story of everyone,” and everyone’s story is a love story in which “one”, as a singular individual, plays the part assigned to him or her by chance. An openly allegorical assemblage of simple stories, This Is the Way It Happens is both highly readable and profoundly meaningful—the mark of a true masterpiece.
I’m personally looking forward to meeting and working with Olga, and hopefully after her fellowship, we’ll publish an excerpt from her translation. And thanks again to the Elizabeth Kosotova Foundation and the America for Bulgaria Foundation for making this all possible.
As announced earlier, Open Letter, the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, and the America for Bulgarian Foundation sponsor a yearly contest to bring attention to the best of contemporary Bulgarian literature, with Open Letter publishing the winning title (or titles in this case).
This contest was launched in 2010, when Francis Bickmore of Canongate helped me select Milen Ruskov’s Thrown into Nature as the top entry of the year. (Milen’s book was just released—for more info on the book and how to purchase it, click here. You can also read a long sample here.)
For this year’s contest, Courtney Hodell of FSG joined me as a judge, and we went through 27 submissions ranging from the highly literary and experimental to thrillers to more spiritual pieces. It was a tough contest to judge, what with so many admirable and interesting entries, so in the end we ended up choosing two books: Angel Igov’s A Short Tale of Shame and Zachary Karabashliev’s 18% Gray. Both of these are being translated by Angela Rodel (who also did Thrown into Nature), and we’re planning on bringing out 18% Gray in November 2012, and A Short Tale of Shame in April 2013.
In addition, Courtney and I chose four runners-up: Ivan Dimitrov’s Life As a Missing Spoon, Ivanka Mogilska’s Hideaways, Vladislav Todorov’s Zincograph, and Vessel Tsankov’s _Pixel. Excerpts from all of these will appear on Contemporary Bulgarian Writers and on Three Percent.
Going back to the two winners, I’ll put up individual posts for both books with excerpts, descriptions, etc., etc. They’re quite different in terms of writing style—Shame consists of a series of internal monologues from different characters, 18% Gray is more cinematic and fast-paced—but both will make excellent additions to our list.
You may remember that last year, after a wonderful trip to Sozopol where I skinny dipped in the Black Sea, drank wine, met the most amazing writers, and heard the phrase “Kentucky Fried Chicken Happy Hour,” Open Letter launched two Bulgarian literature contests sponsored by the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. The first contest sponsored a two-week fellowship here in Rochester for a Bulgarian translator, and the other led to the upcoming publication of Milen Ruskov’s amazing Thrown into Nature.
Well, it’s time once again to announce the details and deadlines for this year’s contests . . .
In terms of the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers Contest Bulgarian citizens who have published at least one novel should send a 30-50 page sample translation along with a synopsis and author bio to Simona Ilieva (silieva [at] ekf.bg) by September 16th. The winning book will be published in English by Open Letter in the fall of 2012.
Translators from Bulgarian into English should apply for the Translators Fellowship by submitting a 20-page sample (10-pages if it’s a short story collection) of the book they would work on during the fellowship, along with a statement of purpose and information about their project. Again, this should be submitted to Simona Ilieva (silieva [at] ekf.bg) by September 20th.
These were fun contests to judge last year, and everything worked out amazingly well. Milen’s novel is absolutely wonderful (more info on that when it’s featured as part of Read This Next), and it was a lot of fun having Zdravka Evtimova here for a few weeks while she worked on her translation of Master Mille’s Living Light and Other Stories by Boyan Biolchev. Hope we get a lot of entries again this year . . .
We mentioned these contests a while back and at long last, here’s the official press release about the winning novel and translator. To make this all a bit more exciting, tomorrow I’m going to post short capsules on recent Bulgarian works published in English translation; Thursday I’ll post a long section of Milen’s novel; and on Friday I’ll post a piece of Zdravka’s translations. This is all so Three Percent: an ongoing series on Spanish-language novelists, and a mini-focus on Bulgaria. I have the best job in the world.
Milen Ruskov and Zdravka Evtimova Win Inaugural Contests for Contemporary Bulgarian Literature
December 2010—Open Letter Books and the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation are proud to announce the inaugural winners of two contests supporting Bulgarian literature: Milen Ruskov won the first Contest for Contemporary Bulgarian Writers for his novel Thrown into Nature, and Zdravka Evtimova won the Contest for Translators.
“What the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation is doing for Bulgarian literature is remarkable,” said Open Letter publisher Chad W. Post. “The support they’re giving to Bulgarian writers—through the Sozopol Fiction Seminars and these contests—goes a long way to helping bring contemporary Bulgarian literature to the attention of readers throughout the world.”
Milen Rouskov’s Thrown into Nature will be published by Open Letter in the fall of 2011. The novel is an ironic, humorous book set in sixteenth-century Spain and tells the story of Dr. Nicolas Monardes, whose treatise “Of the Tabaco and His Great Vertues” was partially responsible for introducing tobacco to Europe. Da Silva—Dr. Monardes’s assistant—narrates the novel and the absurd adventures of Dr. monardes, who attempts to cure all ills through the “power of tobacco,” until it becomes painfully clear that tobacco isn’t the perfect panacea.
As a result of winning the Contest for Transaltors, Zdravka Evtimova will spend three weeks in Rochester, NY, working with Open Letter on her translation of Master Mille’s Living Light and Other Stories by Boyan Biolchev and learning about the U.S. publishing industry. An author in her own right, Evtimova has also translated several English novels into Bulgarian (including Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved) and Bulgarian stories into English.
Elizabeth Kostova (author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves) helped found the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation in 2007 with the goal of promoting Bulgarian creative writing, the translation of contemporary Bulgarian literature into English, and friendship between Bulgarian authors and American and British authors. To this end, and among other initiatives, the Foundation supports the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers website, and, with support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, these two inaugural contests.
Open Letter Books was also founded in 2007 at the University of Rochester with the goal of publishing and promoting literature in translation. In addition to publishing 10 works in translation every year, the press helps run the Three Percent website, the Reading the World Conversation Series at the University of Rochester, and the Best Translated Book Awards.
“I’m delighted and grateful that Open Letter Books is partnering with Elizabeth Kostova Foundation to support the very fine—and very interesting—literature currently coming out of Bulgaria,” said Elizabeth Kostova. “These awards will do much to nurture the work of Bulgarian writers in the global literary scene.”
“In the context of how few English translations of contemporary Bulgarian literature are published on an annual basis, I consider these two complementary awards both indispensable and essential to the mission of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation,” EFK director Milena Deleva stated. “These awards create new and much needed opportunities for both Bulgarian writers and literary translators. They also expand the Foundation’s collaborative framework through two ideal partnerships with Open Letter and the America for Bulgaria Foundation.”
It would be hard to overstate all the amazing things the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for Creative Writing (and Elizabeth herself) has done for contemporary Bulgarian writers. Sure, there’s the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, but they also organized a special day of panels on Literary Diplomacy to take place in Sofia, helped bring publishers and Bulgarian writers & translators together, sponsor the Dyankov Translation Award for the most outstanding translation from English into Bulgarian, and now have helped launch the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers website to help promote Bulgarian writers abroad.
For publishers, these sorts of sites are invaluable. Aside from random meetings at the Frankfurt Book Fair, or personal connections developed slowly and one-by-one over the years, it can be extremely hard for editors to find out about contemporary literature from countries such as Bulgaria. (And by “countries such as Bulgaria” I mean ones that don’t have an active governmental organization like the Finnish Literature Exchange, German Book Office, French Cultural Services, Japanese Literature Publishing Project, etc., promoting their contemporary writers to the rest of the world.) Beyond identifying new writers to check out, a site like this helps provide a bit of context for any submissions that an editor does happen to receive. I mean, there are only a handful of Bulgarian novels that have ever been published in English, so it’s hard to understand the tradition and evolution of Bulgarian literature.
Seriously—anyone interested in Bulgarian (or simply international) literature should check this out. I’m sure that it’ll expand greatly over the next year, but the site already features maybe two dozen writers (and a handful of Bulgarian-to-English translators), and has biographical info, excerpts, critical reviews, contact information for all of them.
One author worth looking at is Zachary Karabashliev, whose first novel won the Book of the Year Award from the Vick Foundation and was chosen as one of the 100 Most Loved Books of All Time by Bulgarians, and his first collection of short stories won the Book of the Year Award from Helikon. He’s a very funny guy, and his stories are quite sharp.
In terms of translators, Angela Rodel deserves some special attention. She translated all of the pieces by the Bulgarian writers at the Sozopol Seminars AND she just was awarded a PEN Translation Fund Award for Georgi Tenev’s Holy Light, which sounds pretty interesting:
Alloying political sci-fi with striking eroticism, the stories in Holy Light depict a world of endless, wearying revolution and apocalypse, where bodies have succumbed to a sinister bio-politics of relentless cruelty and perversion. “In first class they offered easy emancipation, perhaps even electrocution, but he was traveling economy class where they wouldn’t even serve him food.” (No publisher)
(I was actually on a panel with both Georgi and Angela—both very smart, very interesting people.)
By the way, if I haven’t said this in a while, all fiction writers should apply to the Sozopol Fiction Seminars . . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .