site.btaGeorgi Gospodinov: "Failure Is Writer's Natural State. Successes Are Extraordinary"

Georgi Gospodinov: "Failure Is Writer's Natural State. Successes Are Extraordinary"
Georgi Gospodinov: "Failure Is Writer's Natural State. Successes Are Extraordinary"
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The literary programme of the 39th edition of the Apollonia Arts Festival on Sunday was dominated by International Booker Prize winner Georgi Gospodinov. In the first part, he presented the participants in a three-day masterclass, which he is leading for the second year, and the what they had written. In the second part, Gospodinov and fellow writer Ivan Landzhev talked about the author's journey from the first text he wrote as a child to the success of Time Shelter, the novel which which won Gospodinov and his English translator Angela Rodel the 2023 International Booker Prize.  

Masterclass 

Gospodinov explained that he agreed to lead a masterclass because working with young people is one of the few things he cannot refuse. "It seems to me that everyone who was a young poet should then return the gesture to the next generation of young ones," he added.

The seven participants in the Gospodinov masterclass were chosen by competition. Among them are Kamelia Panayotova, Alexander Arnaudov, Annie Dineva, Christina Koleva, Mihaela Ilieva, Emilia Naydenova and Angelina Bachvarova.

Gospodinov said that they were all born in the period from the late 1980s to the late 1990s.

They read to the audience their own texts or poems written in those three days and often, as Gospodinov explained, in no more than 10-12 minutes. 

The classes they have together mostly involve sharing experiences, but the most important thing in writing is to keep your sensitivity, naivety and innocence, the writer explained.

"We write in solitude, and somewhere a person is reading in solitude, in an afternoon, and that person knows everything about us. You'll see how many of these young writers actually have the courage to write about themselves," he said, and urged the audience to encourage and support them, wishing that in time they would all remember that they had seen them before they got the Booker.

He thanked them for their talent and said a writer needs to discover other talented people so as to lower their ego and be humbled.

Gospodinov - Landzhev

"It so happened that this whimsical novel about the past determined the future of Bulgarian literature," Landzhev said of Time Shelter after which he asked Georgi Gospodinov to return to his first recorded childhood story.

Landzhev is the author of the book Za Neizbezhnata Sluchajnost [On the Inevitable Chance] and Gospodinov was its editor.

"The first thing I wrote started from a terrible dream, a nightmare. This scary dream repeated itself quite often. I finally tried to tell it to my grandmother. She stopped me. Around our neck of the woods, people believe that scary dreams shouldn't be told to anyone so they 'don't get filled with blood', like she said. Then I decided to write it down in my grandfather's notebook. So when I wrote that dream down, two things happened that I didn't realize at the time, but now realize were important to me - I never dreamed that dream again, and I never forgot it again. That was the price of the fear washing away. By writing something down, we actually produce a memory of the scary stuff. But when they are written down, the scary things are not so scary anymore - they are invalidated," the writer said, adding that in a way, storytelling is a domestication of fears. 

"Failure is the natural state of the writer. Successes are extraordinary, while failure is something one needs to get used to," Gospodinov added. He explained that as a child his mother took him to show his poems to a local poet, who, however, did not believe they were his. He then began to write in secret until he published his first book, Lapidarium, when he was about 22-23 years old. He received awards for it and began meeting writers whom he had only read till then and who were generous to him to notice his poems, the writer added.

In this connection, he drew attention to the importance of knowing the great names of the past. "I truly believe that what one reads also creates memories. Things we have read can be so important in our personal memory and biography, even more important sometimes than things we have experienced. There is such a passage in All Our Bodies. That's why I say that we've stood on the shoulders of the great men before us ," the writer said.  

Gospodinov also said that winning the International Booker Prize has not sunk in fully for him. "I worry when I hear good things. But I want to thank everyone who was happy," he said. He remembers that he didn't believe it would happen, "which is a very Bulgarian thing," until recently. He also said that a feeling of guilt as another important Bulgarian feeling. "It leads us like an invisible leash and you are inherently guilty. They usually say you are innocent until proven otherwise, but here you are guilty until proven otherwise," the writer said. 

He reminisced about the prize announcement in London, where a few days before he met Annabel Markov, the wife of Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov (1929-1978). She told him that Georgi Markov would have been very happy for him. "Part of the joy was that it was happening in England because it was my first book translated in Britain. All my other books have been translated in the United States. Part of the miracle was that it was happening on the eve of May 24 [the Day of Slav Letters and Bulgarian Culture]. Angela Rodell was 'American happy', and I was more 'English happy' and I said, "Relax, this will pass, too." 

"At some point, in a place like this, one thinks of the language they come from. There is a satisfaction in that you are not embarrassed and you can talk about big things in small languages," Gospodinov said. He urged young people to remember that they can talk in Bulgarian about big things and about everything they talk about in French, English and other big languages. 

He said that the best part of the International Booker Prize is that it sparked joy for a book. 

He commented a proposal for moving the national holiday to May 24 when Bulgaria celebrates the Day of Slav Letters and Bulgarian Culture. He said: "It is nice if we're willing to celebrate on a holiday that is not a holiday of bloodshed, of battles, of victory or loss, of a successful uprising or a successful Russo-Turkish war, but just to have a holiday that goes beyond the arms, beyond what we all are and beyond what's happening right now with this war."

Langev and Gospodinov also talked about clichés. Gospodinov recalled one of his readings in Germany, where a woman in the audience complained that she had expected to read different things in Time Shelter. The author replies: "You probably expected me to show up in a traditional Bulgarian costume, with a bagpipe and a goat horn stuck in my back, but even in Bulgaria people fall in love, get married, get divorced, and sometimes even die of natural causes."

"When we talk about clichés, both sides are at fault. We are not innocent," the writer said, explaining that we make these clichés ourselves. "At the moment, pain and sadness are evenly distributed around the world," Gospodinov said. He added that when he was writing his novel Physics of Sorrow, he picked the title after reading in an Economist story that Bulgaria was the most sorrowful place in the world. "After the novel came out, I realized that Bulgaria is no longer the saddest place in the world. It's not that it has made huge progress. It is just that the world in general has become a very sad place. When we talk about Bulgarian sorrow, it is not only Bulgarian. The world has somehow flattened out after everything that has happened to us not only in the last two years. Sadness has become a common place and this paradoxically solves the issue of clichés. When we are in a common sadness, there is no reason to sell yours at a higher price. It is cynical even. There is a war going on in Ukraine at the moment. Our own misery, of whatever order, is incomparable to that over there. So we have no right to this cliché either," the writer said. 

Gospodinov said that writing never gets easier with time and every next book sends you to a new level where it is harder. "It's like with electronic games. You go to a new level but it is more complicated and you have fewer lives," said Gospodinov. 

"Communities are most easily built, especially here [in Bulgaria, or in the Balkans] based on sentiments against something. Unhappiness is a very strong foundation to build your house on, and in the Balkans it works very strongly, but to build a community on something good, on a consciousness of togetherness, seems to me important." 

Ivan Landzhev asked the writer to comment a government decision to cut state funding for translations of Bulgarian literature, and whether he was worried about some of the gloomiest warnings in Time Shepter coming true. "The crisis today is such that if anything should be saved, it should be culture [...] When the State gives money to culture or art, it is not paying for some luxury. Literature is not a luxury and culture is not a luxury. Culture is a bare necessity. It is just like bread," said the author. 

Ivan Ladndzh recalled part of a speech he once gave on the occasion of May 24, in which he said that no one remembers who was prime minister when Peyo Yavorov lived and wrote, and this clearly shows what is the priority. During the Q&A session that followed, opera singer Alexandrina Pendachanska thanked the Bulgarian Booker Prize winner for makign sure "no one will remember who was president when Georgi Gospodinov lived and worked". 

Gospodinov also took questions about whether and what music he listened to while writing Time Shelter, as well as what was the main question that made him write the book.

Asked to give advice on how to get young people to read books, he said that the problem was that many adults don't read either, and that he was meeting a lot of young people who read. "We probably can't get them to read our books, but it would be a good idea if we read their books too, so we can meet somewhere in the middle," Gospodinov added. 

/NF/

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By 03:09 on 17.04.2024 Today`s news

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