Column from Bulgaria: Wanted: new authors for the coming generation
His friends called him “the boy with the shining eyes.” When he was only 14 years old, Ivo Hristov published his first book. By this time, he had written five collections of short stories and was working on a sixth one.
But Ivo was suffering from a tumour as well. After four brain surgeries, his body was still battling a severe sickness that produced new tumours under Ivo’s skull. Rather early in his teenage years, however, he discovered a way to fight back: by writing fiction.
“I composed my first short story on a tablet while I was on medical examinations in Germany. I wrote with a lot of fear,” shared Ivo in an interview for Bulgarian National Television. “And then, after we returned home, I went on working on a typewriter every day, all summer. Since I got this far, I told myself my book should be published without any worries or risks. And people would like it, specifically since I am only 14 years old. I’m generally not aware of what I’m doing when sitting in front of my laptop writing... And I try to give myself a break sometimes, but I cannot.”
Ivo’s mother, herself an artistic painter of Eastern Orthodox icons from the small Bulgarian town of Radomir, explains his daily routine: “After his daily rehab, he takes time to read a book, prepares his lessons for the next day, and then writes at least 2000 words! And then we also take a family walk. For a teenager, this feels like a full-time job.”
Ivo published his first book, “Friends Die Together,” in 2016. Ever since, volume after volume kept coming out, and today, he is an accomplished young writer with a total of seven collections with short stories.
Ivo Hristov’s literary achievements are an encouraging sign in a decade when many young Bulgarians seem to lose interest in books. While screens of various sorts –cinemas, televisions, laptops, tablets, or smartphones– attract the eyes of a budding generation, it is a rare view to observe teenagers or young adults reading a book in a park.
Apparently, not all hope is lost. This summer, the Bulgarian Book Association is organising book fairs in Gabrovo, Plovdiv, Varna and Sofia. The latest 11th edition of its annual “Book Alley” was set up on Vitosha’s most prominent walking street and one of the most visited parks in the country’s capital. It was a massive street exposition, hosting 144 publishing houses for a week.
The literary feast was officially opened with a speech by Bulgaria’s prime minister, Nikolay Denkov. As a result of the Bulgarian Book Association’s successful book fairs, national cultural institutions undertook a new program aimed to encourage reading, called #causeLITTERACY. One of its goals is to promote Sofia’s application to be recognised as World Book Capital by UNESCO in two years. (Currently, the recognition is held by Accra in Ghana for 2023 and Strasbourg in France for 2024.)
Recently, Bulgarian writers have received much acclamation locally and internationally. The most well-known is Georgi Gospodinov. In 2021, he was awarded the Strega European Prize for the Italian translation of his book “Time Shelter”. And in 2023, the English translation of the same book (by Angela Rodel) became the first Bulgarian language novel to be nominated for and win the International Booker Prize. In April, “La Repubblica” newspaper described Gospodinov as “a Proust coming from the East.”
A number of contemporary Bulgarian writers have seen their work translated into various languages. Besides Gospodinov, the first decades of the 21st century saw international publications of authors like Alek Popov, Deyan Enev, Zachari Karabashliev, Kristin Dimitrova, Milen Ruskov, Kalin Terziyski, Zdravka Evtimova, among others. In the mixture of Europe’s literary heritage, the contribution of such storytellers adds a rich cultural tapestry.
Beyond the sphere of fiction, several Bulgarian theologians were invited to contribute to the recent Langham publication “Central and Eastern European Bible Commentary”, a valuable volume reviewed by CNE.news earlier this summer. Dr Tchavdar Hadjiev, Tanya Petrova, Dr Ventsislav Stoikov, Dr Nadya Stoikova, and Desislava Todorova participated with valuable theological input to the edition.
Led by the belief that writing needs to be nurtured and fostered, the European division of Media Associates International (MAI) organises a Balkan Forum for writers and content creators. The event is happening this week, between 14th and 16th of September, 2023.
The MAI Europe Balkan Forum is attended by writers and publishers from other countries as well, including the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, the UK and the US. (Because of that, I speak about Balkan Plus.) Its vision is to explore various aspects of training and practising the art of writing and generate warm connections between Christians who understand the groundbreaking role of communication in this contemporary world.
Media Associates International is a global ministry founded to “satisfy global hunger for the written word”, according to its website. They set up a much-anticipated event by the name of LittWorld. Along with their partners, the ministry has set a goal to “equip global publishers and writers to create excellent content that enriches the Church and influences society.”
The European division of MAI started in 1990, and, in the last thirty years, has held training events in more than 20 countries across the continent. In an interview for “Protestante Digital” and Evangelical Focus, Anna Shirochenskaya, one of the organisers of the event, placed a specific accent on several areas of MAI-Europe’s values: understanding that every country has its local expression of faith that reflects its history, mentality, and worship practices; promoting local communities of Christian content creators; fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange.
The Balkan Forum this week gathers about thirty participants and features speakers like Svetlana Karoleva and myself, Vlady Raichinov (Bulgaria), Anna Shirochenskaya (Russia, Spain), Ramon Rocha III (USA, the Philippines), Janet Wilson (UK), Arie de Pater (Belgium). The topics include: “Identity Check: Ready Writers for the Lord”, “Decluttering Your Work Desk and Thinking”, “Finding Your Voice to Tell the Good News”, “Creating Content is a Lonely Business”, and “Speaking the Language of the Next Generation”. The event will include a round table, workshops, a game night, and a storytelling dinner.
Christian writers are well aware of their responsibility in a time and age when global media is increasingly filled with a proliferation of shallow articles, fake news, one-sided agendas and political propaganda. Of course, every society would be thrilled to have young men like Ivo Hristov publishing successful fiction. Of course, governmental initiatives and literary agencies would be happy to set up book alleys and attempt to foster more reading.
On a deeper level, however, people today need messages of the Truth: profound, meaningful, impactful content pointing to the one hope we all are hungry for: Christ. And at the end of the day, this is what MAI’s Balkan Plus Writers Forum is all about.
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