How did you start doing literary walks?
Over the last ten years, I have been organizing literary readings in the urban environment, more and more often in unusual places – a neighborhood at the edge of town, a movie theater, a factory, a mine, the ancient wall. Over time, I became intrigued by the more active dialogue between past and present, between literature and the city, as well as the projections of my favorite authors in modern life. This is how the project "In the footsteps of the Blue Boy" came to be, dedicated to Aleksander Vutimski – one of the brightest members of the poetic generation of the 1940s. We discussed the idea for an event dedicated to him in 2018 with Todora Radeva (who was the director of the Sofia Literary Festival at the time) in connection with the centenary of the poet's birth. At the same time, the Read Sofia Foundation, which she was heading, launched the Sofia Literary Routes initiative: special city tours led by writers and poets, cultural studies and literary historians. I accepted the challenge…
It seems that most people have a habit of constructing their image of artists mostly from their work and from the "serious" part of their biography. What does the city add to this profile?
Both Aleksander Vutimski and Radoi Ralin were interesting figures that stood out from the crowd, an unchanging element of the urban landscape. The topoi connected to them not only expand their stories, but often help us better understand a verse, image, idea. This is especially true of Vutimski. The city's incarnations in his work is the multifaceted experience of his own soul. The poet had a dramatic fate – he lost almost his entire family to tuberculosis, as a student he was forced to leave his brother's apartment to avoid infecting his family, he lived a bohemian life – wandered the streets at nighy, went to pubs and parties with his friends, loved music and dancing, met up with strangers at hotels. He died all alone, age 24, at a sanatorium in Surdulica, then Serbia, fulfilling one of his own prophetic verses: "To die like a bird on an autumn day on the way to a city unknown." His grave was never found. Neither his family house in Svoge, nor the night guard pavilion in the Doctor's Garden, where he worked for some time, have been preserved. In this sense, we know Vutimski mainly from his own projection into the poetic space. Paradoxically, he is absent while also being everywhere in the city around us. Every topos associated with him is a drop in our collective memory.
Could you tell us more about the process of preparing a route.
Creating a literary route is a laborious endeavor. The preparation usually takes months and involves re-reading the author's work, getting acquainted with the main literary research about him, various articles, documentary and video archives, meetings any living heirs, relatives and friends of the poet, identifying which topoi could be narrated. Developing the walk involves building on what is already known and discussed by combining biographical facts, documentary materials, texts: a kind of syncretism between historical education and literary experience.
What are the most unexpected facts you have discovered about the authors whose steps you are following in the physical dimensions of Sofia?
While researching, I come across so many unexpected and interesting facts are interesting precisely because of the general backdrop of history. The fate of the poet is constantly changing. For example, Vutimski was boldly and openly gay during World War II, when we were allied with Nazi Germany and the idea of the "healthy nation" was popular, he worked as a night guard in the Doctor's Garden and in a quarry, he was drawn to history and archeology, he was the author of the popular song "Seven Drunk Negroes." Ralin's life allows us to trace individual human fate in the context of historical events, and allows us to witness the long, difficult and controversial path of a Man who defended his right to effect change and to create. A participant in the Second World War and the pouring of the foundations of the People's Republic of Bulgaria, driven by his innate extroversion and love of others, Ralin quickly became disillusioned with those "who advised poets how to write, philosophers how to think" (Vutimski) and raised his voice in defense of those who were marginalized and mistreated, becoming one of the most well-known dissidents of the totalitarian regime. I would call all this "poetic archeology." It is amazing how little we know about the contexts that shaped the psychological profile, sensitivity and creativity of the generation of the 40's: Vutimski, Ralin, Gerov, Hanchev, Peychev – poets known for their urban imagery, urban thinking, strong social sensitivity.
You are about to turn our attention to Dimitar Voev and Alexander Gerov.
The presentation about Alexander Gerov will take the form of a literary meeting – we will talk about his biography and work, we will read poems, I will talk about the intersections between him, Vutimski and Ralin. The literary route for Voev is still just an idea, it is still being negotiated, but I will give you this hint – I want to present the poet in the context of the suburbs, excess and alienation.
How is the city present in their work and how are they present in the city through their work?
In both cases we have poets through whom the city tells us about itself.
It seems that most readers are quite poorly informed about authors who are not represented, or are poorly represented, in the school curriculum, such as Vutimski and Gerov. How can literary walks help develop reading culture and education more generally?
Yes, both Vutimski (possibly due to prejudice?) and Gerov are not included in current educational programs, but this is where modern urban culture, meaningful private initiatives can step in – those aimed at supplementing the standard educational curriculuam, stimulating learning through entertainment, preservation and upgrading our collective memory. In the context of "Sofia Literary Walks," I am very pleased to see of representatives of different age groups, as well as the already established practice of organizing literary meetings that are specially designed for children.
If someone were to design a literary walk based on you years in the future, what would it include and what advice would you give them?
There is no greater reward for an artist than a selfless interest in their work, in the legacy they have left behind, in which this narrator from the future finds meaning. I would not give any advice, but the benchmarks for this story should probably be The City, The Mountain, Archeology and Poetry.
The walk exploring Dimitar Voev will be part of the "Literary Routes" series in the fall. The event for Alexander Gerov, organized independently by Kaloyan, will also take place in the fall.