Last week, I was in Macedonia for a very special event – the second installment of a literary festival that hopes to be one of the biggest and best in the region – Pro-za Balkan. With the up-coming Balkan Day celebration of Creativity and Identity at the British Library (June 13th), and the (unavoidable!) lack of a Macedonian writer on any of the panels, Macedonia is on my mind in more ways than one:
Firstly, back to the festival. As I mentioned before, PRO-ZA Balkan is a fledgling festival which launched last year by hosting a number of writers who also happen to be published through Istros (just to prove to you that we really have the pick of the crop) – Alek Popov from Bulgaria, Andrej Nikolaidis from Montenegro, and Vladislav Bajac from Serbia. Bajac was also the recipient of the festival award – ‘Prozart’ Award – given to a prominent author from the Balkans for outstanding contribution to the development of the Balkan Literature (and shall be giving one of the Key note speeches at Balkan Day).
Aleksandar Prokopiev, Artistic Director of the festival (and also an up-coming Istros’ author), gave this statement on the impetus for starting this festival:
”The festival is a great step forward in the creation of bridges between the Balkan and Macedonian writers, between the European stakeholders in the publishing world and the Macedonian publishers, between the world of the book and the Macedonian reader.”
What’s more, PRO-ZA Balkan has now introduced a Fellowship programme that hosts the most prominent European publishers, literary agents and scouts, and directors of renowned literary festivals. This year, about from yours truly, the fellows included UK Literary Scout, Anne Louise Fisher and Lucien Leitess, founder of the Swiss publisher, Unionsverlag. Also joining us for a week of literary discussions and tasty, literary meals, were the Turkish writer, Mario Levi, the Slovenian writer Aleš Čar, Bosnian Writer Nenad Veličković, legendary Yugoslav film-maker and author, Slododan Šijan, and Macedonian author and translator of Shakespeare, Dragi Mihajlovski (whose short-story ‘Pop Goes the Weasal’ appears in the latest edition of Wasafiri Magazine). And the winner of the ‘Prozart’ Award this year was Daša Drndić, whose impressive and moving novel on the Holocaust –Trieste – was published to great acclaim in the UK with Maclehose Press last year.
Apart from the usual human dramas of minor toes infections, headaches, missing participants and hay fever attacks, all involved were shown the very best of Macedonian hospitality, and introduced to a vibrant literary and cultural scene, which exists despite the terrible economic pressures on this beleaguered Balkan country.
And then there’s another thing…..this month will see the publication of ‘Death in the Museum of Modern Art‘, a collection of six stories by the Macedonian-born writer, Alma Lazarevska. Described by fellow (ex)citizen of Sarajevo and writer, Aleksandar Hemon as ‘…a brilliant, engaging work of fiction’, much is expected from this literary debut on the UK market. Its first review – by Marina Sofia in Necessary Fiction, was a rave one, which praised the ”poetic silence between sentences” in this, subtle, tender collection.