YASSEN ATANASSOV, POET AND WRITER

interview by Dimana Trankova; photography by Tsvetelina Belutova

Sofia is Bulgaria's symbol of the "glocal," that interaction between global and local

Yassen Atanassov.jpg

Many branches of the arts are struggling in the current economic climate, but there are still examples of culture that show how, with courage and vision, much is possible. The international Sofia Poetiki Festival is one. Since 2010 it has attracted prominent artists from Bulgaria and abroad, creating an ingenious mixture of poetry, prose, dance, theatre and performance. The man behind Sofia Poetiki is a poet and writer himself, Yassen Atanassov. Born in 1971 in Sofia, Atanassov still runs on the boyish energy which has made him one of the most electrifying figures on the modern Bulgarian arts scene. He is the author of five books, one of which Svyat za izpivane, or A World For Drinking, won the Spirt and Spirit 2010 Award. As a publisher, he published names like Robert M. Pirsig and Henry Miller, and created the cult, but now defunct, literatary magazine Ah, Maria. He has worked as a journalist and a magazine editor and hosted a culture show on TV. He graduated in culture sciences from Sofia University, specialised in philosophy and arts in Milan and culture management at the French Culture Ministry.

How and why did you start writing?

It all began, naturally, with reading. If you want to turn life and living things into a text, you need to have not only a peculiar sensitivity towards reality, but also to submerge yourself into the parallel universe of texts. I have been an avid reader since childhood. As a child, I would spent half the day wandering around the construction sites which later became Sofia's Mladost neighbourhoods, fighting with rival gangs of boys, raiding the Agronomical Gardens and saving kittens from dusty basements. The other half of the day I would read, sometimes devouring two or three books in a day. I read everything – literature, popular science, biographies, you name it.

So, it seemed quite logical when my father, the poet Atanas Zvezdinov, then an editor in the Narodna Mladezh publishing house, started giving me manuscripts of books written for children and young people, looking for my opinion. My opinion quickly turned into editorial analysis. I would ask myself why a certain scene followed another, or whether an adventure sequence where the hero fights an anaconda, is chased by a puma and is overwhelmed by termites in just a few pages was not over the top. I became an editor even before becoming a writer... I started writing in high school. It was poetry. Why? Because I could create worlds dependent only on me. It was also a form of protest – not only because I was writing in a different manner, but because I loved to demonstrate my independence in a world full of dependence. These were the years before the collapse of Communism, in 1987-1989. After the changes, my wild desire for freedom did not ease, but expanded, mirroring the downfall of the so-called Transitional Period, when society went in an anti-intellectual direction. So I changed from poetry to prose. To sum it up: poetry fits the inebriation of the revolution and prose is for the hangover after it.

Tell us more about your favourite projects.

My absolute favourite project – and the most difficult one, as it somehow always manages to slip away – is my life. To live, if not exactly in the way I want to, but at least in a different manner. Not to weaken under the common conventions, to manage to impose my own rules, to do things that excite me. In short – to "consume" the freedom which is often on the tip of one's spoon, but which few people even notice.

This attitude explains why my favourite projects are, indeed, all the projects I have ever done. Because I have chosen to make them and their destiny dependent on me, I cannot single out as "favourite" one particular field of my interests and work – literature, journalism, publishing, culture management, science.

Sofia Poetiki Festival, however, is probably the noisiest and liveliest of my children. That is possibly why recently I have been trying to step back from it. I want to entrust it to new "tutors," to let it leave home. I want to concentrate on my next book. And let's not talk about my abandoned doctoral thesis!

What are you working on at the moment?

A novel I have been postponing for quite a long time. Writing, specifically long prose, demands that you live in another existential time. This time is often not compatible with calendar time. I do not mean the "usual" problem, where you need to do something else because literature cannot feed you. I mean the very awareness that writing will limit your freedom. To fall asleep thinking: "Fuck it, I will ditch everything and will eat only potatoes, but I am finishing that novel," and in the morning to remember all your commitments, the bills, the debts, the people who rely on you. The drama of the 21st Century romantic.

I am also struggling to make Sofia Poetiki financially independent.

Give us three reasons why Sofia should become the European City of Culture in 2019.

The first is that Sofia is a capital city: it is a real metropolis by Bulgarian standards, a city of contrasts where incompatible cultures meet. Sofia is a symbol of the "glocal," that interaction between global and local, and all cultural processes flow from this. The idea of making a city a Culture Capital is linked to these processes. There are marvellous Bulgarian cities also applying for this, but they are too stuck in the "local" to qualify. This, however, is not a flaw – I admire these cases of certain traditionalism and constructive conservatism. But Sofia is the only place in Bulgaria where the contrast between tradition and modernity is so evident.

My second reason is purely quantitative – the greater part of the cultural product of Bulgaria is created in Sofia.

My third reason is that Sofia is my city, isn't it?

This project has been cofunded by the Culture 2012 Programme of the Sofia Municipality in support for the Sofia nomination for the European Capital of Culture for 2019

SOFIA – CANDIDATE FOR EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE 2019

  • COMMENTING RULES

    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

ANELIYA PARICHKOVA'S FORMULA FOR SUCCESS
The clients of Parichkova Design Lab are different and so are the interiors that they have commissioned to the studio.

GERGANA ATANASOVA: BEING A PART OF THE CHANGE
Renewable energy has immense potential for helping humanity to put climate change under control. But it is more than that.

FRENCH AMBASSADOR JOËL MEYER
The stylish French residence in Central Sofia is indeed a very special place. For about 100 years, in addition to being the home of French ambassadors, it has been the meeting spot of senior dignitaries.

NATALIA PETROVA: LET'S TALK ABOUT MODERN INVESTMENT
Natalia Petrova has over 20 years of experience in asset management, capital markets, equity and fixed income trading, UCITS products and services, and is a licensed investment consultant, broker and trader with government securities.

KATYA MACHUGANOVA: THE GAMES AI PLAYS
Women are increasingly making their own way into iGaming: as players, creators and developers. Katya Machuganova is one of them.

KENNETH MERTEN
Three times an ambassador (in Haiti, Croatia and now in Bulgaria) Kenneth Merten has a wide-ranging career in various positions within the US State Department, including in the office of the director general of the foreign service.

DR VALENTINA IVANOVA: INSPIRING CHILDREN FOR A BETTER FUTURE
In times of rapidly changing social, technological and political climates, all parents worry about what is the most responsible way to prepare their children for the challenges of tomorrow.

KRASIMIRA HRISTOVA: FEMALE ENERGY IN THE CAR INDUSTRY
Antifreeze, AdBlue® diesel exhaust fluid, windshield wiping fluid, grease... When drivers and car mechanics in Bulgaria and the Balkans buy such crucial products, they often choose one brand in particular.

NANCY SCHILLER, AMERICA FOR BULGARIA FOUNDATION
It has funded over 1,000 projects in all corners of Bulgaria and has reached thousands of people. It provides support to local partners in many areas: from encouraging private enterprise to building democratic institutions and fostering tourism.

GENERATION DATA
Data science has the power to provide invaluable insight for the competitive advantage of businesses.

MARGARITA STANCHEVA: RECRUITING PASSION
Margarita Stancheva is one of those people who challenge stereotypes as they breathe: she is young, she runs one of the hottest recruitment agencies on the IT market, she is a young mother and is refreshingly candid when talking about business and her life.

TEODOR DOBREV: SEEKING NEW CHALLENGES EVERY DAY
Perseverance, ambition, enthusiasm to learn and to adapt to the everchanging game are qualities crucial for the success of any company in the competitive IT field. Telelink Business Services is a case in point.