We are now back in the UK after spending several days in Sofia at the end of our Bulgaria trip, on a mini-residency at the Sofia Literature and Translation House. It was the perfect place to do catch up on a bit of writing and reading. Whilst there, Hannah got to work on a short story pamphlet commission, and Will continued with research on a number of his non-fiction projects. Meanwhile, we both also had more of a chance to catch up with friends, to explore Sofia, and to meet some local writers, artists and activists.
The Literature and Translation House is run by the Next Page foundation, under the leadership of the wonderful Yana Genova, who was a superb host, and who offered us all kinds of insights into the wider Bulgarian literary scene. Yana also very kindly set up an informal discussion meeting with a number of people working at the meeting places between the arts and social justice. Among the guests were Anguelina Ranguelova from the Pavilion 19 project, which works on theatre and storytelling with underprivileged young people (in particular from the Roma and asylum-seeker communities) in the area of the Zhenski Pazar, or the women’s market, and Evgeni Dimitrov who works on projects at the Centre for Inclusive Education, as well as on his remarkable project “The Invisibles” (see the link here), which has many resonances with Hannah’s work on missing people.
We had a delightful afternoon of discussion in the gardens of the house, exploring questions of creativity and activism, the problems of power, and the nature of trust. The discussions ranged from therapeutic puppet theatre to the challenges and possibilities opened up by working on creative projects in multi-lingual frameworks. It was enormously invigorating to get new perspectives from those working on the ground in Bulgaria. And, as one of the participants said, if it wasn’t the kind of conversation that aimed at any particular goal, it was instead one that helped with the internal ‘churning’ necessary to any creative process, with turning over the soil and allowing new ideas to begin to sprout.
We have come home from Bulgaria – and in particular from the Literature and Translation House – full of ideas for new possibilities and new projects. Yana’s work over in Sofia is truly fabulous, so do go to the Next Page Foundation to check out more about what they do (and if you are a writer, think about applying for a residency). It is good, perhaps it is even vital, that such places exist. They should be celebrated for the work that they do. And as for us, we hope to visit Sofia again very soon.