You may recall Miroslav Penkov, the young Bulgarian author who teaches English at UNT and whose first collection of short stories, East of the West, earned raves and translation into 11 countries. Penkov’s stories have won him the Eudora Welty Prize and the BBC International Short Story Award. He happens to be the only Bulgarian author in America writing about his home country in English.
Well, now Penkov’s won something else, and this time he’s headed to Canada. Since 2002, the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative has paired major artists in dance, film, literature and music with younger talents. Such masters as Toni Morrison, Sir Colin Davis, Brian Eno, Mario Vargos Llosa, Julie Taymor and Martin Scorsese have collaborated with relative newbies for a year. In Penkov’s case, he’ll be working with Booker Prize-winning Canadian author Michael Ondaatje (best known for The English Patient) — and as Penkov explains, he’ll be working on his novel:
My main objective of the mentoring year is finalizing my novel, which I have been working on for four years. It has been bought by an American publisher. What I like about the mentorship is summed up in the saying “Give a man fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll never be hungry again.” So it’s not just about the novel; it’s about learning about being a writer for the rest of my life.
My novel is, among other things, about the desolation of Eastern Thrace, which borders Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, before, during and after the Balkan Wars. Part of the narrative also centres on a campaign by the Orthodox Church and Communist Party to make Bulgarian Muslims change their names.
I don’t look at my books individually. I perceive them as links in a single chain. I’d like the world to read about Bulgaria, its people, history and folklore. And I’d like the people of Bulgaria to start reading local literature again, something they’ve almost forgotten about over the past two decades of economic crisis. That’s why I write my books in English and in Bulgarian.