Zdravka Vladova-Momcheva from Great Britain with a collection of short stories, ‘Crossroads and Islands’, and Donka Dimova, from Germany, with an anthology of poems, ‘On the Border. Poetry in the Crack’, won the 2022 ‘Contemporary Bulgarian Fiction Without Borders’ competition. There was no award for a novel by the jury chaired by Prof. Plamen Antov, DSc, Institute for Literature, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, with members Milena Dimitrova, Chief Expert in the Office of the Vice President, and Yavor Koinakov, Chief Expert at the State Institute for Culture at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The competition was organised for the first time by the ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ National Endowment Fund in partnership with the Administration of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria. The goal of the contest is to support creativity in the Bulgarian language with no geographical confines; to patronise the publication of poems and fiction awarded by a competent jury; to promote the diaspora’s literary works both in Bulgaria and among Bulgarians around the world; and to help preserve Bulgarian literature, traditions, culture, and language.
The prize incorporates the publishing of the successful works in Bulgaria by the St Kliment Ohridski University Press, as NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ will underwrite the printing of each winning volume to a limit of BGN 3,000.
But who are the women who overcame intense competition in the 2022 ‘Contemporary Bulgarian Fiction Without Borders’ contest?
Zdravka Vladova-Momcheva, born in Veliko Tarnovo, and who has lived in Great Britain since 2000, teaching Bulgarian language and literature for 15 years at the Ivan Stancioff Bulgarian School at the Embassy of Bulgaria in London, wrote this about herself.
‘I have been composing poetry and prose since the age of 14, and when I arrived in the [British] Isles, the new lingual environment stimulated me to create in English, as well. Living between two realities—Bulgarian and English—turned out to be my lucky challenge, because the experience in a foreign land gave me a better perspective on my own country. I was able to appreciate everything that Bulgaria has formed in me as a personality and a creator, to stand up for myself and the values of my national culture, as well as to make others respect them. Gradually, I realised that being a Bulgarian in the global reality is an advantage, owing to the exceptional resilience through which we introduce the best qualities of our identity to it: the traditions, our world view, sense of humour, the preservation of Bulgarianness. This is how the major theme that passes as a leitmotif through my stories—more than 200—is formed, both my own and other people’s, in the wide world outside the Native Land, where these two concepts are often confused in the name of humanness.
‘I was invited to contribute as a writer to BG BEN, a leading newspaper published in Britain, and so, over several years in my column, “Face to Face”, I published dozens of stories, which I had written on account of the experience and impressions I had gained here. Meanwhile, I continued composing poetry in both Bulgarian and English; took part in international competitions; won prizes for poetry and prose; and worked with great satisfaction at the Ivan Stancioff Bulgarian School at the Embassy of Bulgaria in London. Lessons with my pupils are also an inspiration for me. The feeling that I contribute to the preservation of the mother tongue abroad is like sharing with my close ones my greatest wealth—the Bulgarian word. It is worth it. It will always be worth it! That is why I write incessantly, to publish books, to be open to everything that attracts my authorial curiosity—this capricious phenomenon.
‘Among my creative achievements over the years, I should like to mention “Thracian Treasure”, a bilingual collection of poems published in Canada by Palabras Press, after the main poem titled “The Song of Orpheus” won first place in the publisher’s competition with contestants from 60 countries on four continents. I am happy, too, that my short stories collection, “Hello, Bulgaria!”, was published in Bulgaria, before travelling a long way to the Library of Congress in Washington, where it became part of the Bulgarian collection of that institution. I am also proud of my novel, “Soldier”, a chapter of which took second place in The New Yovkov Competition organised by the Bulgarian Armed Forces Women Association, and subsequently received the 2021 Novel of the Year prize of EUROTV MEDIA for Bulgarian authors permanently living abroad.
‘It is important that I continue to create and promote the Bulgarian spiritual presence abroad. In that context, for me, the prizes I have received over the years are not an end in themselves. On a personal level, they remind me that I am doing well as a contemporary Bulgarian author in an environment of two cultures. Therefore, the first place awarded to my short stories collection, “Crossroads and Islands”, in the “Contemporary Bulgarian Fiction Without Borders” contest, organised by the Administration of the President and NEF “13 Centuries of Bulgaria”, is for me a great honour. It comes at a time when all of us—Bulgarian authors and readers at home and around the world—need to be together. Let us announce that Bulgaria is not only a geographical territory, but also a spiritual domain, and that its horizons extend far beyond its borders.
‘So, it is with deep respect that I thank the two Bulgarian institutions outside my native land that nominated my stories for this competition: the Ivan Stancioff Bulgarian School at the Embassy of Bulgaria, London, and the Association of Bulgarian Schools Abroad (ABSA). They have proved precisely this: we can be together, we appreciate the cultural and literary contribution of representatives from our community, we encounter the appreciation and understanding of the institutions at home, and we carry on in a common Bulgarian direction.
‘I am proud that my latest book will bear on its cover the NEF “13 Centuries of Bulgaria” logo, a symbol of the spiritual unity of our country, which was, is, and will be the salvation of all of us’, concluded Zdravka Vladova-Momcheva, awarded for her collection of short stories, ‘Crossroads and Islands’.
Complementing all that she listed, we note that Zdravka Vladova-Momcheva is a member of the League of Bulgarian Writers in the United States and the World, the Board of Directors of the Confederation of Bulgarian Cultural Organisations and Actors Abroad. She was awarded a gold medal by the Agency for Bulgarians Abroad for merit in preserving and disseminating the Bulgarian language and culture abroad. She has also developed two scientific projects to assist teachers in Bulgarian schools abroad.
In her motivational letter, Donka Dimova eloquently described her aspirations, excitement, and reasons for creating her anthology of poems, ‘On the Border. Poetry in the Crack’:
‘Every boundary is a personal experience, and crossing it is painful, aggressive, brave. Borders are artificial structures with a long tradition. In a peaceful, safe, and wealthy country like Germany, social boundaries are not necessary, but are nonetheless a maintained model for relationships.
‘Everyone has surrounded their own personal comfort with fear—like barbed wire woven from prejudice and beliefs. But if we allow the border to become a place of meeting rather than a place of division, flowers can bloom among the barbed wire. Hope sprouts in every crack in the border, no matter how small it may be.
‘This volume of poetry deals with social boundaries, with what can be understood as an artificial dividing line between near and far, between familiar and unknown, between acceptance and rejection. The poems speak of figures and images very close to us and at the same time very distant. About refugees, suicides, and drug dealers.
‘In the first part of the book, “Barbed Wire”, these characters cast a shadow on the normality of life. Their images are disturbing and raise questions. These questions are a little different from the usual: who deals with the problematic people of society? Who lacks madness? Are the golden-robed refugees kings? Who replaces the silent shadow in the corner?
‘The crack in the border is a symbol of the “other” that is penetrating the ideal world of normality. All the situations described show that division is real and is shaping society. The poems are composed from the perspective of a narrator who is not directly involved in the action.
‘The first part is defined by negative images such as death, suffering, escape, poverty. They affect the lyrical narrator in the second part, “Sunny Bunnies”. The observer’s safe perspective is illuminated, but this light is not peaceful, nor does it bring warmth and hope. On the contrary, the reflection of light is frightening, because shadow and light are directly related to each other. Strong feelings such as fear, powerlessness, mistrust, self-destructive desire, fill the trenches. In this part, there is no longer room for remote observation. The threat turns out to be very close, and once-distant suffering is already here.
‘In “Cracked”, the third part, the poems transcend from a compassionate to a fighting mood; they gain courage, self-confidence, and hope. The ending of the book is left open, as open as the issues raised or the development of society. The reader is left searching for personal answers and cracks.
‘My motivation for writing on these topics is personal and deep. To me, poetry is art, and the purpose of art is to ask awkward questions and expose uncomfortable truths. I have worked for many years as a consultant and social worker with people on the fringes of society. This job has changed my outlook and attitude. I think that those people simply happen to be on the other side of the border, people that I actually meet and love. They should also have a voice, an image, a place in art—they deserve it. I compose my poems about these real characters, but I hope that my stories will crack at least one border, and that at least one flower will grow in that crack,’ Donka Dimova ended the disclosure in her motivational letter.
Born in Burgas, where she studied at a German-language secondary school, Dimova has been composing poems since childhood. Her works won her Bulgarian National Radio’s youth poetry contest, ‘Sparks’. In her home town, she is part of the ‘Mythical Birds’ literary studio of the poet, Roza Boyanova. Her poems have been published in the collections ‘Mythical Birds’, ‘Poetry from the Magic House’, and ‘A Piece of Sunset Between the Fingers’.
She graduated in Political Science, European Studies and Social Policy in Bremen and Hanover. In Germany, she helps disadvantaged people as a consultant on social and educational issues, as well as being a specialist in intra-European migration and law.
Since 2016, she has been working creatively with children and young people, leading courses and creative writing circles employing the ‘Language at Play’ (Spiele mit Sprache) method. Further information is available on the author’s website: www.donka-dimova.de.
Although busy and socially occupied, Dimova has continued to compose poetry. Her poems have appeared in literary magazines such as ‘More’ [Sea], ‘Slovo’ [Speech], and ‘Zlatorog’ [Golden Horn]. In 2014, she published an independent anthology of poems, ‘Translation of Everyday Life’, which won an award —the Hristo Fotev Plaque—from the Municipality of Burgas.
Donka Dimova also writes in German. She has featured in the German Poetry Library almanac, as well as in the literary magazines ‘Kohler’, ‘Etcetera’, and ‘Free Verse’. She is active in Bremen’s literary life, organising readings, taking part in literary festivals, collaborating with artists in the spheres of theatre, music, visual arts, and film. She has also taken part in the Bremen Film Festival.
In early 2021, she won an award of the Evangelical Culture Church in Bremerhaven, and a verse of hers was printed on a huge scale to hang over one of the church windows. In the same year, a composition by Dimova was voiced in an audio installation, filling Bremen’s centre for three days. Her poems have also been translated into Arabic and Macedonian.
‘On the Border. Poetry in the Crack’ is Donka Dimova’s second independent anthology of poems.