Bestselling Author A. J. Finn Talks Storytelling at VarnaLit

“A. J. Finn is sitting at the next table.”
“The actor?”
“No, the author. Of the novel about the woman who never leaves her house and witnesses a murder… The Woman in the Window.
“He seems so upbeat for someone who wrote such a dark novel.”

It’s what you did at VarnaLit Fest—you were talked about and you talked about people as well as ideas such as truth, love, fame, language, discovering the storyteller in yourself. You were six feet away from a beloved author and asked him a question he answered with gusto. You found out that celebrated Bulgarian writer Zachary Karabashliev’s grandfather was one of the first social entrepreneurs in Bulgaria. He not only invented a road roller that made it possible to compact the thick Provadian mud, but also paved the roads in several neighboring villages, thus earning the respect of each and every local, including the road police, who did not once check the driver’s or his vehicle’s papers over the years. It wasn’t until after his death that Zachary realized the resourceful old man had never had a driver’s license.

You also learned that 15-year-old Zachary never imagined he’d become a writer, much less a successful one.

It is this very opportunity—to hear such stories firsthand—that makes VarnaLit Fest a unique phenomenon on Bulgaria’s cultural scene. Over four days, Varna visitors and residents could converse with renowned Bulgarian and foreign authors such as A. J. Finn, Dominic Carrillo, Ivo Ivanov, Alek Popov, Yulia Spiridonova, and Vladimir Zarev. The festival also introduced the readers to the works of Petia Kokudeva, author of the children’s books Questions and Lupo and Tumba, and Delyan Momchilov, whose literary debut The Bulgarians! Forgotten Achievements features the stories of 50 outstanding Bulgarians, whom it is time you heard about.

VarnaLit 2018 did not happen only in literary meeting spaces; participating artists visited more than 60 schools in Varna region, allowing hundreds of children in grades one through twelve to learn about the different ways of telling a story and ask questions. The question most frequently asked by children of all ages was “Why?” Why did you choose this profession? Why did you come back from America? Why does the heroine die at the end?

 VarnaLit’s organizers, in turn, challenged young storytellers to write a letter to their ten-years-older selves and enter it to win a prize. One of the more heartwarming letters was written by eight-year-old Yoan Kostov, who pledged to be a nonsmoker and get a gold tooth because “if you have gold teeth, you don’t have to brush them.”

Bulgaria-born French music star Vincent Vinel was also among the festival guests. Vincent is visually impaired and spent the first two years of his life in a Bulgarian orphanage before being adopted by a French family. He became famous in France after participating in The Voice and recently published an autobiography. “People take photos with me on the street, and I’m mad because I can’t see their phones,” he jokes about what fame is like for him.

Stoyan Doychev, whose stellar performance in the film Height has earned him praise and recognition, talked with young people about the importance of not giving up on their dreams, despite the difficulties they may face.

VarnaLit 2018 also included a performance of The Snow Queen by an all-children’s cast, a volleyball match between writers, a friendly boxing match, a screening of Heights, and Stefan Valdobrev’s and Mihaela Fileva’s unforgettable beach concerts.

VarnaLit 2018 was the festival’s second edition and was supported by the America for Bulgaria Foundation and Varna Municipality.




Photography: Yavor Vesselinov

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