In That Moment
Last summer I had the great pleasure of attending the Sozopol Fiction Seminar, an annual program sponsored by the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation that brings together five writers working in English and five working in Bulgarian, as well as editors, publishers, and translators from all over the world, to foster an international dialogue on writing. I was invited to offer my perspective on Poets & Writers as well as the wider world of literary magazines, and for six days I got to know some extremely talented writers from Bulgaria, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States while learning about the literary culture of Bulgaria—first in the capital city of Sofia and then in Sozopol, an ancient town on the Black Sea. Truly remarkable.
But, as we point out in this issue’s special section (page 62), and specifically in the essays by Rigoberto González, Ruth Ellen Kocher, and nine others that compose “The Moment of Truth” (64), often the most valuable moments at these kinds of events are unplanned, unscripted. I asked eleven authors to share their moments of truth at writers retreats, so I’ll share mine. It came during one of the brief stops that punctuated a very fast drive through the Bulgarian countryside as contributing editor Jeremiah Chamberlin, Tin House managing editor Cheston Knapp, and I hurtled toward the Turkish border. Our intrepid guide was the larger-than-life Anthony Georgieff, editor of the Bulgarian magazine Vagabond.
There we were, speeding down and around the curves of way-too-narrow roads, the landscape interrupted by Soviet-era relics (concrete housing complexes, disintegrating army barracks), all blurring beyond our windows, Jimi Hendrix blasting through the speakers. It was an experience almost too strange to be believed. How did I end up here? We slid to a stop on a gravel road and Georgieff turned off the car, the engine ticking in time to crickets in the sudden quiet. There, atop the shell of a concrete embankment, stood two goats. I slowly approached, the animals eyeing me warily. We stared at one another. Five seconds passed, ten. One of them bleated, burped, and began to chew his cud, looking past me. Then they slowly ambled away. Until that moment, I had been seeing Bulgaria through a tourist’s eyes, my own importance coloring the view. It took the indifference of a goat, of all things, to jostle me out of my familiar perspective. Only afterward did I truly see my surroundings. This writer’s eyes, so often trained inward, had been opened.