- Krastan Dyankov with Henrietta Tordorova
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In May 1987, I traveled from Oxford, Mississippi, to Sofia, Bulgaria, to lecture on the American South at Sofia University and Veliko Tarnovo University. After my program at Sofia University, I was told that Krastan Dyankov, the Bulgarian translator of William Faulkner, had been in the audience and wanted to meet with me. Several days later we met in a café near my hotel on the square in downtown Sofia. It was a sunny afternoon, and we sat at a table outside. When I told Dyankov I wanted to interview him, he said he preferred that I not use a tape recorder because we were probably being watched. He felt that because of his work as a writer he was considered suspect by his government. I put away my recorder and told him I would simply take written notes on our conversation.
Dyankov translated Faulkner and many other writers associated with the American South. These writers included James Baldwin, Erskine Caldwell, W. E. B. Du Bois, Lillian Hellman, DuBose Heyward, Langston Hughes, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison, William Styron, John Kennedy Toole, Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, and Robert Penn Warren. As a translator, he described himself as a “Pony Express for the culture.”
Dyankov saw important parallels between the American South and southern Bulgaria, describing the people of the Rhodope Mountains as similar to the families in Faulkner’s mythic Yoknapatawpha County. Dyankov told me that the Bulgarian writer Dimiter Vulev wrote about these worlds in a style that was reminiscent of Faulkner. He then showed me black and white photographs that were part of a series he was developing on the Rhodope Mountain region.
I also briefly interviewed Henrietta Tordorova, who was my host in the English Department at Sofia University. Tordorova arranged my interview with Dyankov, and, like Dyankov, she saw important parallels between Bulgaria and the American South. Tordorova lamented the lack of books in the Sofia University library on both southern and American culture. She told me there was not a single copy of The Color Purple available for her students to read. Tordorova also said that she and her colleagues dreamed of having Renaissance scholar Samuel Schoenbaum speak to their students. They used his work frequently in their classes. As a graduate student in English at Northwestern University, I had studied with Schoenbaum, and was inspired by his class on metaphysical poetry. I promised to help her bring him to Sofia.
When I returned to the United States, I persuaded the State Department to purchase two American Studies libraries that our Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi ordered through Square Books in Oxford. We boxed and mailed these books to both Sofia University and Veliko Tarnovo University.
When our Encyclopedia of Southern Culture was published two years later in 1989, we hosted a large gathering in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and I invited [End Page 58] Samuel Schoenbaum and his wife Marilyn to a small party afterward. He was then director of the Center for Renaissance and Baroque Studies at the University of Maryland and frequently worked at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which was near his home on Capitol Hill. Schoenbaum told me he would love to visit Sofia and speak at the university. Through the State Department, I arranged for him to travel to Sofia University, where he spoke on Renaissance literature. Schoenbaum was struggling with cancer, and it was his last trip overseas. While in Sofia, he was lionized by his Bulgarian fans, and his wife Marilyn later told me what pleasure the trip gave him.
Sofia, Bulgaria | May 18, 1987
When I graduated in 1956 in English Language and American Literature from the...