Photo / Zina Lebedeva
There were no Christmas trees at Valery Petrovskiy’s reading party at the National Library of Chuvash last Thursday.
“No, there was no Christmas tree there; [the] event took place as if on board of an aircraft,” explains the two-time Going Down Swinging contributor of his reading party last week in the Republic of Chuvash, Russia. Forget carols – Petrovskiy took his listeners on a round-the-world literary trip, touching on his vast and varied experiences writing stories for small presses around the globe.
He also presented two copies of GDS #33 to the library, to take their place in a memorial hall celebrating avant-garde Chuvash poet, Gennady Aygi. The library hopes to collect every piece published by Chuvash writers both within Russia and abroad.
Petrovskiy, whose dreamy and poignant monologue ‘Sharm el-Sheikh’ closes #33, presented the books to the library before an audience mostly made up of students from Chuvash’s two English departments (one at the Chuvash State University, and the other at the Chuvash State Pedagogical University’s Teachers College). Photos of the event were taken by the same friend who accompanied Petrovskiy on his sea-voyage in ‘Sharm el-Sheikh’ (you can read Petrovskiy’s reflection on the story here).
Despite studying English at the Teachers College in Chuvash, Petrovskiy was called up for military service in the Soviet Army straight after graduation. During his year-and-a-half conscription (cut from the two-year policy then because of his degree), he took up journalism and stuck with it.
His dedication to creative writing really began in 2005 when he started to seek publication for his stories, which he wrote in Russian as opposed to his native tongue, Chuvash. But Russian support was flighty.
“Overseas they publish short stories more eagerly than in Russia,” he explains. “Yet one writes more short stories there, and competition is ever high, while there is no practice to publish flash fiction in my country, and the genre is quite ignored in fact.”
After more rejections from Moscow magazines, Petrovskiy began translating some of his Russian stories into English two years ago.
“Soon after, my English remakes one by one were accepted overseas by Australian, Canadian and American publications.”
Now, Petrovskiy is regularly published in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, India and Ireland, and has featured in over 50 publications in the United States. Petrovskiy was also nominated for The Pushcart Prize 2012.
Writing bilingually allows Petrovskiy to not only explore new meanings in different languages, but to challenge English-speaking readers around the world.
“Writing in Russian, I escaped rivalry of Chuvash writers in close vicinity as it happens in a writing community; and as an author in English, I avoided competition with Russian masters in Moscow (actually, they ignored me), while challenging English writers world over instead.”
There’s an element of playfulness in both Petrovskiy’s person and writing that it seems he finds in the translation side of things, too.
“While writing in Russian, I feel it at once if I put things right, and in English I’m not so sure, and then I have to put it down differently and that makes my process more delighting.”
Petrovskiy is particularly pleased at being published in Australia. After having his piece ‘Cloudberries’ accepted for last year’s digital #31 edition, Petrovskiy was excited about his inclusion in #33.
“It was pleasing to have one’s story published in Russia, and it was even more enjoyable to get a print copy from abroad. But when I got published as far away as Australia, it made me quite happy.”
Actually, Petrovskiy admits that when he first came across GDS he was unsure about the English connotations of the title.
“I never knew what GDS title actually meant; in Facebook I posted once that “swinging” stood for “pacing” in Russian, so it’s something like “Pacing along the Street”.”
But he thinks there’s something of a truth in this initial translation.
“Perhaps, I wasn’t wrong much, I love the Russian movie, ‘Along Main Street with an Orchestra’. It’s about a professor who taught math at college, and nobody knew that he was a great musician while his music was broadcasted all over there. So, I think GDS name carries something else behind it.”
Interestingly, the number 33 – the biblical connotations of which led GDS to dub #33 the ‘Jesus Issue’ – is also pretty significant for Petrovskiy.
“The number 33 is somewhat sacred for me but not mystical at all,” he clarifies.
When Petrovskiy himself turned 33, the year was an important one – after divorcing his wife (“in fact”, he adds, “it was her initiative”), he says he “started [his] life anew”.
“Well, it was a crucial moment then, as important as my being conscripted to the Soviet Army once. Still, to serve in the Army was of more weight for me because it happens with you just once while one can marry and divorce yearly.”
Petrovskiy also released his first Russian book, INTIMNOE, with 33 short stories, and had them illustrated with 33 artworks by prominent Chuvash artist Alex Nasekin.
At last week’s reading party at the National Library of Chuvash, Petrovskiy was not only celebrating his 55th birthday, but also the 55th American publication to publish his works.
And he’s happy about it.
“You know, being published is like a chronic addiction, once you savored it, you want more and more.
“My short story ‘Sharm el-Sheikh’ concluded GDS #33 with the words, “… and leave all the words behind”. It proved not true, we are still in touch: writers have so much to say to each other, I believe so. And I’m in love with GDS. I like GDS because it’s a rare type, not to confuse with any other magazine in the world: it makes my head to have vertigo. It happens so when one goes down swinging!”