- Andrei Khadanovich
Andrei Khadanovich is the current president of PEN Belarus. He is also a musician, translator, professor, and a successful poet. Indeed, the Office for a Democratic Belarus advises, “If you want to come to the poetry reading by Andrei Khadanovich, it’s not a very good idea to arrive on time,” because the crowds his poetry brings demand an early arrival. He has published eight collections of poetry and has been translated into fourteen different languages. Khadonovich teaches translation at the Belarusian Collegium and literature at Belarusian State University and the Belarusian National Jakub Kolas Lyceum of Liberal Arts. In 2008 he collaborated with the Belarusian musician Siarhey Pukst to create a smooth marriage of jazz and poetry on the CD Currency Exchange Office.
In this interview, conducted via email and translated by Louisa King and Joschua Beres, Khadanovich discusses the work of PEN Belarus, his literary career, his experience in the Iowa International Writing Program, and the state of freedom of speech in his country where, he explains, “the regime is becoming increasingly totalitarian.”
How long have you been working with PEN Belarus? What got you interested in it?
I was accepted as a member of PEN Belarus in 2002, and in 2008 I was elected president by my colleagues. At that time, my predecessor, the well-known Belarusian writer, Vladimir Neklyaev stated, “Khadanovich has so much energy, he will be like the beating hoofs of a young horse.”
Belarus is a country where censorship still exists, and where writers have to fight for the basic right to express their thoughts freely, so neither I nor my colleagues in PEN will be short of work in the near future.
Are there any projects or programs Belarus PEN is currently working on?
My colleagues from PEN and I are working on several projects at the moment. Our first project concerns new Belarusian literature. The young Belarusian writer, who is just writing his first book, needs support. If he’s a good writer, he’s unlikely to take his work to a state publishing house or literary journal, where work is censored and controlled by the regime. Small, independent publishing houses probably won’t publish his works either—or if they do, they’ll propose that the author pays for the cost of publication himself—because they don’t want to take the risk of publishing work by an unknown author.
Because of this constant censorship, every year Belarus PEN tries to organize a young writers competition and publishes the winner’s work. Also, we try as much as possible to arrange the launch of the work and bring it to the attention of the public and publishers. In addition, PEN organizes the Debut competition for young poets, prose writers, and translators who have already published their first book. Winners of this competition have the opportunity to publish their second book.
Secondly, in recent years we have begun holding two international poetry festivals simultaneously in Minsk. Attendees include both Belarusian poets and authors from various European countries. The festivals include academic readings and poetry slams. All these things have revived cultural life in Minsk, and in Belarus as a whole.
Thirdly, we are doing a lot of work with literary translators on two fronts: We are trying to assist Belarusian translators who translate foreign literature into our language, and we are also trying to help get foreign translators and publishers interested in the possibility of translating and publishing Belarusian literature in their own countries.
Read the full article by Darah Patterson here.