Andrei Khadanovich: prison is a cynic catalyst of literary creativity
Andrei Kadanovich, Chairman of the Belarusian PEN Centre, which, together with Radio Liberty organizes the literary prize named after Frantsishak Aliakhnovich, named the most outstanding works competing for the prize this year.
Among the nominees of this year's prize there were Nasta Azarka, Ales Bialiatski, Aliaksandr Bud-Husaim, Zmitser Dashkevich, Ihar Mikhnavets Feliks Peker, Pavel Seviarynets, Aliaksandr Fiaduta and Iryna Khalip.
- Which of the works that are competing for the prize can be identified not only as works written in prison, but also works of a high literary value?
- The works of most nominees are not just a gesture of courage, and they are not just sad, but alsoa valuable experience for readers. They also have a remarkable literary value. Two professional philologists – Ales Bialiatski with his “Quick Silver of Life” and "Cold Wings of the Motherland", and Aliaksandr Fiaduta with his "American Poetry" and "My Little Paris", though written in prison, were well expected, as everyone knows that philology and literature are a large part of their lives. They know how to write, and in this sense they did not disappoint us. In the recent years, the jury of the prize have been closely watching Pavel Seviarynets. Today we can surely say that he is not just a politician, but also a skilled writer and publicist. You can also note Dmitry Dashkevich for his "Worm" and Iryna Khalip with her "Prisoner's Diary". Reading these works is not just a sign of civil altruism and solidarity, but is also of a notable literary interest.
- So, the people who write in prison are integrated in the literary community, aren't they?
- Each of the nominees is not an occasional person. All these people have their own positions, professions and spheres of engagement. Such people don't change after prison. Prison tempers, but doesn't change them. For instance, Ales Bialiatski loves and promotes literature in parallel to his human rights activities. It is difficult to startbeing integrated into the literature, being a great friend of the best Belarusian writers and having the experience of being the director of Maksim Bahdanovich museum. Ales Bialiatski was integrated into the Belarusian literature long ago. We cannot say that Aliaksandr Fiaduta needs to be specially in the literature either. On the other hand, the fact that Pavel Seviarynets and Zmitser Dashkevich start being associated not only with the young independent politics, but also with the literature, it significant. It suffices to say that Zmitser Dashkevich's book actively struggledfor the victory and he eventually received the incentive prize from the non-political literary competition "Debut" named after Maksim Bahdanovich. Thus, a large competent jury undersigned that Zmitser Dashkevich was integrated into literature, too.
- Who is interested in books from prison? Is there social demand for them?
- In announcing the award, the organizers expressed hope that its very establishment will bring contribute to changes in the situation in Belarus, as a result of which it will cease to be relevant. There was a hope that intellectuals, artists and writers will cease to fall behind bars because of their political views. However, we still have what we have.
Of course, assessing the prison literature, we assess not only its stylistic aspect, we do not weigh on pharmaceutical scales the complex sentences and the skills of their weaving. We are talking about something more – the civil and human position and about an experience which is new for most of the readers, but is necessary for our solidarity and mutual support. It is said that our writers do have such an experience. However, I think it shouldn't be wasted, as it is an experience not just for them, but also for our culture and society in general. Therefore it is clear that "prison" literature performs an educational, civic role in the society.
- It is clear that in prison conditions people first of all want to tell the readers about their new experience, that's why often those who are kept in prison write about prison. However, this is not always the case. What else do prisoners write about?
- People write not only about life in prison. If Dashkevich's "Worm" rests directly rests upon the prison experience with intervening reflections about Christian values, Bialiatski's book reflects his range of interests. As jokingly said by the Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky, prison, doesn't limit a person's time, while limiting space It turns into a cynical catalyst spiritual activities. Closed within four walls, one can focus on the systematic literary work, choosing any topic for writing.
Frantsishak Aliakhnovich prize was founded in 2013 bythe Belarusian PEN Centre and Radio Liberty. The works which are eligible for the award, aren't limited by their topic. Accepted for consideration are documentary and fiction works in the Belarusian or Russian languages, both published and in manuscript, created in custody and sent throughout the year. The right of nomination also belongs to all members of the PEN Center. The jury traditionally determines the winner and announces the results on December 10, International Human Rights Day.