Robertson build­ing Ser­bian cul­tural con­nec­tions

First North Amer­i­can au­thor to serve as writer-in-res­i­dence at House of Writers

The Chatham Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - ELLWOOD SHREVE

Chatham-born au­thor Ray Robertson will be cel­e­brat­ing Canada’s 150th an­niver­sary by en­hanc­ing the cul­tural con­nec­tion be­tween Canada and Ser­bia.

The 51-year-old au­thor of 10 books, who has been nom­i­nated for sev­eral na­tional awards, is the first North Amer­i­can au­thor to serve as writer-in-res­i­dence at the House of Writers, lo­cated in Tr­sic, Ser­bian, which is the birth­place of Vuk Ste­fanovic Karadzic, who au­thored the first Ser­bian lan­guage dic­tio­nary.

Robertson will be vis­it­ing Ser­bia from June 10 to July 1.

Since the House of Writers was opened in 2010 in co-oper­a­tion with the Ser­bian Min­istry of Cul­ture, it has hosted writers from Spain, Eng­land, Egypt, Greece, Bul­garia, Ja­pan, Italy, Aus­tralia, Ukraine and Is­rael.

“I’m usu­ally not given to these sort of heirs, but I feel kind of priv­i­leged,” Robertson told The Chatham Daily News on Mon­day.

With this be­ing the Canada’s 150th, he added, “it kind of feels like good tim­ing.”

This op­por­tu­nity stems from a visit Robertson made to Ser­bia last year to pro­mote his non-fic­tion work ‘Why Not? Fif­teen Rea­sons to Live,’ which has been trans­lated into Ser­bian and dis­trib­uted by Kar­pos Pub­lish­ing.

The pub­lisher rec­om­mended Robertson to Da­jana De­dovic, lit­er­ary pro­gramme or­ga­nizer of the House of Writers.

“The Kar­pos brand is a cer­tain stamp of qual­ity and just the fact that Mr. Robertson has gar­nered their at­ten­tion peaked our in­ter­ests,” De­dovic said in an e-mail.

“Upon read­ing his novel, I found it to be a smart, in­tro­spec­tive, clever, stoic and heart­felt look at life,” she added. “An en­gag­ing and im­pres­sive piece of work. An au­thor of such skill is more than wel­come in our lit­tle com­mu­nity.”

De­dovic said all of the pro­grams geared to stu­dents and Robertson’s stay “will cer­tainly be a valu­able ad­di­tion to our work­shops.”

She added the bud­ding au­thors will know how to value and use Robertson’s ex­pe­ri­ence and ad­vice.

While Robertson ac­knowl­edges lan­guage could be an is­sue at times, he said when it comes to talk­ing about writ­ing, it doesn’t mat­ter what your ex­pe­ri­ence is.

What mat­ters he added is whether the writ­ing is vivid and fresh, and if you are try­ing to avoid cliches.

Hav­ing earned a de­gree in phi­los­o­phy, Robertson said, “I was al­ways just read­ing books for plea­sure, and I think that’s some­thing I’ve tried to con­tinue with my books.

“Lit­er­a­ture shouldn’t be an obli­ga­tion, it should be joy­ful and fun and full of vi­brancy,” he added.

As an added bonus, when Robertson re­turns to Ser­bia it will also be in time for Kar­pos Pub­lish­ing to re­lease the Ser­bian trans­la­tion of his re­cent work ‘Lives of the Po­ets (with Guitars).’

Robertson said when he vis­ited the pub­lisher last year, he brought a copy of ‘Lives of the Po­ets’ as more of a cour­tesy. The col­lec­tion of es­says tells com­pelling sto­ries of his per­sonal mu­si­cal he­roes.

Cit­ing the war-torn his­tory of the coun­try, he said rock and roll is a big deal for many peo­ple cul­tur­ally and is seen as a sym­bol of western free­dom.

Robertson is pleased his Ser­bian pub­lisher, who is a big mu­sic fan, is mak­ing it a “per­sonal mis­sion” to let the Ser­bian peo­ple know about the great western, coun­try, blues and gospel artists fea­tured in his book.

Mean­while, Robertson will also be into the home stretch of his lat­est novel 1979 dur­ing his time at the House of Writers, which is slated to be re­leased next spring in Canada by Bi­b­lioa­sis.

“My head will be in the book that I’m work­ing on now,” Robertson said, adding it will be an ad­just­ment to re­turn his fo­cus to ‘Lives of the Po­ets’ while pro­mot­ing it dur­ing the lat­ter part of his last week in Ser­bia.


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