“As Columbus once discovered America, today America opens the modern literature of Central Asia”

In November 2017, at the 6th OEBF Festival in Stockholm, Tajik writer Gulsifat Shahidi received an honorary award. “For her personal contribution to the unification of the peoples of Eurasia through literature.” The attention of the guests of the festival was attracted by her new book “My Eye Directs to the East”. In her work, the writer emphasized the development of inter-cultural, inter-ethnic space, the establishment of humanitarian “bridges” connecting Russia and Tajikistan. For her creativity, Gulsifat Shahidi repeatedly received international recognition: in 2015 she was awarded the medal “Dove of Peace” from the international association “Generals of the World – for Peace”; in 2016, she received an award as “Author of the Year” from the British publishing house Hertfordshire Press. In an interview with OCA, Gulsifat Shahidi talked about her work, why she wrote her works in Russian and English, as well as the forthcoming presentation of her book in the US and what awaits her from the American public.

OCA: Gulsifat, your books were presented in Tajikistan, Russia, Britain, Israel and Sweden, where they were highly appreciated and resonated. Tell me what country do you intend to conquer now?
Gulsifat Shakhidi: I plan to present the book in the New World, I will be there for the first time. I want to present my work to the American reader. This became possible today due to my active participation in the projects of the Eurasian Creative Guild – participation in the Open Eurasian Literature Festival, translating my books into English and, of course, publishing books in London at the Hertfordshire Press. My creative career changed greatly after my books were translated into English. I realized that the translation of works into English expands the circle of readers who can get acquainted with my work.

OCA: Your native language is Tajik, why most of your works are written in Russian? In what language is it easier for you to write?
G.Sh: Of course, it’s easier for me to write in my native language. As a bilingual writer, I am equally able to create in both languages. However, the Russian language, like the English language, expands the circle of readers of my work. Books are written to be read, not to be collected on shelves. In this sense, the Eurasian Creative Guild does a very important thing – it acquaints the readers of the whole world with the literature of Central Asia, presenting the writings of writers of this region through the translation of their works.

But, I think in Tajik. Therefore, I have an art editor, Vera Deinichenko, with whom I have been friends for more than 40 years.

OCA: In August of this year, you were awarded the prize in the nomination “For the Development of Literary Traditions and the Creation of New Acutely-Actual Forms.” For two years of active creativity, you have released six books and received four prestigious awards. Which of the awards is most valuable to you?
G.Sh: For the writer, the greatest reward is when he takes in his hands the new smell of printing ink only, that the published work, when he has regular readers, and then – new ones, which gradually become the category of permanent ones. I want to note that only on the website of Proza.ru, I already have seven thousand people. All these rewards are important to me. This is a kind of stimulus and, as it were, an advance on the creation of new works.

The award “For the development of literary traditions and the creation of new acute-topical forms” was not in vain handed in at the Diplomatic Academy. Writers through their works should be diplomats and open new opportunities for strengthening and mutual cooperation among peoples, becoming kind of messengers of peace. I very much hope that in America they will also find their readers, not just me. So many books of my colleagues were published by the Hertfordshire Press publishing house – they are all an opening for American readers. As Columbus once discovered America, today America is discovering the modern literature of Central Asia.

OCA: Gulsifat, can I briefly tell you about your books?
G.Sh: Two of them took a long time to write and kept me at my writing-desk – these are my scientific essays “Sentimental Journey, or all of my time” and “My eyes are fixed on the East”. This comparative literary criticism is directed not only to learned men, but also to the simple reader. Written in the genre of popular science essay. But the other four – art books – are the story “The City Where Dreams Come True” and “The Neighbors”, a collection of humorous stories “Farhod of Nawgilem” and a biographical story “Share Love”. This all was not stored in the writing-desk, but in my subconscious. Somewhere in my life I saw someone interesting stories told and of course artistic thinking works and it all falls on paper.

OCA: Did you start writing at the age of sixty-is it too late?
G.Sh: Firstly, I always wrote. I am a journalist. I do not think that there is such a concept in creativity – late or early. Everything has its time! No one can know in advance what, when and how much it is given to fate. To me now it is comfortable, as I consider my main mission fulfilled – I am a happy mother, wife and grandmother. Now you can spend more time on yourself. The main thing is that my close people support me in this. I thank them in every possible way for this.

OCA: In any field, there are those who rejoice at your success and those who are cold about it. You feel that you have opponents.
G.Sh: I felt this much earlier before I began to write prose. My husband, Tolib Shahidi, is a creative person and very successful. He is a composer whose works are performed in many countries. Throughout our life, we have seen different people and different attitudes towards achievements. In due course, I have got used, without it does not happen. I have no painful vanity. We had one employee during my work at the research institute, which said – if you do not have an enemy, then you die as a person. Now I remember these words with humor, but there is probably some truth in this. I’m glad that I write that my books are published in four languages, it’s better to think about it.

OCA: Are you still writing? What new surprises await us?
G.Sh: I continue. Of course, I do not want to disclose all plans yet, but I took up a big form – a female novel. What happens, we’ll see. And yet, I want to write funny tales to my grandchildren. The main thing, I want to write. I also want to publish a collection of my articles, reviews, reviews. I want to justify my rewards. After all, many are interested in being noticed, reading, writing positive responses to my works. And, so as not to have a lot of unnecessary conversations, I first expose my works to the readers’ court in the form of publications, I get feedback, then I’m already going to print.

OCA: Who helps you with the release of books?
G.Sh: I want to express my gratitude to my beloved friend Vera Deichenko – this is my permanent art editor. When they offered me their editor in the editorial office, I refused. Who, if not Vera, who has traveled along and across our republic, can understand the Tajik reality, the specifics of people’s life.

I express my respect to the creator and inspirer of the Eurasian Literary Forum in London, Marat Akhmedjanov, who gave me the opportunity to believe in my creative powers, supported me, and introduced me to eminent writers and translators. The spiritual and positive support of Marat Akhmedjanov gives me the opportunity to go further, not stopping at what has been achieved.

And, of course, the closest are my family, my main support. Without them, I probably could not release a single book. I love you, my family!

OCA: What do you wish your new readers from America?
G.Sh: This is a new mentality for me. I would like the American reader to accept my work. I know that now in America there lives a large number of people – people from Central Asia and the former Soviet Union. They will, in my opinion, be the first American readers of the books published by Hertfordshire Press.

As a writer I would like people to read books more. The book is a faithful and reliable friend who will never betray you. Read our books – this is the greatest joy for the authors.

OCA: Good luck and success. We are waiting for new books and new readers among American book lovers.