OCA PEOPLE: LENAR SHAEKHOV

Lenar (Lenar Shaekhov), a Tatar poet, children’s writer, translator, publicist. Born on 4 October 1982 in the village of Taktalachuk of the Aktanyshsky District of the Republic of Tatarstan (Russia). Graduated from the Menzelinsk Pedagogical College, Department of Tatar Philology and History of Kazan State University, Post Graduate Programme. Chief Editor of the Tatarstan Book House. Author of twenty four books. Member of Union of Writers of the Republic of Tatarstan and Tatar PEN-Center and PEN International, Union of Journalists of Tatarstan and Russia, as well as of International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and Eurasian Creative Guild (London). Winner of the Musa Jalil Republic’s Award, Abdulla Alish Literary Award (for achievements in children’s literature), the Volga Region Literary Award “NEWBOOK. Volga-2015”, Eurasian International Award. Academician of International Public Academy of Poetry of Omor Sultanov of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. Candidate of Philological Sciences. Honoured Artist of the Republic of Tatarstan.

OCA: Tell us about yourself and your activity / work?
LS: I am a Tatar poet living in the city of Kazan in the Republic of Tatarstan of the Russian Federation. I am the author of more than twenty books published in several languages: Tatar (Kazan, Naberezhnye Chelny), English (London), Russian (Moscow, Yakutsk), Kirghiz (Bishkek), and Bashkir (Ufa). My work is divided equally between books for children – verses, fairy tales, riddles, and so on – and more adult verses, poems and short stories, alongside tracts based on research. I am a Candidate of Philological Sciences, winner of Tatarstan, Russian, and international awards, and an Honoured Art Worker of the Republic of Tatarstan.

As chief editor at the Tatarstan Book House, I translate poetry from Russian, Bashkir, Kirghiz, Kazakh and other languages, and compile books of Tatar classical literature and encyclopaedias of children’s literature. My whole life has been inseparably connected with books.

OCA: What is “Eurasianism” for you?
LS: “Eurasianism” to me, is the huge literary heritage of the brotherly peoples of the Soviet domain and the Turkic world. The modern Tatars are an intrinsic part of a huge Turkic world, rich in ancient history and culture. Though now divided, we continue to preserve our mother tongues, culture, customs, and national spirit.

OCA: What are your favourite artists?
LS: My work has been inspired by many great writers, including first and foremost, the founder of modern Tatar literature, Gabdoullah Tukay; authors of classical works Derdmend, Gayaz Ishaki, Musa Jalil, Fatih Karim and Amirkhan Yeniki; and Tatarstan’s national poets, Gamil Afzal and Ildar Yuzeyev. I admire the work of Russian classicists Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak, and from further afield, that of Omar Khayyam, Byron Goethe and Heine. With regard to contemporary Tatar literature, I was delighted to discover the work of London- based, Rustam Sulti, whose book of verses titled ‘Mosafir’, (‘Pilgrim’) was published last year. I consider him one of the most genial Tatar poets of our time.

OCA:Have you taken part in the events of the Eurasian Creative Guild (London)?
LS: I have been a member of the Eurasian Creative Guild since 2016 and have participated in every Open Eurasian Book Forum & Literature Festival. I first met Marat Akhmetjanov, festival organiser, founder and Vice Chair of the Guild, and Director of Hertfordshire Press Publishing House, as if by fate in Yakutia, where we were both honoured guests at the international poetry festival ‘The Blessing of the Big Snow’.

I am immensely grateful to Marat-efendi for introducing me to the Guild and for his hard endeavours in sharing our work with the world. Writers cannot afford to hide and linger in the shadows and nor can they afford to be merely wordsmiths. In order to succeed, he or she must also master business skills and be prepared to act as their own literary agent.

OCA:What does the Eurasian Creative Guild mean to you, and how did it affect your creativity / activity?
LS: The Eurasian Creative Guild offers a large union of creative people a means of communication through which creative acquaintances and close friendship develop. The whole world is like one big’ kazan’, or cauldron, bubbling with numerous opportunities for the promotion of one’s art. Creative people cannot withdraw into themselves. In order to thrive, they require a constant stream of new stimuli through exposure to new people, new cultures, new ideas, new sources of inspiration… And that is exactly what the Guild provides.

From a personal perspective, membership of the Guild has helped me stay positive and given me the impetus to develop my work.

OCA:What projects have you participated in and in which do you plan to participate?
LS: In 2017, Hertfordshire Press published a book of my poems entitled “One of You”. Translated into English by Dana Zheteyeva, it included a foreword by David Perry, who was also the editor. To have my work presented in the country of Shakespeare’s birth was beyond my wildest dreams! In the same year, I won second place in the Small Prose category of the Open Eurasian Book Forum & Literature Festival in Stockholm. Then in 2019, in Brussels, I received the Generals for Peace Award for the best work dedicated to the theme of consolidation of peace, friendship and mutual understanding between peoples. As for current projects, I am now preparing my submission for the ninth Open Eurasian Book Forum & Literature Festival in tandem with finalising a draft of ‘Modern Tatar Prose’, for a forthcoming launch in Paris.

I praise the Almighty for granting me such a plenitude of ideas and projects!

OCA: Do you have any personal project that you would like to talk about?
LS: My first children’s book was recently published in Russian by Bichik, Yakutia’s national publishing house. I continue working in this genre and hope that one day, my work will be available in Bashkir, Chuvash, Udmurt, as well as in English. Over the past few years, I have also written many lyrical and philosophical verses, which I want to publish as a new collection.

In addition to writing, I am heavily involved in the Tatarstan Book House which I founded in 2015. We publish works by Kirghiz, Yakut, and Crimean Tatar authors and to date, I have complied over forty books and translated six. In May 2020, I edited and contributed to the translation into Tatar, an ‘Anthology of the Yakut Poetry’, the fifth in a series to appear under the umbrella of ‘Turkic Literature’. Last year, we published ‘Selected Works’ by Alexander Pushkin in our mother tongue and will soon launch a collection of verses by Sergei Yesenin, again in Tatar.

OCA: What would you advise the members of the Guild, who’re just starting their career?
LS: My key advice for new writers is to work hard and keep moving forward. Don’t get discouraged by failures. If you have ideas and something to say, follow your path. Literature enrichens people’s souls, makes their hearts kinder, and broadens their vision. So, grasp your pen tightly and believe me, success will surely follow!