Award-winning novelist Tamta Melashvili reflects on feminism in her home land, and how fiction can build bridges.
Can you tell us about your writing background and publications to date?
I am a writer, feminist activist and teacher currently living in Tbilisi, Georgia, but I am quite a nomad—I have lived and worked in different countries and places. I have been published since 2010, and in those eight years I have released two novels and one short-story collection, and my work has been included in several Georgian and German fiction anthologies. I have been translated into German, Italian, Lithuanian, Russian, Croatian and Albanian. Some of my short stories and an excerpt of my novel are available in English, too.
My first book, Counting Out, is about teenage girls’ experiences of war. It was a huge success—I won some Georgian and German prizes for it, and it has been staged [as a play] in different countries. With my second novel, I explored women’s taboo sexuality and some of Georgia’s Soviet and post-Soviet untold history.
It was quite a different story, met mainly with silence from the critics. So as a writer I have already known ups and downs, but I find it an interesting process.
How did you become a writer?
Since childhood I have been an observer and I enjoyed writing too, but I never imagined or dreamt of being a writer. It only happened after my first novel—I was labelled “an author”, and I decided to accept this label as one of my identities.
How you see yourself fitting in with other contemporary Georgian writers?
I am a part of a local literary scene that is quite diverse and vibrant.
I like the fact that women writers are very visible now. They were marginalised and ignored during Soviet times, but now it is different. We have fewer institutional and cultural barriers, we feel free to express ourselves and, most importantly, we have a lot to say.
Do you think Tbilisi, and Georgia in general, is a good place for writers?
Like in most countries, writers here have to do something else to make living. It is not easy, as a lot of time, concentration and emotional space is needed for writing. But I like switching between academia and writing. I like to do different things.
You write a lot about gender; what is the state of women’s rights in Georgia? Are you hopeful for the future in that regard?
Yes, I identify as a feminist.
There are lots of emancipatory movements now in Georgia, and literature is an inseparable part of many of them. Women’s literature here has actually been feminist from the beginning, from the 19th century. Now, some women authors explicitly identify themselves as feminist; some still maintain distance from that label, though their literature can be read as feminist; and some ignore feminism altogether, and their writing cannot be taken as feminist. I like this diversity. We see the world in different ways and reflect on it differently.
There hasn’t been a huge amount of Georgian literature translated into English. Why is this?
I think book markets in English-speaking countries are quite closed to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in general— unlike, say, Germany which is very open to Eastern European literature. There are many different explanations for this, among them geopolitical. It is also the fact that Georgia is a small country, of only four million people, speaking our own language. If we spoke English, maybe it would be easier to be “attached” to the English-speaking literary world.
What impact will the Guest of Honour program have on Georgia’s writers and books market?
It has been and will be huge, from many different perspectives. The most important thing is that in Frankfurt, Georgia will position itself as an independent state with its own unique alphabet and language, with its own literary past and vibrant present.
Tamta Melashvili's début novel, 2010’s Counting Out, won the first novel category in the Saba Awards, Georgia’s top literary prize, while its German edition (translated by Natia Mikeladse-Bachsoliani) won the DeutscherJugendLiteraturpreis Young Adult award in 2013.
Tamta Melashvili at FBF
Contemporary Georgian Literature in the World
11th October, 9.00 a.m., Room Spektrum 2
Melashvili addresses the International Publishers Association general assembly, discussing contemporary Georgian writing and her experience of being an author in a small market.
The Hidden Sides ofWar
12th October, Noon, Guest of Honour Pavilion
Melashvili joins fellow Georgian author Zaza Burchuladze for a look at Georgians’ experiences of war “through the lens of literature”.