John Updike fell in love with Blaga Dimitrova in 1964 in Sofia

With a story about her

wins the prize

“O’Henry” and

John Updike

John Updike

New Yorker Magazine

Blaga Dimitrova with her husband, the literary critic Yordan Vassilev

Blaga Dimitrova with her husband, the literary critic Yordan Vassilev

One hundred years since the birth of Blaga Dimitrova ended on January 2, 2022. The poet was born in Byala Slatina, but grew up in Veliko Tarnovo. Her mother is a teacher and her father is a lawyer.

In 1941 he graduated from the Classical High School in Sofia, and in 1945 – Slavic Philology at Sofia University. He studied at the Maxim Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow, where in 1951 he defended a dissertation on “Mayakovsky and Bulgarian poetry.”

He is the author of many poetic books, as well as the novels “Journey to Self”, “Deviation”, “Avalanche”, “Face”, banned by the authorities, and others.

In 1991 she was elected UDF MP. The next year he became vice president in tandem with the president Dr. Zhelyu Zhelev. He cursed the deputies to dry their hands if they sign the new constitution. In 1992 he resigned due to disagreements with Dr. Zhelyu Zhelev over the so-called Boyanski Livadi.

I offer you a not very famous episode from the life of the great poet Blaga Dimitrova.

At the end of November 1964, the American writer John Updike arrived in Bulgaria to visit. He is 32 years old and still not very famous, as will happen after his novel “Rabbit, run”.

Updike arrives in Sofia from Bucharest, having previously toured Czechoslovakia and several Soviet republics. The writer travels as an “ambassador of art” on a cultural program of the US State Department.

On March 1, 1965, John Updike published his short story The Bulgarian Poet in the New Yorker magazine. In it, he hides behind the pseudonym of the “slightly tired” American writer Henry Beck.

For your Bulgarian

the heroine chooses the name

Vera Glavanakova

Her prototype is the poet Blaga Dimitrova.

We do not know how he chose this surname, but according to the Bulgarian dictionary, glavanak means “extremely dumb and misunderstood man with a big and thick head, somewhat synonymous with glavoch.”

A year later, Updike competed with him in a short story competition and won the prestigious O’Henry Award.

In 1970, The Bulgarian Poet was included in the collection Beck, Book, along with the short stories Beck in Romania and Rich in Russia, which were written after Updike’s tour of the socialist camp.

The story was published only in the secret “blue bulletin” of the Union of Bulgarian Writers. It remains completely unknown to the general public. It was published only in 2007 in the magazine “Panorama”, translated by Yordan Kosturkov.

Although unpublished for the general public in Bulgaria, the story immediately

falls under the fire of

native official


because of the “painted tendentious picture of reality.”

“And in this reality, apart from the Bulgarian poetess herself, everything else bears the heavy stamp of meaningless bureaucratic order in a writers’ union organized in the likeness of the communist nomenklatura,” writes Prof. Elena Mikhailovska in her book Blaga Dimitrova: Life-Word.

John Updike saw Blaga Dimitrova during the meeting organized by the Union of Bulgarians according to the official protocol at the time. In a curious way, the writer Henry Beck (Updike) describes the atmosphere in the hall, comparing it with similar meetings in Moscow, Kiev, Yerevan, Alma-Ata, etc .:

“The same polished oval table, fruit bowl in the morning light, gleaming brandy glasses and mineral water, a lurking portrait of Lenin, with six or eight patiently seated men who rose abruptly to their feet with sudden, numb smiles. The group usually included several literary officials, called “critics,” high in the party hierarchy, talkative and witty, whose role was to raise toasts to international understanding; a few selected novelists and poets, mustaches, smokers in a bad mood because they are wasting their time; a university professor, head of the Department of English and American Literature, who spoke in lavish old-fashioned English for Mark Twain and Sinclair Lewis; a young translator with wet hands; a disheveled adult journalist who submissively took notes … ”

Everything in this protocol meeting is boring and boring for the writer Beck, he is familiar with the questions, the “solemn words” of the hosts are the same …

And then … ”The door opened and he entered the room, bringing in

a woman’s pink breath

which has just been

came out of the bathroom

slightly panting because she was in a hurry, without a hat, a woman in a light coat, with blonde hair. “(…)” He (Beck – b.a.) he felt most moved by the feeling that she was in a hurry, she was in a hurry to come to him and she was still so excited … ”

At that time – 1964, Blaga was 42 years old, beautiful, feminine and famous to fans of poetry with her poetry collections “Until Tomorrow”, “The World in a Handful”, “Woman” and others.

John Updike does not hide his surprise at the appearance of the beautiful woman with blonde hair. And the writer Beck continues:

“The surprise she felt was not related to the appearance – at last – of this central woman; he had always expected her to show up. What he had not expected was that she would appear right here, in this distant and humiliated country, in this room bathed in morning light, where he saw in his hands a small knife and on the table in front of him a golden and juicy, cut exactly in half pear ”.

When he was taken to the Rila Monastery the next day, Updike asked about the poet. The translator accompanying the novelist says:

“She lives to

write. And this is not the case

healthy … ”

Later in the story, the American will write that it is “perfect, balanced, satisfied, realized. (…) “I am curious about this very bright combination of beauty and mind. I mean, what can a soul do with all this? ”

In the story, Beck (Updike) does not hide his romantic passion for Vera Glavanakova (Blaga). But readers are more interested in the question of whether there was anything more than liking between Blaga and Updike? And not because of the denial through the lock, but because of the fact that love between famous people is always interesting. Even more so if it is mysterious.

In her book about Blaga, Prof. Mihaylovska has a sentence about the meeting between the two, which slightly raises the curtain: “And the traces of this meeting (well, let’s call it – and his falling in love) leave forever their bright creative mark.” However, Blaga never shares with her that she had a love affair with Updike. But good friendly feelings remain between them.

Literary critic Yordan Vassilev, who became Blaga Dimitrova’s husband three years later (December 1967), said she had no love affair with John Updike, who was 10 years her junior. Then he invited Blaga Dimitrova to the meeting at the SBU at the last moment and because of that she was late.

Updike was supposed to be only one day in Bulgaria, but because of Blaga there is one more, and in the evening he invites her to dinner. There were only two of them, but according to Vassilev, there were enough “civilian art critics” at the neighboring tables, as the DS cops call them.

There were no letters from Updike to Blaga in her archives, but he sent her his books with good autographs. The “Bulgarian Poet” describes how the two characters exchange books and Beck (Updike) writes: “Dear Vera Glavanakova – I am really sad that we both have to live in opposite parts of the world … ”

The autograph of Vera Glavanakova (Blaga) is: “To Henry Beck,

honestly, with a lot


but also with a lot of l … ”

The poetess left it to readers to guess whether it was “love” or “madness”. Beck also describes a walk in the City Garden (Probably it’s the Freedom Park – b.a.) and a tree full of birds. He calls it the “Talking Tree.”

Years later, Blaga Dimitrova wrote a poem of the same name:

A poet across the ocean

He came to Sofia for three days

And suddenly he opened my ears

for the miracle in

The city Garden,

through which I passed

every day,

without even noticing it:

“Talking tree”

call it

full of birds,

As if tweeting


juicy from many-winged noise.

He went far –

a fleeting ray beyond the horizon,

and he left the tree with me

to tell me

the unspoken …

John Updike died of lung cancer on January 27, 2009 at a hospital in Danvers.

Blaga Dimitrova also died of cancer on May 2, 2002 in Sofia.

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