Vanya Petkova

Vanya Petkova (Born Ivana Petkova Petkova; Bulgarian: Ваня Петкова; 1944 – April 2009) was a Bulgarian poet, novelist, short story writer, and translator.[1]

Vanya Petkova
Vanya Petkova Portrait.png
Portrait of Vanya Petkova
Born(1944-07-10)July 10, 1944
DiedApril 26, 2009(2009-04-26) (aged 64)
Resting placeCentral Sofia Cemetery
Other namesHatija Sadiq Skander
EducationSofia University, Sofia, Bulgaria; Jose Martini Institute Havana, Cuba
Known forSalt Winds, Vow of Silence, The Sinner, Pirate Poems
Notable work
The Sinner, Bullets in the Sand, Salty Winds, Pirate Poems
Spouse(s)Nouri Sadik Oraby
ChildrenOlia Al-Ahmed
AwardsGeorgi Džagarov Award, 2005; Honorary Citizen of Yerevan - title, Armenia,1985
Memorial(s)Vanya Petkova House and Museum in Ezerovo, Purvomay, Bulgaria; Vanya Petkova Resting Place in Central Sofia Cemetery
The memorial plaque on the house in Purvomay, in which Petkova lived and worked from 1998 to 2009

Petkova is widely regarded as one of the most consequential Eastern European poets, with 34 poetry books and 6 novels to her name. Her poetry has been translated to 13 languages, including English, Spanish, French, Russian, Greek, Armenian, Polish, Czech, Hindi, Arabic and Japanese among others.[2]

Petkova worked as a cultural envoy for Bulgaria's diplomatic mission to Havana, Cuba from 1974 to 1978 where she learned Spanish and received her PhD in Latin American Culture and Literature.[3] She also studied Arabic in Damascus, Syria, and was appointed as an interpreter at the Bulgarian Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, later becoming editor-in-chief of Bulgaria's Slaveiche magazine, as well as for newspapers Literaturen Front and Suvremenik.[2]

Nicknamed "The Amazon of Bulgarian Literature" by critics, Vanya Petkova is widely considered as the most cosmopolitan poet in the Balkans, not solely because her work has spread onto five different continents, but also because she was fluent in seven languages herself, and was of a uniquely mixed ethnic descent.[3]

Petkova's paternal grandmother Anastasia Zhitskaya from Ukraine, and her grandfather - general Ivan Skander.
Vanya Petkova reading her newly released book The Sinner, 1967
Bulgarian poet Vanya Petkova with Palestinian leader and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Yasser Arafat
The Vanya Petkova House and Museum Entrance, in Ezerovo (Lakeville) village, Purvomay, Bulgaria
Vanya Petkova Memorial Plaque on her house in Ezerovo (Lakeville), Parvomay, Bulgaria
Vanya Petkova's Vinyl Record, released in 1982 by Balkanton.


Family HistoryEdit

Born on July 10, 1944, during the immediate aftermath of the air Bombing of Sofia in World War II, to her father Peter – a son of Russian-Ukrainian immigrants, and to her mother Vassilisa – a half-Greek, half-Bulgarian tailor. Her grandfather Ivan Skander was an army general of Russian-Circassian descent who served under Tsar Nicholas II, and left Russia for Bulgaria after the start of the Russian Civil War of 1917, as part of the white émigré, along with his wife – Ukrainian countess Anastasia Zhitskaya, Petkova's paternal grandmother.[4] In the early days of Petkova's career, this fact allegedly served as the main reason for a ban imposed on her poetry by Bulgaria's Communist Party, although the official explanation was "due to erotic content found in her poems". The ban was later lifted because of Petkova's growing popularity in the country.[5]

Literary careerEdit

Petkova's literary debut was in 1959, when her original poem followed by an essay were published in a local newspaper. In 1965 her first book titled Salty Winds was published, and between 1966 and 1973 she worked as editor and editor-in-chief for Bulgarian newspapers Slaveyche and Literaturen Front. She also worked as a translator at the Bulgarian Embassy in Khartoum, where she met her future husband Nouri Sadiq Oraby, PhD, a Sudanese geography teacher of Nubian descent. In 1967 they had their daughter Olga-Jacqueline, named after Jacqueline Kennedy. The same year, Petkova published her second poetry book titled Bullets in The Sand, followed by her third and most popular piece The Sinner, which was subsequently banned by the Bulgarian Communist Party's Censorship Committee because of the verse "There! Sinner – I am! I say what I think and kiss whose lips I desire, and eyes as azure as lakes, and eyes as dark as hazelnut I besplotch."[6] Petkova was accused of "anti-communist propaganda and immoral behavior", yet the ban would be lifted a year later after a meeting between Petkova and Bulgarian communist leader's daughter Lyudmila Zhivkova apparently a fan of Petkova's work. The book would be issued a year later without censorship, lifting Petkova's popularity in the country to the highest levels.[7]

Petkova majored in Slavic Philology at the National Sofia University St. "Kliment Ohridski" with a minor in German, followed by a subsequent diplomatic career as Bulgaria's cultural envoy to Cuba, where Petkova would learn Spanish and later specialize in Latin American studies at the Jose Marti Institute of Foreign Languages in Havana from 1974 to 1978.[3]

Although mostly known for her romantic poetry, Vanya Petkova frequently used her artistic skills in the fight against the injustice done towards people of color, becoming an important voice against racism and xenophobia in Eastern Europe among artists. In her poem titled Ray Charles, dedicated to the legendary American musician Ray Charles, Petkova writes: "Talk to me of Ray Charles' America, that of the colored, of whose love I have born! And let the Blacks' deep voices keep blessing you all, when white America someday bursts open aflame! And when that happens my dear – Wide open your arms and better tell me the story of Ray Charles!" .[8] It is reported that Petkova had ties with American social activist Angela Davis, former Palestinian President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasser Arafat, and South African singer Miriam Makeba amongst others.[4]

Notable Awards and AchievementsEdit

Petkova has conducted over 800 stage performances all over the world, including one on board a passenger plane in flight from Sofia to Moscow in 1983, and remains the only poet in history to ever do it.[7] Vanya Petkova is also considered to be the only Bulgarian poet with an official phonograph record titled Vanya Petkova Poems, which was released in 1982 by Bulgaria's largest distributor at the time – Balkanton. The vinyl consists of poems recited by the author herself.[9]

Among the unknown facts about the author remains her contribution to Bulgarian education as the author of the first, second, and third volumes of the textbook on literature Topics and Essays in Literature for the 11th and 12th grade, used in Bulgarian classrooms to this day.[10]

Vanya Petkova is also the author of a number of song lyrics, including Disco by Bulgarian rock and roll band Trick with lead singer Etienne Levy, Younga's Love by Margaret Nikolova, and the symbolic anthem of the Armenian Community in Bulgaria titled Armenian Eyes and composed by Haygashot Agasyan. Petkova was later given the title "Honorary Citizen of the City of Yerevan" in Armenia, with gratitude for her contribution to strengthening the Bulgarian-Armenian cultural relations.[11]

Less than a decade later, in 1991, Petkova was officially featured in the second volume of the American Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers, alongside Bulgaria's Elisaveta Bagryana and Blaga Dimitrova,[12] and in 2005 she was awarded the Georgi Jagarov National Literary Award.

During her life-long journey, she got to personally know the likes of William Saroyan, Bulat Okudzhava, Yasser Arafat, Che Guevara's father Ernesto Guevara Lynch, Fidel Castro himself, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Angela Davis, and Miriam Makeba among others.[4]

Petkova's last book in her lifetime would become Pirate Poems (2009) a compilation of her most notable work with five additional newly written poems, two of which were written in English by Petkova herself.[13] Pirate Poems was dedicated to Johnny Depp Vanya Petkova's favorite actor as claimed by her family.[14] The book was republished in 2021 by her grandson, actor Joseph Al Ahmad, in the United States.[14]

A year after Petkova's passing, in November 2010, the bilingual book An Armenian Song was issued with the assistance of the Armenian Embassy in Bulgaria, becoming the first posthumous book by Petkova. The official premiere of its publication was held on December 2, 2010, at Saint Cyril and Methodius National Library in Sofia.


A week after publishing what would become her last book during her lifetime – Pirate Poems;

On April 26, 2009, aged 64, Petkova passed away from cardiac arrest in the small Bulgarian town of Parvomay, located in the Rhodope Mountains. She would be laid to rest days later at Bulgaria's Central Sofia Cemetery.[1]

Petkova's memorial service was held on April 29, 2009, at Central Sofia Cemetery in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, with her husband Nouri, daughter Olga-Jacqueline, grandchildren Joseph and Nasser, friends, colleagues and admirers of her poetry all present. Petkova's resting site is in the Notable Figures' quarter at Central Sofia Cemetery Park.

In the preface taken from Pirate Poems she writes:[13] '

"My poems – why have I called them “Pirate”? Because all of them have been stolen from the meager moments of joy and happiness in my wild and turbulent life. My poetry wasn’t born under the warm bedsheets in front of a computer. It was born in between face slaps and fistfights, gunshots and knife-throws, handcuffs and bloodstains, daring escapes followed by chases, desert adventures in Syria and Sudan, between airplanes and high speeds, steamboats and horse rides, thugs and their prostitutes, between outrageous children and ungrateful darlings, between Heaven and Earth, between Life and Death. Born to Pirates, I lived like a Pirate and Piracy is in my blood." [8]

–Vanya Petkova, (1944 - 2009)


Vanya Petkova House and Museum

Vanya Petkova's house, located in Ezerovo (Lakeville) – a small village in the Bulgarian Rhodope Mountains region, where Petkova wrote much of her work, and where she spent the last years of her life from 1999 to 2009, has been turned into a symbolic museum celebrating her life and artistic career. In the summer of 2021, the Palestinian Embassy in Bulgaria contributed to the museum by giving a small fountain with traditional ornaments, which was placed outside the main fence. All of Petkova's memorabilia including awards, journals, private diaries, unwritten work, paintings, dresses from her performances, and personal typewriters are all displayed inside.[15] The museum house is currently being renovated, with an expected official opening to be held in 2024 by Petkova's family, as mentioned in a 2021 op-ed by her daughter, Bulgarian journalist Olia Al-Ahmed.[15]

Notable work[2]Edit

  • 1965 – Salty Winds
  • 1967 – Bullets in the Sand
  • 1967 – Attraction
  • 1967 – The Sinner
  • 1968 – Nunche, Grandpa Kachi's Granddaughter
  • 1968 – Contemporary Arab Poets, an anthology
  • 1970 – Prediction
  • 1972 – The Black Dove
  • 1973 – Chestnut Love
  • 1973 – Oli, Oli, Snail
  • 1976 – Return River
  • 1979 – The Vow of Silence,
  • 1980 – Venceremos - lyrical essays on Cuba,
  • 1980 – The Blue Book
  • 1981 – Triptych
  • 1981 – In the battle between the two worlds. Documents. Volume II (co-author),
  • 1984 – Thunder
  • 1984 – Gypsy Romance
  • 1988 – Earthquake
  • 1989 – Forgiveness
  • 2005 – Passions
  • 2006 – The Sinner 1 - remake
  • 2008 – The Sinner 2 - remake
  • 2008 – Topics and essays in literature. - a series of topics and essays for Bulgarian students from 9th to 12th grade (co-author).
  • 2009 – Pirate Poems - dedicated to Johnny Depp.
  • 2009 – The Golden Apple - the last translation from Ukrainian, love lyrics by Dmitry Pavlichko.
  • 2010 – Armenian Song - a collection of poems in two languages published by Demax with the assistance of the Armenian Embassy in Bulgaria. The premiere was held on December 2, 2010, at the National Library in Sofia. The poet's daughter - journalist and translator Olya Al-Ahmed is the compiler and author of the foreword, the design is by Vanya Petkova's grandson - Joseph Al Ahmad.
  • 2012 – And We Are Bulgaria - a series of short stories and novels.
  • 2021 – Pirate Poems by Vanya Petkova - the American edition of Pirate Poems (2009), republished in Los Angeles, California, by Vanya Petkova's grandson - Joseph Al Ahmad, and dedicated to actor Johnny Depp.


  1. ^ a b "Почина поетесата Ваня Петкова". Darik (in Bulgarian). April 26, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c Wilson, Katharina M. (1991). An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers. Vol. 1. p. 983. ISBN 0824085477.
  3. ^ a b c Petkova, Vanya (1980). Venceremos. Sofia, Bulgaria: Partizdatel.
  4. ^ a b c Petkova, Vanya (1980). Venceremos (in Bulgarian). Sofia, Bulgaria: Partisdat. ISBN 129536222211/5516-48-80. {{cite book}}: Check |isbn= value: invalid character (help)
  5. ^ Petkova, Vanya (1979). Venceremos. Sofia, Bulgaria.
  6. ^ Petkova, Vanya (1967). The Sinner. Sofia,Bulgaria.
  7. ^ a b Kapitanova-Krusteva, Anna (7/10/2019). "Vanya Petkova - the cosmopolitan persona of Bulgarian poetry and translated literature". Archives of Bulgarian National Radio. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. ^ a b Petkova, Vanya (2009). Pirate Poems. Sofia, Bulgaria: Demax. pp. 22–23. ISBN 978-954-479-022-6.
  9. ^ "Balkanton Archives". Balkanton.
  10. ^ "Ciela". Ciela.
  11. ^ "75 years since the birth of Vanya Petkova". 24 Chasa. 24 Chasa, Bulgaria. 7/9/2019. {{cite web}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^ Wilson, Katharina M. (1991). Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers, Volume 2. Michigan State University: Routledge. ISBN 0824085477.
  13. ^ a b Petkova, Vanya (2009). Pirate Poems (in Bulgarian). Sofia, Bulgaria: Demax. p. 4.
  14. ^ a b Gozes, Isaac (2021-06-29). "Pirate Poems book by Vanya Petkova, dedicated to Johnny Depp, has been republished in the US". Show by Blitz.
  15. ^ a b Al-Ahmed, Olia (7/2/2021). "Vanya Petkova's House in the Rhodope Mountains is being renovated by her family". Marica (news media). {{cite news}}: Check date values in: |date= (help)

External linksEdit