Literary Hub

Meet Baillie Gifford Prize Finalist Kapka Kassabova

The UK’s prestigious Baillie Gifford Prize, which seeks to honor the best of non-fiction every year, written by authors of any nationality, will announce its winner on November 16th. The winner, chosen from a shortlist of six, will receive a prize of £30,000; each shortlisted author will receive £1,000. In advance of the announcement, Literary Hub interviewed Kapka Kassabova, whose book Border: A Journey to The Edge of Europe, a deep exploration of the land and the people that make up the borderland between Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece, is shortlisted for the award.

What role do you think long-form nonfiction has in bringing about social change?

Whether any book can bring about social change—I don’t know. But it can certainly illuminate the darkness of our shared moment in time, bring us out of our apathy, fear or confusion, and inspire us to act better, be better. I guess that is the beginning of social change. But for a work of non-fiction to have lasting impact on readers, it has to be a work of art, I think; it must possess an essential alchemy of form and content. It must take the reader to startling new places. For that to happen, there really has to be something at stake for the writer in their choice and treatment of the subject. For a book to change the reader, it must first change the writer.

What was the greatest hurdle for you in telling this story?

I had difficulty tearing myself away from the places and people of Border. Both on the ground and in the writing. This was not a hurdle, but an attachment. A part of me remains there, really.

What’s the best book you read this year?

The Gate by François Bizot, which I picked up while in Cambodia. Like all truly great political writing, it is forever enlightening. It leaves you stunned and changed. I urge everyone to read it, especially at this point in time.

What time of day do you write (and why)?

Mornings and afternoons, sometimes evenings too. The kind of writing I do involves physical research as well as reading in different languages—so I need to work immersively for long stretches of time without interruption.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“If you want to work on your art, work on your life.” –Anton Chekhov.

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