Saturday, August 4, 2007

Carver, Montenegro - The Idea

Welcome, and please bear with me, as this idea will take some explaining. I first met Ivana Mrvaljevic in 1999 when she was an exchange student at my high school. The last month of her stay in the US was in my home with my wife and I, as at the time, the United States was at war with Serbia and Montenegro, and it was not yet safe for her to return.

After she did make it home, we kept in touch over the years, and when the opportunity came for my wife and I to be in Croatia this summer, Montenegro was just too close for us not to visit. It had been 8 years since we had seen Ivana when her and her dad picked us up in Budva, Montenegro and drove us to their home in the capital, Podgorica. Now 26, she has her Master's Degree in Italian Literature. That's her on the left, with my wife Carolyn.

Staying with her, seeing her, and meeting her family were all wonderful experiences for us. And the morning after we had arrived, something else wonderful took place that has, since that day, enchanted me, and turned into this rather grand idea. Ivana was showing us the sights of Podgorica, and she took us for coffee at, in her words, "the best bookstore in the country". Turns out this bookstore, nestled comfortably under an overpass next to a river, is the Karver Bookstore.

I half-jokingly asked Ivana if it was Raymond Carver. She looked at me as if I was an idiot. "Of course, he's a great writer." Inside the store we went, and sure enough, there was an entire shelf of Carver's works, translated into Serbo-Croatian.

I remember thinking how incredible it was, what writing can do, how far it can reach, and what borders and languages it can transcend, long after we are gone. I remember thinking what a beautiful irony it was that Ivana had stayed with us in our little duplex on Washington Boulevard, a scant half mile from where Carver's "Nobody Said Anything" took place, and here she was, walking us into the Karver bookstore, and there on the shelf is his book, Where I'm Calling From, prominently displayed. The first story in that book is, you guessed it, "Nobody Said Anything".

There's more. Turns out this is not an ordinary bookstore, but rather a cultural Mecca of sorts for Podgorica's artistic community, managed by Montenegro's best known living theatrical actress, Varja Djukic, and in the first year it was open, over a hundred different cultural events - readings, concerts, films, exhibits - were put on by Varja and the bookstore. Not only did these events take place, but the artists themselves regularly met in the courtyard outside just to drink coffee, talk about art, share stories, and plan upcoming events.

I was reminded of Jim Bodeen's Poetry Pole outside his home, the Blue Begonia Press in the backyard, and how they have been our own cultural and creative hub in the Carver Country of Yakima.

You've been very patient, so here's my idea. After I had returned home, I couldn't get over that idea of writing's power to transcend, and about the series of coincidences, if they can be called that, that took place for us in between Yakima and Podgorica.

Next year, 2008, will be the seventieth anniversary of Raymond Carver's birth, and the 20th anniversary of his death. Through his writing, Carver began a cultural exchange with the people of Montenegro without ever knowing it. I would like to be a little more deliberate in our efforts to celebrate that, by spending the next year collecting an exhibit of creativity - art, photography, music, theater, and of course, poetry - that we could take to Podgorica to unveil at the Karver Bookstore.

I wrote Ivana about my idea, and she instantly loved it. She spoke to Varja at the bookstore and as you read this, she is gathering the artists of Montenegro to create their own exhibit, which they would in turn, bring to us to unveil, here in Carver Country, Yakima.

It's an ambitious project, to be sure, and we have no money to ensure it happens, but the beauty of the series of events that have led us to this chance, from Carver first writing "Nobody Said Anything" to the opening of the bookstore, Ivana's staying with us, to our visit eight years later, all inspire me to give this a try. And who can deny the magical timing that 2008 would be for such an event to take place?

So that's it. If you're interested in being on board with this project, in creating and contributing your own Carver-inspired works, or in any way helping us with the hard work and logistics of making this happen, call Brett Dillahunt at 509-833-0711, or email him at

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