Stories

Playwright, Debutant Novelist, Hollywood Producers’ Assistant, Journalist and AUBG Graduate: Georgi Iliev Returned to Bulgaria To Become A Real Writer

Georgi Iliev, Class of 1996, is one of those people whose personality will intrigue you progressively the more you know about him. Whether you first know his life and then experience his works, or it is the other way around, it doesn’t really matter – you still have the desire to know more about him and what he does.

In fact, there isn’t a distinct line between the two. Iliev leaves the impression of a person who is in the enviable state of being engaged in what some will call his true vocation. At 33, he has walked a path of inspiration and creative yearning that started in his college years, took him to unusual places and situations, and continues to guide him. He has written articles and short stories, studied playwriting at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), staged several plays in Bulgaria and the U.S., worked for the Oscars in Hollywood, to come back to Bulgaria in 2004 where he wrote and published his first novel “The Life and Death of Mr. Iliev.” The novel came as a whiff of fresh air stirring the literary circles and making them talk about the emergence of a Bulgarian analogue to Victor Pelevin, and a brand new approach to writing.

“The Life and Death of Mr. Iliev”, which depicts our surrounding world from the peculiar, yet so close and familiar perception of the author, tells the story of a young man, called Private, born in a country resembling Bulgaria, who becomes a soldier, then travels the world and gets involved in crime, political and sexual adventures. He has a Hollywood career and, after the destruction of Los Angeles in terrorist attacks and civil war, goes back to his native country and the Forest, where he gets to know people by rubbing shoulders with the elite, being married, and getting old.
The plot is built up of autobiographical and fantastic elements that complement one another dynamically, tempting the reader to a point where fantasy ends and reality begins.

As to some of the author’s own realities, they could be traced as far back as his high-school years in the Spanish Language School in Sofia where he wrote his first short stories and essays. The American University in Bulgaria, Blagoevgrad, however, was the place where he became the person he is today. At AUBG, Iliev completed a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, though, he admits, his theater activities superseded his studies. “At the end, I got an education outside my major,” he sums up.

The University shaped him both personally and professionally, putting in motion a series of events that predetermined his future as a writer. Before coming to AUBG, he was just a theater spectator never having thought of the possibility of making theater. While in college, however, he managed to put up seven of his plays before the University and Blagoevgrad’s public.

If there had not been the strong theater program, he recalls, he would not have started writing plays because, in his view, if one doesn’t have a place to stage them, there is no point in writing them, because plays’ sole purpose is the audience. “And without having written the plays I wouldn’t have applied to UCLA, there wouldn’t have been my writing education, my practice as a playwright, Hollywood, and ultimately, my novel,” Iliev says. „AUBG is everything to me. Without it, I would probably be a cook now.”

Working with his theater professors at the University was the earliest professional instruction he got in theater. Iliev remembers them well: Al Cyrus, who inspired him and passed away while his class rehearsed their second play, Vivian Mason who advised him to apply in the U.S. with his plays (instead of his journalism diploma) and thus destined his future, and Ned Bobkoff who is a friend of Iliev’s to this day and who prepared him for the perils of entering into art too deeply. “I would have lost myself in art and perished at 27 like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain… But Ned helped me transform from a rock star to a theater professional,” Iliev says.  

In addition to acting and playwriting, Iliev wrote for the university’s literary magazine and hosted a radio show. People from Blagoevgrad who listened to the student-run radio AURA in the mid-1990s would remember him as the voice of the popular comic show, called Petak 15-ti (Friday, 15th) as a parody of the “fatal” Friday, 13th day in the calendar.

Under the pseudonym of Starcheto (the Old Man), Iliev co-hosted the show with Nikolai Ianchovichin, Class of 1996, currently director of “BG Radio”, “Radio 1”, “Radio Nova”, and “practically half of the radio stations in Bulgaria,” as Iliev puts it.

After AUBG, Iliev worked in Sofia as an actor, radio host, and contributor for pop-culture in “Kultura” newspaper. In 1997, he was admitted to UCLA, where he studied playwriting.

The Master’s degree from UCLA helped Iliev find his way in Hollywood, where he worked for the Academy Awards (the Oscars), Geffen Playhouse and the A.S.K Theater Projects foundation. Three of his plays were staged in Los Angeles. He is also a co-author of the critical anthology “Classical Monologues from Aeschylus to Bernard Shaw”, the first two volumes of which are already in their second print.

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