TUMO writing workshop leader Anna Davtian is one of the most active and prolific figures in the modern Armenian literary scene, writing both fiction and poetry. Recently, Davtian was presented with the highest award in Yerevan’s annual Book Festival, following that honor by receiving a special grant from Armenia’s Ministry of Culture and Science for her novel Khanna.
“Are you a writer? I thought all writers were dead.”
During her workshops, Anna immediately tries to dispel the many preconceived biases students sometimes have about literature. “There is the propaganda world of literature and then there is real literature. We always think that the former is stronger than it really is because we attach falsehoods to it and think that there’s a place for rules and boundaries. These shouldn’t exist in literature. Once you expose a student to literature, they find value in it – it’s something they can relate to. During one of my first workshops, one of my students asked “Are you a writer? I thought all writers are dead.” So my goal is to break down this sort of stereotypical thinking and show them what literature is all about.”
“A good writer can also write a good CV.”
Asked whether or not you need talent in order to write, Anna replies: “The boundaries of literature are very broad, with many types of genres. It can sometimes seem daunting to know where to begin. But overcoming difficulty is a way of life. What I’m trying to do is remove those fears and encourage students to trek down that difficult path. In order to become a good writer, you need to move beyond where superficial creativity ends. Ultimately, writing is one of the most important skills in life. A good writer can also write a good CV. Even if a student stops writing at some point down the road, at least they’ll be able to have that skill. And even if they never turn out to be a good writer, my hope is that at least they’ll be a good reader.”
“I feel like their potential is even greater than I expected.”
Anna’s workshops are always active and engaging and often lead to heated discussion. “My goal is to discuss, debate, ask uncomfortable questions, and listen to the students’ opinions. One student took issue with my take on Paruyr Sevak. But before the students can grasp my opinions I need to provide the students with the proper context and background, introducing them to modernism and postmodernism while exploring the metaphorical nature of Sevak’s work. Teenagers can change so rapidly from class to class while expressing so much about philosophical, big picture themes – life, love, good, evil. The students often surprise me with how in-depth they can explore these pieces of art, affirming my belief that their potential is even greater than I expected.”
“The best art moves beyond theory.”
“I really don’t know what’s stopping people from writing in Armenia right now. Of course, I haven’t had a quiet, peaceful space where I could just sit down and write in years. I used to take my computer to the National Library and work in a quiet corner. I was very upset at the time, but that didn’t prevent me from writing. I understand writing in Armenia can be difficult, financially speaking. You have to focus on other things. Another challenge has to do with developing a proper formula for success – although success in literature often transcends any pre-developed plans. The best art emerges when you step away from theory and try something that’s never been done before.” Beyond her workshops at TUMO, Anna also hopes to nurture a large community of readers who can discuss and critique contemporary literature in Armenia, something that is sorely needed for Armenian writers to continue to grow and mature.