Kapka Kassabova is a cross-genre writer with a special interest in deep journeying, exploring human geographies, and the hidden narratives of places, people, and peripheries.
Kapka was born in November 1973 in Sofia, Bulgaria to scientist parents, and studied at the French Lycée in Sofia. Her family emigrated to New Zealand in 1992, where she studied French and Russian Literature at Otago University (BAHon), and English Literature and Creative Writing at Victoria University of Wellington (MFA). While in New Zealand, she published the poetry collections All roads lead to the sea and Dismemberment (Auckland University Press), and the novels Reconnaissance and Love in the Land of Midas (Penguin NZ).
In 2005 Kapka moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, and wrote Street Without a Name (Granta 2008), a coming-of-age story in the twilight years of totalitarian Communism and an unsentimental journey across modern-day Bulgaria. It was shortlisted for the Prix Européen du Livre and the Stanford-Dolman Travel Book Awards, and also appeared in Swedish and Bulgarian. A Spanish edition is forthcoming.
The memoir-history Twelve Minutes of Love (Granta 2011) blends a tale of obsession and migration with a history of the Argentine tango. It was shortlisted for the Scottish Mortgage Investment Book Awards and published in Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, and Czech.
Villa Pacifica (Alma Books 2011), a novel with an Ecuadorian setting, came out at the same time. It was published in Spanish and Bulgarian under the same title.
She continued publishing poetry: Someone else’s life (Bloodaxe 2003) and Geography for the Lost (Bloodaxe 2007). Her poetry has been widely anthologized in New Zealand and the UK.
Border: a journey to the edge of Europe (Granta/ Graywolf) came out in 2017. It is a solo journey through the remote triple borderlands of Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece where the easternmost stretch of the Iron Curtain ran. Described by the British Academy Prize jury as ‘being about the essence of place and the essence of human encounter’, its narratives weave into a panoramic study of how borderlines shape human destiny through time.
Border won the British Academy’s Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year, the Edward Stanford-Dolman Travel Book of the Year, and the inaugural Highlands Book Prize. It was short-listed for the Baillie-Gifford Prize, the Bread and Roses Prize, the Duff Cooper Prize, the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Awards (USA), and the Gordon Burn Prize. It is available in German as The Letzte Grenze (Paul Zsolnay) and in Bulgarian as Граница (Janet 45). Polish, French, and Italian editions are out in 2019. Spanish, Greek, Danish, Chinese, Ukrainian and Serbian editions are also forthcoming.
Kapka’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, The Sunday Times, The Scottish Review of Books, The Economist 1843 Magazine, The New Statesman, Prospect, The NZ Listener, Granta.com, World Literature Today, Tin House, AEON, and Vogue.
She is a juror for The Neustadt Prize (2019-2020), and was on the judging panel for The International Dublin Book Award (2017).
Kapka Kassabova lives in the Highlands of Scotland. Her forthcoming book is To The Lake: a Balkan journey of war and peace (Granta/ Graywolf 2020).
author portrait by TD