”A publishing house doesn’t produce spiritual cleansers”

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Valentin Nicolau is the president of Nemira Publishing House and he has got… a secret life. He writes plays. He got to do it under the pressure put by everyday life that assaults us from all sides. His plays have been remarked by Romanian artists. His plays were selected for “The Best Play of the Year”, a competition organized by UNITER and the “Princess Margareta of Romania” Foundation. He was the Big Prize in the “Camil Petrescu” Playwriting Competition organized by the Romanian Ministry of Culture.

People know you more as an editor rather than as a playwright. Why do you write plays?

The fact that I am now a playwright is a response to the challenge coming from the society I live in. I think this response stands a chance to reach people and tell them something about our world, about its malign excrescences (that is its forms of existence) that must be noticed and removed. After all, theatre is exorcism to me.

Today’s playwrights are faced with a paradox: they write plays that don’t get staged. How do you put up with it?

Since I am an editor, I know well the quantity of bad books published and I think the same goes for the world of theatre. There are tones of printed paper. But there are also remarkable pieces. Unfortunately, sometimes they pass unnoticed, given the circumstances.

If theatre returned to the power of words, without trying to compete by means of image against cinema and television, people would crowd to theatres again. If theatre managers and the literary consultants were brave enough to suggest contemporary plays for stage performances, it would be a step to meet the audience. I think we can’t go on live within a culture of import. One can’t keep on hearing on stage words translated from other languages and expressing realities not present in our country.

You are a playwright whose works have been remarked and awarded. Do these prizes mean anything to you, do they change a playwright’s destiny?

I won prizes because I try to be sincere, first of all with myself and then with the others. This is why I needed a confirmation from a mechanism of selection and professional, unbiased analysis. If you sit in the editor’s chair, it is easy to mistake things, to be wrong about the huge traps ahead of writers or of someone who wants to become one. But this stage to get a safe opinion is over. This was the only reason why O subscribed my plays to competitions. Since I attained this goal, I go on with my business.

As an editor, how do you take the idea of publishing collections of plays? Do such books sell in Romania?

As far as sales are concerned, this is sure to b a disadvantage. Moreover, I can tell you that no kind of books is very advantageous. But a publishing house doesn’t produce just “spiritual cleansers” and “cultural ready-made”. It is also an institution that must impose certain things on the market, take up an editorial project that doesn’t pursue economic ends only.

Since you are an editor, haven’t you been tempted to edit your own plays, so that they can get to readers and even to theatre directors possibly interested in them?

I am reasonable and honest enough not to make an orchestra-man of myself. So I have decided to be the author and wait for an editor. And luckily, he has arrived. Unitext has offered to publish a collection of my plays and I hope it will be released in one month, one month and a half. It includes “The Ghost in the First Class Reading Room”, nominated to the UNITER prize last year, “Oh, World, Vain World…”, selected for the award this year, and “Like Snow White and the Two”, awarded by the Ministry of Culture. The title of the collection will be “If I Were and Angel”, the subtitle of the first play. I can say they are overt plays, coming from reality. I look around me, I see what I see, then there comes the alchemy and credible situation get shaped so that people can recognize themselves.

Cristina Modreanu (Adevărul, March, 27, 2000)

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