Writer Ilija Saula with his latest book ‘Boulevard of Light’ (photo by Dani Blue)
After five published books of poetry, Ilija Saula — writer, humanist and entrepreneur from Philadelphia — has published his first book of prose, ‘Boulevard of Light: Thoughts About Life.’ This book is a hymn to optimism, light, kindness and all human values that always manage to be stronger than the darkness and troubles. After reading “Boulevard of Light,’ readers got the impression that all of a sudden everything become better and more beautiful: The sky lit up, trouble gave away, a sense of love won out over all suffering.
In his ‘Thoughts About Life,’ Ilija Saula searches for answers about life and its meaning. He tries to understand injustice, he struggles with difficult memories of the war, he reflects about hurt feelings, fears and wounds. He also talks about brave human nature, about childhood memories of dear people and mostly about love. And in everything he does and preaches, belief in the good nature of man and in a magnificent life force is dominant.
Ilija Saula has been living in Philadelphia for years. He came to the United States after thousands of Serbs had been evicted from their homes in Croatia in August 1995. In the long, sad column that was leaving his homeland, Kordun, Ilija Saula met his future wife, Branka. She was his fellow traveler and the most loyal friend during that trip and later. She became his life and professional support and continuous inspiration. As a true guardian of Serbian words in the diaspora, Ilija Saula founded the ‘Literary workshop Kordun’ in Philadelphia, which publishes the work of Serbian first-time writers from the diaspora. As a huge admirer of the work of scientist Nikola Tesla, he was also the one of the founders of the Club ‘Nikola tesla’ and ‘The Tesla Science Foundation’ in Philadelphia. He writes literary reflections, he is guest at literary debates and gatherings in the United States, Canada and Serbia, and friends with many writers and artists. Recognizing his literary talent, the famous poet Vesna Parun long time ago encouraged him, saying: ‘Ilija, you have to talk poetry. You have to say what you see, express your spirit, because your words just slip from your lips. They are ready, you just need to let them go, to pronounce them.’ So he started to write, and today he has six published books.
Ilija Saula and Marina Arsenijevic, famous composer and pianist from New York
Urban Culture Tribe: Congratulations on your new book, ‘Boulevard of light’. How do you feel holding your sixth book, and what are the first reactions from your readers?
Ilija Saula: Thank you. The feeling is the same as if you have five daughters who you love the most in the world and then you get a son. I’m kidding, but I have strong feelings toward this book. For the first time it’s a piece of my reality, the life that I’m living, mostly realistic, but seemingly mysterious, metaphysical. Those are the words that you can hear from me in conversations, thoughts, beliefs, sentences that can be found in my comments on social media, even verses from some of my songs, expressed through the prism of folk wisdom. Those are the most sincere feelings, my attitude toward life, other people, yourself, nature. … I tried to write a book with those thoughts in mind, and I think that I succeeded in that. The first reactions to the first drafts from my friends in the literary and art circles have persuaded me to make a book out of it. There were some contrary thoughts, which also helped me, because they pointed out the things that were superfluous in the drafts, and if those things had stayed in, they could’ve hurt the literature. Thanks to everyone, especially to those who worked with me to make this project come true. It would’ve been impossible for a single man to build a boulevard of light, a lot of work was put it to make that light shine with its full potential. I feel a special kind of happiness when I see excitement from the first reactions of the readers. They are delighted by the many quotes that provoke their own thoughts on the meaning of life.
Urban Culture Tribe: Your book has a very poetic name. However, the prelude where the protagonist is about to be shot is unexpected. Did you have similar experiences?
Ilija Saula: Every man sometimes has experience to find himself stuck at a dead end and in isolation in contrast to his surroundings. The only weapon he can use in those situations is the art of conversation. That is the only true and effective method. I’ve have never been convicted or prosecuted, but life is comprised of the visible and invisible parts. The need for salvation goes through faith, thinking and good deeds. If I have ever found myself on the opposite side of good, I tried to save myself with healthy thoughts, consciousness and wise conversations. That’s why at the very start of the book I appeal for conversation, because even if we are not good at it, we need to teach ourselves to talk, so that we can help and support each other in the pursuit of our life goals, which make life better and happier.
Literary gathering at The Association of Writers of Serbia in Belgrade, Serbia
Urban Culture Tribe: Your ‘Boulevard of Light’ has chapters with meaningful names as ‘Peace,’ ‘Wisdom,’ ‘Truth and lie’, ‘Wealth’… How did this interesting book come to life? For whom and how long did you write it?
Ilija Saula: All categories in life that we face come from our consciousness. It’s impossible for a person to find out everything at once, but it’s possible to learn throughout your whole life. I decided to be a pupil for the rest of my life. This book is just part of my homework. I tried to write down everything that I have learned in a period of my life from myself, from the things I believe in, from the people that I live with and from those who wrote their wisdom before me. All my titles are universal terms — some are words that come to me in my thoughts, under some we won’t find the content that the title advertises, maybe just one sentence that comes as a conclusion at the end. The material for this book came from the last five years. They were notes that I made everywhere I could, mostly on social media, where I wrote many statuses about many parts of life, then comments that I happily write, because in that way I clean my mental field and perfect my own thoughts in a better and more simpler way, unconsciously using the knowledge and experiences of my interlocutor to enhance my own. Therefore, life is pushing us, without asking, to learn from others. I dedicated this book to my uncle, who was a special person. He was radiating with kindness and understanding. His life was short and he deserves to be in my thoughts, because he offered me the chance to become someone, while many others had to become someone without that someone. I had the privilege of knowing him. Praise him!
Urban Culture Tribe: Your birthplace, Kordun, takes a huge part of your literary opus. There a wise man lived on nine hills and taught you that happiness needs to be earned. A wolf is your biggest friend there, and grandma Anina is a wise life teacher. Kordun is, on the other hand, a land of harsh reality in which there was war and the action ‘Storm’. What are your memories of Kordun today?
Florida – moments of relaxation
Ilija Saula: Kordun is everything to me. My love, my life, my job, my inspiration, my memories, my keepsake. It’s the place where I go to first on my astral journey, and from where I go on or return back to my body. Kordun is an incredible piece of the cosmos for every soul that was born there. Kordun is the hearth that gives warmth to every soul that didn’t learn to fly, to those that wait to return and to live a life worthy of a person. Kordun is the blood cell in our solar system that is indestructible. That land will be proof in the future that there once was a human society that didn’t leave its country even when facing pogrom. Today Kordun has more people under the earth than above it. Everyone who was born in Kordun and had to leave this world too soon, justice for all the killed achievements, loves, jobs and everything that a person can achieve in their life will never be satisfied. Kordun lives in every descendant of it, during the night we mumble with our mouths full with earth and we hear the sounds of harvestmen, reapers, wedding guests, kids, wailing of mothers and sisters, sighs of grandfathers, fathers, sons, all of that builds our thoughts and words, especially for artists who can transfer all of that to paper, canvas, clay, wood, stone and the root of our being. Kordun keeps the memories, it’s up to us to never forget it.
Urban Culture Tribe: You said that childhood spent in Kordun is ‘the only period of your life that is life itself, everything else is a burden and a fight.’ How did you come to such conclusion?
Ilija Saula: In Kordun people don’t think differently. The history of Kordun isn’t only about the last two wars and the time of peace that was in between them. Kordun is a wind that can’t be calmed. Warriors of Hyperborea set the border, which from that point on separated the ages, people, armies, kingdoms, nations and daydreamers who dream about a world without borders, war and migrations, but as soon as they cross they find themselves in a Gallus Mathiae.
Ilija Saula holding one his his (just published) book ‘The Woman in me and I am in Woman’
Urban Culture Tribe: I noticed that you are very inspired when you talk about love, and not only the romantic kind, but also the love toward love, beauty, words, learning, progress, everything that ennobles a person and our lives… Where you always so fond of love and the values of life?
Ilija Saula: I think so. When I look back at everything that I have achieved, how my life went along, and everything I’ve been through, I’m convinced that I wouldn’t be able to do all of it without love. Love drives everything. It’s interesting that the people of Kordun don’t believe that much in love. For us, love is mostly lyrics, and that’s an unknown term, or when you say ‘love,’ people think about the basic means of things. On the other hand, most of my compatriots aren’t aware of their values. Our view on family as the corner stone of our society is sacred, our view towards other people is tolerant, humane and respectful, our view towards the dead is exalted. All of that are the elements of love, but the most important piece is missing, which we can’t accept somehow, and it’s to learn to truly love ourselves, even after everything that Kordun went through during many centuries, that element of love is the hardest part to learn. If they could do that, Kordun would probably not be a part of Croatia. Instead it would be a part of France or some independent community formation in a very important part of Europe.
Urban Culture Tribe: How did your ‘Literary workshop Kordun’ that helps other writers to publish their own books came to life?
Ilija Saula: That happened through a set of circumstances that were associated with my return to writing. Because of the war and the exile to America, I had to pause my literary opus for seventeen years. The moment that I felt that I didn’t lose any credibility among my peers and colleagues I decided that my part in literature had to be something more than just writing. With the help and talks with my colleague Danilo Maric we decided to form a literary workshop that will help young authors edit their first books. So far we made wonderful results, we are noticed, people write about us, and our authors became ‘stars’ because their is no greater success and joy than to publish your first book. We’ve tried many different literary formats, and so far not a single edition failed. With the help of the Pressroom Graficar from Uzice we published more than 20 titles. That kind of publishing work proved to be very effective. It has a humanitarian character, because we don’t make profit, we pay for the press and we give the whole edition of 300 books to the author.
Summer, guitar and apples
Urban Culture Tribe: I know that you are very active on Facebook, that you publish poetry and prose and that you constantly talk to people. What are the most frequent questions? What do they like the most in your works?
Ilija Saula: My activity on social media brought me to some incredible people, and that probably wouldn’t have been possible without the internet. Some of them were a revelation for me, and I was a revelation to some of them. I found some works on social media that we were interested in to print. The authors of these works were so excited with our idea that they became our very good friends even to this day. Today, many of them are our active co-workers on mutual projects, finding media that will cover us, offering lectures, proofreading, translations, reviews, thoughts and critiques. We come to contact with affirmed people of our literature that give us support and trust. We build bridges, hold joint promotions, publish our works in popular literature magazines and web portals. All of that wouldn’t be possible without social media, mostly Facebook, and I can’t ignore the forums, which where a great place for that kind of fun and friendship until Facebook became the main part. We became a small planetary art village in which culture, writing and language are the basic principles of life and work, of course besides love.
Urban Culture Tribe: What is your opinion about future of the book?
Ilija Saula: People talk a lot about the vulnerability of the books. There is a fear that book will disappear due to development of electronic printing books. I think we need to accept every development as if it is good, but the paper book is always there. I don’t think the book will disappear. On the contrary, I think all electronic issues will incline to be put in print in the classic book form. Also, I think there will be moment on the global plan to protect the book as a tool and as intellectual property. For civilization, the book is the most faithful witness, and so I think mankind will repay it with human gestures and protect it from disaster.
Urban Culture Tribe: Do you write any new book?
Friends: Ilija Saula and Dusan Bastasic
Ilija Saula: Right not, I am working on my first novel and the headline so far is ‘Midar’. I was always attracted to magic realism. I feel that my consciousness is colored by that magic light. I seek to enter into the world of magic through thoughts, dreams, spiritual moments of power, and a reailty which cannot be argued because it is always how we see it and experience it. My novel has a lot of these moments and I think that will wake up the ‘third-eye’ in the reader and get the reader over the limits of what they consider possible in the space of their own consciousness, which is quite enough. In addition to writing, we are planing to publish a cycle of Kosovo authors who have not yet been published. We are launching a competition for poetry anthology of displaced poets. Beside all these activities I wish to establish a literature award here in America for our authors. That award would be prestigious and it would be a strong motivation for authors in diaspora to create more works of quality literature.
Urban Culture Tribe: Where your readers can order and buy your books?
Ilija Saula: We don’t distribute books on our own, so readers can find all of them thought direct contact with the writers. The same applies to my books. If I provided distribution for my books I would do the same for other authors that I have published. In Serbia I have one distributing place in Pancevo, and the other one is here in the USA on my home address. So, all orders can be realized through my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The cover page of the book “Boulevard of light’ painted by the artist Marija Tanaskovic Papadopoulos.
~ Milica Puric ~
” If I have ever found myself on the opposite side of good, I tried to save myself with healthy thoughts, consciousness and wise conversations. That’s why at the very start of the book I appeal for conversation, because even if we are not good at it, we need to teach ourselves to talk, so that we can help and support each other in the pursuit of our life goals, which make life better and happier.”
Conversation is everything! Love the interview, love the story. Hope that this writer will have success with his sixth book
I am huge fan of magic realism. Look forward to learn more about him and read his books…
I just prepared manuscript for my first book and i feel great. I can imagine how Mr. Saula feels right now having SIX published books!!!
I like his thought that life is pushing us, without asking, to learn from others. That is true. Great story. I like the fact that he came as a refugee to the U.S.overcame obstacles and expressed himself as a writer…
Many people have been scared that books will disappear due to development of electronic printing books, but i believe with all my heart that will never ever happen! I don’t think books will disappear. I don’t like redaing book on tablet or computer.
Kordun is a wind that can’t be calmed. Beautifully said…
I would like to read his books, I hope they are published on English
Beautiful and touching story. The way how he described Kordun is so emotional that I had tears in my eyes…
There are people of vision like you. There are people of open mind and heart like you. I love your kindness, your inspiration of Kordun. It remains me of Split, my happy place where my mind visits often. It gives me a spiritual strength, peace of mind and better connection between my inner self and my soul. It is the place where my Mom was born, where my brother and me spent may be the best years of our lives. If a person is capable to write openly about own feelings and place on paper intimate thoughts illuminated with some magic , then you can tell that person has succeed in his or her mission in life.