Georgia is a storied nation both figuratively and literally. It’s a place that’s dealt with centuries of censorship, iron fist ruling, and ongoing occupation that’s led to a past equal parts tragic, victorious, and complex. Have a look at some of Georgia’s most notable historical figures – many of them were writers, poets, journalists – storytellers at their core. Or take an afternoon stroll down any neighborhood in Tbilisi, and you’ll find that every other street is named after a writer or artist. Whether you’re new to Georgia or not, you’ll find that literature in all its forms is a key part of its history, culture, and identity. Which is why I put together a list of my favorite Georgian writers and poets that I think you should know about. Their stories are unique, colorful, and in a lot of ways shaped the Georgia we see today.
Ilia Chavchvadze (1837 – 1907)
Ilia Chavchavadze, and that’s Prince Ilia Chavchavadze to you, is one of the most recognizable names in Georgian history. As one of the country’s most appreciated heroes, he was a prominent leader in Georgia’s national movement, which gained traction in the early 1900s. In his day he wore many hats, he was a renowned poet, patriot, journalist, lawyer, and publisher – but his most profound work actually came from his journalism and work on literacy throughout Georgia. He founded two notable newspapers – Sakartvelos Moambe (Narrator of Georgia) and Iveria – the latter of which was used to focus on Georgian liberation from Russia, the revival of the Georgian language, and rekindling of Georgian culture and traditions, many of which had been lost or watered down by the Russian Empire.
Adamantdantly against the “Russification” of Georgia, he established schools across Georgia that provided education in the Georgian language and created several other cultural, educational, and economic institutions in the name of preserving Georgia and, ultimately, Georgians. He continued to work toward autonomy through the years while publishing some of the country’s most important stories and poems, such as The Hermit, Happy Nation, and The Ghost.
In 1907, he and his wife were traveling between Tbilisi and Saguramo when they were ambushed and murdered outside the small village of Tsitsamuri. His killers were never found, and the reasons behind his death are still heavily debated. Many think he was killed by Tsarist secret police. Others believe he was taken out by the Bolsheviks who were quickly gaining traction and would have reason to take out a prominent figure who advocated for Georgian autonomy. His legacy is still strongly felt throughout Georgia today. In fact, in 1987, he was canonized as Saint Ilia the Righteous and is referred to by many as “The Uncrowned King” and “Father of the Nation.”
There, where Mount Kazbek rears his noble brow, Where eagle cannot soar, nor vulture fly, Where, never melted by the sun’s warm rays, The frozen rain and snow eternal lie; — The Hermit // Ilia Chavchavadze