Usin Kerim is the pseudonym of the Bulgarian Romani poet Hyussein Kerim Hyusseinov Mahmudov Bosilkov (Хусеин Керим Хусеинов Махмудов Босилков) (1928–83). Kerim has been acclaimed as one of the most prominent figures of the Bulgarian literature landscape in the 1960s and described by critics as the ‘sparkling Gypsy string under the Bulgarian sky’. He is also considered the most famous and successful Romani writer in Bulgaria.

Kerim was born in the mountain town of Teteven (Central Bulgaria) into a family of recently settled nomads who worked as wood-cutters, a trade that Kerim later plied, too. After finishing secondary school, he played an active role in journalism by writing and editing articles for various provincial newspapers.

He entered the literary scene with the poetry collection Песни от катуна [Pesni ot katuna; Songs from the nomads’ camp], the first of his seven poetry collections, which received enthusiastic reviews. Kerim was a member of the Union of Bulgarian Writers and was a supporter of the Bulgarian Communist Party.

In Communist Bulgaria after the 1950s, restrictive policies were introduced against the expression of Romani identity. Public Romani cultural events and use of the Romani language were forbidden. But despite the official context, the Bulgarian cultural scene included several artists and creative figures from a Romani background who were known to both their colleagues and the general public as ‘Gypsies’ and in whose artistic production the Romani cultural heritage formed an integral part.

Many of Kerim’s lyrical narratives are related directly to his life in the Romani Mahalla and reveal ethno-cultural characteristics of the Romani community. A convinced Communist himself, he often praised in his poetry the Communist Party policies towards Roma – for example, the provision of housing as well as access to education and employment.

Translations of Kerim’s works were published in Russian, Romanian and Czech, among other languages, while only a few of his poems were translated into Romani. The annual Usin Kerim competition for unpublished poetry is organised by Drom Dromendar, Bulgaria-based Romani news agency.

Selected bibliography

Керим, Усин. 1955. Песни от катуна. София: Български писател. [Kerim, Usin. Pesni ot katuna. Sofia: Bălgarski pisatel.]

Керим, Усин. 1959. Очите говорят: Стихове. София: Български писател. [Kerim, Usin. Očite govorjat: Stihove. Sofia: Bălgarski pisatel].

Керим, Усин. 1968. Под синия шатър: Стихове. Варна: Държавно издателство. [Kerim, Usin. Pod sinija šatăr: Stichove. Sofia: Dăržavno izdatelstvo.]

Керим, Усин. 1969. Заю Баю и орача. София: Български художник. [Kerim, Usin. Zaju Baju i orača. Sofia: Bălgarski hudožnik.]

Керим, Усин. 1978. С бащиния глас. София: Български художник. [Kerim, Usin. S baštinija glas. Sofia: Bălgarski hudožnik.]

Керим, Усин. 1987. Халище: Стихотворения. Пловдив: Христо Г. Данов. [Kerim, Usin. Halište: Stihotvorenija. Plovdiv: Hristo G. Danov.]

Керим, Усин. 1998. Кон жадувам. Избрани стихотворения и непубликувани творби. Шумен: Славчо Николов и сiе. [Kerim, Usin. Kon žaduvam: Izbrani stihotvorenija i nepublikuvani tvorbi. Šumen: Slavčo Nikolov i sie.]

Керим, Усин. 2003. Лирика. София: Народна култура. [Kerim, Usin. Lirika. Sofia: Narodna kultura.]