DANIELA PETROVA

Hi! I’m Daniela, a Bulgarian-American novelist and storyteller. My debut novel, Her Daughter’s Mother, (Putnam, 2019) was critically acclaimed (“Absolutely dreamy and suspenseful” — O, The Oprah Magazine) and translated into three languages. I’m a recipient of an Artist Fellowship in Writing from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and my essays, short stories, and poems have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, LA Review of Books, and Marie Claire among others.
My novels and short stories are centered around moral and ethical dilemmas, faced by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
I aim to tell immersive stories that address issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. Stories that challenge readers’ understanding of the world and their biases towards other people, nearby or far away. Especially those far away. Not only geographically but ideologically. Those who are seen as “other.”

            My Journey

          Bulgaria: 1980s and early 1990s
I grew up during Communism without religion or deities, in a poor, working-class family that worshiped education. Ever since I was little, I remember being told, “Study hard if you don’t want to end up like us working on a conveyor line.”
My single mother and I lived with my grandparents and my uncle in a one-bedroom apartment that had no central heating or hot water. They all worked hard and saved every penny so that I could have the tutors I needed to prepare for the elite schools’ entrance exams. Both of my grandparents had been forced to leave school to help support their families before reaching fifth grade. My mother had quit high school in a sign of rebellion, refusing to join the Communist Youth Party.
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The first in my family to graduate from high school, I outdid everyone’s expectations when I was accepted at the University for Architecture and Civil Engineering where I studied for three years before dropping out to move to America.
Daniela Petrova Young Pioneers photo
          New York, 1995- Present
I landed at JFK in the spring of 1995 wholly unprepared for life in America. I’d never held a job. Never touched a computer. I hadn’t even heard of credit cards or checks. But I had big dreams.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, composing poems and short stories since I was a child. But I studied architecture instead because writing wasn’t practical. I needed a career, my family insisted.
I naively thought I’ll be free to pursue my passion in America. It turned out, nothing was free in America.
Certainly, not education. But I wasn’t easily discouraged. I decided I’ll get two jobs, save every penny.
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As it turned out, it was hard to get even a single job. Like countless other female immigrants before me, I tried working as a nanny and a cleaning lady. What else can you do without experience and with poor English? But everyone wanted references and understandably so. Every day, I would go through three newspapers, responding to all of the ‘Help Wanted’ ads with no success.
I taught myself English by watching reruns of Friends and attempting to read books I’d already read in Bulgarian (Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment), which I borrowed from the local library. I took English as a Second Language classes at the YMCA.
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Eventually, I got a job as a cleaning lady and a nanny and began volunteering at the library at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts (MET). Not long after, I was hired part-time as a Library Assistant. I had never heard of Ivy League universities and when I started applying to college, the head of the Cataloguing Department helped me research academic programs at Columbia University. I was accepted the following year and leveraging my experience at the MET, I got a job at the university’s library. To pay for tuition, I worked full time while taking classes part time. Finally, I graduated in 2001, fulfilling at least one of my dreams—receiving a college education—and began work as a consultant at the United Nations.
Obsessed with storytelling, I never stopped writing, even during those first years when my English was laughably limited. Over the years, I took classes and workshops on everything writing—from poetry to personal essays to screenwriting. I was blessed with wonderful teachers, including renowned writers like Curtis Sittenfeld with whom I studied at the Iowa Writers Summer Workshop and Anthony Doerr, who led my Tin House Summer Workshop. Eventually, I began to publish essays and short stories and poems. But novels have always been my true love and I finally dared to try my pen at one.
As is often the case, I’ve woven my personal experiences and observations into my novels.
My debut, Her Daughter’s Mother was informed by my struggles with infertility in my 30s.
My life in Bulgaria during Communism inspired the the novella, Blood Sisters, I’m currently working on.
I’m also working on a collection of stories about the life of the immigrant. The dreams, the challenges, the hardships, the joys. What it feels like to leave your land and loved ones behind. To be viewed as other. To have every interaction begin with, “So, where are you from?” To never fully belong.
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