sights & culture


New Hungarian-English literary magazine publishes bilingual prose, essays and poetry


  • Gretchen Kessler

09/06/2021 1.59pm

“We were bored,” explains Will, sitting on a café terrace in downtown Budapest. A typical response to boredom for the masses might be switching on the television, but for Will Collins and Kristen Herbert, theirs was to produce and print the Penny Truth, an English-Hungarian literary magazine packed with insightful short stories, poems and essays.

Co-editor Will Collins holds a copy of the Penny Truth

Photo: Gretchen Kessler - We Love Budapest

The project’s inception came in the middle of last year’s spring lockdown. Will was living in a small town in north-east Hungary, Kristen was in Budapest. “We thought it would be a fun project,” says Will, and so they began collecting short stories, essays and poems in Hungarian and English, with an aim at embodying the literary landscape of pre-WWI Budapest. “Our magazine,” states the introduction, “aims to revive the spirit of those grand old cafés by providing a forum for thoughtful criticism, essays, poetry and fiction”.

Photo: Gretchen Kessler - We Love Budapest

The magazine’s name comes from a 1914 novella Jaguar by Hungarian writer Jenő Heltai. Heltai wrote about Budapest before World War I, at a time when the city was gripped by exciting new technologies, growing optimism and intellectual possibilities.

The result is a beautiful printed magazine, with a limited run of 200 copies. Several noted and established authors have contributed, including American writers Diana Senechal and Scott Beauchamp, as well as Hungarians such as novelist Eszter T. Molnár, and linguist, poet and translator Ádám Nádasdy. Alongside the well-known writers, there are also several fresh names making their debut literary appearance, whom Will and Kristen are proud to feature among the pages of the Penny Truth.

Anyone who has spent time in Hungary will delight in the insightful details of Hungarian culture, whether it’s an aside on the importance of accent inflection missed by outsiders, or the specific place names which immediately deposit you on such-and-such a street corner in Budapest. In your mind’s eye, city unfolds before you, placing you directly inside the story’s events.

Photo: Gretchen Kessler - We Love Budapest

The magazine is fully bilingual, with English-Hungarian translations appearing side-by-side for readers of both languages to enjoy. Alongside the written content, the magazine’s layout is eye-catching in and of itself, with attractive graphic design incorporating details of original artwork and photography.

It is refreshing to turn away from the digital world and have something tactile, present, to hold and peruse. Bus commutes pass in the space of a couple of page turns – a wait at the doctor’s office leaves you engrossed in a passage, unaware of your name being called by the waiting assistant.

Photo: Gretchen Kessler - We Love Budapest

“As you emerge from quarantine,” the editors conclude in the magazine’s introduction, “besieged by news bulletins and social media updates, we hope you’ll find a reprieve in our old-fashioned approach”.

The spring 2021 edition of the Penny Truth is available at a handful of shops and cafés around Budapest, including Írók BoltjaISBN, Zërgë Coffeeshop and Gdansk Bookstore and Café. Free reading copies are also on hand at Kelet, Kis Présház and Három Holló. Copies can also be requested directly via the associated Facebook and Instagram accounts.

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