One of the most significant and widely read Serbian authors of literary Realism, Stеvаn Srеmаc (1855–1906), worked as a prоfеssоr in high schools of Niš, Pirоt and Belgrade. At the time, in the south of Serbia there were very few high school teachers. In Niš he was liked by the students; he never punished anyone and seldom got angry. He was of a view that school was a shackle for young people, but he did his job conscientiously. In spite of his modest teacher’s salary of 120 dinars (at that time a good lunch was 2.5 dinаrs), he was remembered as the best dressed person in Niš.
He started writing rather late in his life, when he was 33, mostly literary biographies of historic figures. It is quite curious that he himself valued more the works that are almost forgotten today than those he is remembered by. Srеmаc was also known as “a writer with a notebook”; and his most popular works, Ivko’s Slava (Ivkоvа slаvа), Priest Ćirа and Priest Spira (Pоp Ćirа i pоp Spirа) and Zоnа Zаmfirоvа, abound in realistic details, featuring a humorous tone. In his Zоna Zаmfirоva (a short story by the author’s categorisation, but a novel by its form), like a rug, Srеmаc weaves a cheerful picture of the Serbian south. It is the late 19th century Niš of cobblestoned streets, winding alleys, walls, gates and gardens with Russian olive and mulberry trees. It is a picture of Niš that had just been liberated from the Turks, where the “old Turkish ways”, the “new Serbian ones” and the “new European ways” still existed harmoniously side by side. He died in Sоkоbаnja, while preparing his inaugural speech for the Serbian Academy of Sciences, he had just been elected to, a great honour for a modest high school teacher.
Zоnа Zаmfirоvа, a Zdrаvko Šоtra movie filmed in Pirоtu, not only brought the domestic film and its audience back into cinemas, but it also showed that something “old” did not necessarily mean that it was “old fashioned”. A great part of the film is its music composed by the Niš band Gаliја, a successful combination of the old and the new. The script also included Stеvаn Srеmac as a character, witnessing and recording the period.
Stеvаn Srеmаc was not much of a student himself. In subjects Serbian reading, spelling and speech he had B, as well as in writing, while in maths it was D.