Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Women Writers in Turkey

While nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk may be the only Turkish author many westerners are familiar with, I was happy to discover a wealth of other Turkish writers in local bookstores in Istanbul during my residency at maumauworks in June. I was drawn in particular to two short story collections by Turkish women: Istanbul In Women's Short Stories  (editor, Hande Ogut) and Europe in Womens Short Stories from Turkey, (editor, Gultekin Emre). Both are published by Milet Publishing.

Asli Erdogan

Sadly my friend Asli Erdogan was out of the country during my stay. I met her at a literary festival in Indonesia 10 years ago and would love to have caught up. She is on the wikipedia list of Turkish women writers along with popular authors Elif Şafak and Buket Uzuner whose novels are best sellers in Turkey. However there are many other authors not included on this list like writers Naz Cuguoğlu, Sine Ergün and Gönül Kıvılcım who I met at maumauworks during my stay.

Naz Cuguoğlu

Naz  Cuguoğlu is a short story writer who has been writing since she was young. She used to write memoir but now prefers the short form. Her magic realist stories centre on male characters dealing with everyday issues. A graduate in social psychology she has volunteered in culture labs in Turkey, Nicaraguara and the US. She has worked in an Istanbul-based gallery and frequently contributes reviews and interviews to publications like Istanbul art news, Artful Living, Trendsetter or KLOK. Naz currently curates exhibitions and manages residencies at maumauworks. She recently took part in a writer's residency in Barcelona.

Sine Ergün  the founder of maumauworks, also likes magic realism and Raymond Carver. Her stories are about the small details of life. She has published two short story collections,  and  and is part of an anthology edited by

Gönül Kıvılcım has published a number of novels and written for magazines, online journals and the theatre. She lived and worked as a journalist in Germany for many years before returning to Istanbul to live. After returning home she worked at Channel 6 and Radikal. Her books are:
"Small Town Lies", Life Publications, 2001, "Razor Boy.", Life Publications, 2002, "Partially Love"  Everest Publishing, 2004, "Karakoy The Living Witness", Heyamola 2010, "Crime Palace" Support Verlag, 2011, " Dad's Best Photo " Detail Publications,  2012.

Gönül brings a journalists's sensibility to her work, dealing with issues of homelessness and street kids in her novel, Razor Boy, and the stories of ordinary people in Small Town Lies. Her fourth novel which she spent a whole year researching, will soon be finished. Gönül is passionate about writing,  telling me she takes over every corner of her apartment pinning notes and paper to the walls. She doesn't mind the lonlieness of the long distance writer either. You have to be alone to write, she says. When I have a bad day, I just read.

I took Gönül's advice and when the writing wasn't flowing I disappeared into the two collections I had bought. In fact for a while, day became night became day, as I couldn't stop reading. I read Europe first and next Istanbul, and was glad I had this smorgasbord of women writers to dive into.

Mine Sogut

One of the reasons I wanted to read Turkish women writers was that on the street (especially my street which I renamed, Yelling Street), Turkish men are the dominant presence, and I longed to know where the women were, what they were doing, what they were thinking and feeling. These two volumes containing women writers of varied ages and varied writing styles gave not only answers, but connected me with feminine insights so exquisitley expressed I was able to recognise a shared experience of womanhood while appreciating the huge cultural difference between us. It was as if I was reading the stories of sisters from whom I had been separated at birth.

Susan Samanci

My favorite authors are Erendiz Atasu, Susan Sumanci and Mine Sogut.Gonul has a story in Istanbul as well. Gaye Boralioglu's story about a working woman who watches her husband gasp and die on the long train trip home from work, and just gets off the train without him, is stunning. As is Erendiz Atasu's story of a woman making love to a gondolier. There's strength and fragility in the writing of all these stories, a tender eroticism and power, humour and irony, and there is no better way to get to know a city than through its literature.And they give a nice balance to the melancholy of Pamuk's writing. A friend warned me against reading Pamuk while I was here. She said she had read his novel Snow before she went and couldn't shake the feeling that it was haunted by the ghosts of empire. There is no risk of that in these stories. While melancholy may weave its way through some of the narratives, it is always imbued with the practical realism of a Turkish woman's point of view.

Erendiz Atasu

The foreward to the English version of Istanbul by translators Idil Aydogan and Patricia Billings states...

"This collection does not present its reader with an idealised Istanbul, where East meets West. Rather Istanbul is a place where over the centuries East and West have engaged in a testy relationship, pushing and pulling, repelling and attracting with the ebb and flow of the Bosphorous, leaving its inhabitants in a constant struggle — a struggle for their identities, those they express for all to see and those they feel inside.

 With contributors born mainly between 1940 -1970 who are not just Turkish but Greek, Kurdish and Armenian backgrounds this collection represents the works of different generations and cultural groups."

I cannot sign off without mentioning the excellent team of translators in both volumes. Without them we foreigners would miss the great pleasure of losing ourselves in these stories.   

Watch a fanstastic talk on You Tube by Patricia Billings "Turkish Literature in Translation"
Recent Developments, Ways Forward and Global Trends, given at the London Book Fair in April 2015.

Jan Cornall was writer in residence for three weeks in June 2015 at Maumauworks in Istanbul.
Her residency was funded by CAL, The Copyright Agency.
Many thanks to Naz and Sine from Maumau, and to CAL for a great residency!

Jan leads international writer's workshops and retreats. Find out more at www.writersjourney.com.auhttp://www.writersjourney.com.au/

Pamuk's Istanbul and my Garage of Memories

On the day I arrived at maumauworks in Instanbul for my three week writers residency, Sine (maumau founder) and Naz (maumau administrator) told me about the Museum Of Innocence. It's just nearby, they said. Have you read the book?

I'd been reading Orhan Pamuk's book Istanbul in preparation for my trip, but hadn't heard of his novel The Museum of Innocence which was written only after he started collecting for his museum.

Sometimes you have to travel half way across the world to receive a special book recommendation, but I had no idea I would be able to enter the world of his novel is such a tangible way.

I'm always reminding my students of the importance of creating the world of their stories, suggesting they make a scrapbook or collect objects in a bag or a box. I did this even before was a writer and still do. I have a garage full of secret caches stashed a way containing pieces of fabric, old letters, trinkets, photos, postcards, keys, fragments of soap, empty perfume bottles, rings, cufflinks, my father's psalm book, my mother's sheet music, my childrens umbilical chord clips, and so on. The bags and boxes line the wall draped with various collected pieces of Japanese, Rajastani and Batik cloth. Some of my mothers paintings are there and a couple of Matisse prints torn from a calendar that used to hang in her kitchen. Random things too like an America Indian headress from a costume shop, some antique wayang kulit puppets, a naked shop dummy strung with leather belts, a moth eaten Chinese parasol.

In the middle I've set up a large work table, big enough for six or eight people to sit around, where I sometimes hold petite bookmaking workshops, but mostly it's a place where I go to order my thoughts, to rustle about, to move memories around or to muse on my next creative project.

While some might want to call my collecting habits hoarding, I always defend myself, muttering about the importance of archiving, referencing, keeping creative materials on hand etc. but since visiting Pamuk's museum and reading his novel, I am able to understand something new about my garage of memories.

Pamuk says in an interview for the Huffington Post...

"The habit of collecting, of attachment to things, is an essential human trait. But Western civilization put collecting on a pedestal by inventing museums. Museums are about representing power. It could be the king's power or, later, people's power.....In my novel, where (the protagonist) Kemal collects the tea cup, cigarette butts, bedroom door handle and other items of Fusun, he is building a museum not to power but to the intimate experience of love, to an individual life. My point is that, whatever a life is made of, its dreams and disappointments, is worth taking pride in."

If you haven't read the novel here's the blurb...

"It is 1975, a perfect spring in Istanbul. Kemal and Sibel, children of two prominent families, are about to become engaged. But when Kemal encounters Füsun, a beautiful shopgirl and a distant relation, he becomes enthralled. And once they violate the code of virginity, a rift begins to open between Kemal and the world of the Westernized Istanbul bourgeoisie. In his pursuit of Füsun over the next eight years, Kemal becomes a compulsive collector of objects that chronicle his lovelorn progress—amassing a museum that is both a map of a society and of his heart. Orhan Pamuk’s first novel since winning the Nobel Prize is a stirring exploration of the nature of romance."

In the Huff Post Pamuk goes on to say...

"In building my own museum in Istanbul, I am very close to my character Kemal. I don't want to exhibit power but express my interiority, my spirit. A museum should not be flags--signs and symbols of power--but intimate works of art. It should express the spirituality of the collector. "

 He adds...

" I identify with Kemal's attention as a lover to his beloved because it is like a novelist's attention to words. In the end, being a novelist, in a way, is loving the world, caressing the world with words. It is paying attention to all the details that you have lived and experienced. This book is my most personal, intimate book. It is all the things I have lived and seen in Istanbul in my entire life. It is a panorama written with loving detail."

"At the age of 60 I am less experimental and more mature. I want most of all to convey my understanding of life. And writing novels for 35 years has taught me great humility. It has taught me to be respectful of how marvelously detailed the world is. Again, this is very close to a lover's attention to his beloved's every movement, her gestures, angers and silences. To notice everything is to care for it.

There is indeed a kind of Sufi or Pan-theistic quality to this love for the world, as is also suggested by Buddhist mindfulness."

My apolologies for pulling out such lengthy quotes from the interview, but so much of what Pamuk says about life, love and writing is immensely inspiring and validating.

Visiting his museum has helped me understand the peace I feel deep in my garage surrounded by the memorabilia of my life,  and why as much as I try, I can't throw my bits and pieces away yet. As Pamuk says, they are a touch stone to all the ways one has lived and is still living; a life filled with all its happinesses and sadnesses,  all its successes and dissapointments.

I enter my garage in a different way since returning from Istanbul. I view my objects with more love. The tinge of shame is gone. I'm thinking to make an inventory. If I don't have time to tell each story I can at least give each object a line. Instead of having a garage sale, I'm thinking to have a viewing time, maybe on Sunday afternoons. I can serve tea and scones, on the family china that sits in a box at the bottom of one of the stacks.

Yes, that's what I'll do, I'll let you know when.

Read a Guardian review of the novel Museum of Innocence here.

Read all about the actual Museum of Innocence here

If you can't get to Istanbul, the book Pamuk has written about the museum, The Innocence of Objects, is almost as good as the real thing. It details the background to the museum project and takes you through the exhibits chapter by chapter with excellent photos and excerpts.

Read about other Turkish authors I discovered in another great book by contemporary Turkish women writers, - Istanbul in Women's Short Stories. 

Jan Cornall was writer in residence for three weeks in June 2015 at Maumauworks in Istanbul.
Her residency was funded by CAL, The Copyright Agency.
Many thanks to Naz and Sine from Maumau, and to CAL for a great residency!

Jan leads international writer's workshops and retreats. Find out more at www.writersjourney.com.auhttp://www.writersjourney.com.au/
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