Elif Shafak was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1971. She is an award-winning novelist and the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Critics have named her as one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Turkish and world literature. Her books have been published in more than 40 countries and she was awarded the honorary distinction of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.
Shafak has published thirteen books, nine of which are novels. She writes fiction in both Turkish and English. Shafak blends Western and Eastern traditions of storytelling, bringing out the myriad stories of women, minorities, immigrants, subcultures, youth and global souls. Her work draws on diverse cultures and literary traditions, as well as deep interest in history, philosophy, Sufism, oral culture, and cultural politics. Shafaks writing breaks down categories, clichés, and cultural ghettoes. She also has a keen eye for black humor.
Shafak's first novel, Pinhan (The Mystic) was awarded the "Rumi Prize" in 1998, which is given to the best work in mystical literature in Turkey. Her second novel, Şehrin Aynaları (Mirrors of the City), brings together Jewish and Islamic mysticism against a historical setting in the 17th century Mediterranean. Shafak greatly increased her readership with her novel Mahrem (The Gaze), which earned her the "Best Novel-Turkish Writers' Union Prize" in 2000. Her next novel, Bit Palas (The Flea Palace), has been a bestseller in Turkey and was shortlisted for the Independent Best Fiction Award.
Shafak' wrote her next novel in English. The Saint of Incipient Insanities was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her second novel written in English is The Bastard of Istanbul, which was the bestselling book of 2006 in Turkey and was longlisted for the Orange prize. The novel, which tells the story of an Armenian and a Turkish family through the eyes of women, brought Shafak under prosecution but the charges were ultimately dismissed.
Following the birth of her daughter in 2006 she suffered from post-natal depression, an experience she addressed in her first autobiographical book, Black Milk. In this book Shafak explored the beauties and difficulties of being a writer and a mother. The book was received with great interest and acclaim by critics and readers alike, being an instant bestseller.
Shafak's next novel focused on Love and love East & West, past & present, spiritual & mundane, all in the light of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. The Forty Rules of Love sold over 750 k copies, becoming an all time best-seller in Turkey and in France awarded with the Prix ALEF - Mention Spéciale Littérature Etrangère. It is also nominated for 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Her latest novel published in English, Iskender (Honour), has topped the best-seller lists and has been acclaimed by both critics and readers of various ages and backgrounds. The novel has opened up a vivid debate in Turkey about family, love, freedom, redemption and the construct of masculinity. It is the winner of the 2013 Prix Relay des voyageurs in France; nominated for 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize, 2013 Womens Prize for Fiction and 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Her most recent novel Ustam ve Ben (2013 December) revolves around the life of Mimar Sinan, the most famous Ottoman architect and opens up important debates on power, creativity, artistic freedom and bigotry.
Besides writing fiction, Shafak is an active political commentator, columnist and public speaker. She is a regular contributor to major newspapers in Turkey and has been featured in major newspapers and periodicals, including the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Economist and The Guardian website. She has taught at various universities in Turkey, UK and USA. Having graduated from the program in International Relations at Middle East Technical University, she holds a Masters degree in Gender and Women's Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science. Her thesis on "Islamic Mysticism and the Circular Understanding of Time" was awarded by the Social Scientists Institute.
Shafaks non-fiction covers a wide range of topics, including multiculturalism, womens empowerment, cosmopolitan encounters and the art of coexistence. These essays have been collected in three books, Med-Cezir (2005), Firarperest (2010) and Şemspare (2012). Her thoughts on identity have been published as an e-book by Penguin, titled The Happiness of Blond People.
Elif Shafak holds various social, academic roles. She is an active social media figure with approximately 1,5 million Twitter followers http://twitter.com/Elif_Safak. Besides her professional titles Elif Shafak is a TED Global speaker, founding member of ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations); member of Weforum Global Agenda Council on The Role of Arts in Society; the 2013 judging panel for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the 2014 judging panel for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award; Ambassador of Culture Action Europe Campaign, 2010; Special Envoy for EU-Turkey Cultural Bridges Programme, 2010. She was awarded the honorary distinction of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters in 2010.
Her nonfiction covers a wide range of topics, including belonging, identity, gender, mental ghettoes, daily life politics, multicultural literature and the art of coexistence. These essays have been collected in three books, Med-Cezir (2005), Firarperest (2010), Şemspare (2012). She also writes lyrics for rock musicians in her country. She lives with her husband and two children and divides her time between Istanbul and London.
AWARDS and SPECIAL RECOGNITION
|An active social media figure with over 1.5 million Twitter followers. http://twitter.com/Elif_Safak|
|Honour, Nominated (long listed) for International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, 2013|
|Member of the 2014 judging panel for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award|
|Member of the Turkish American Society Young Society Leaders, 2013|
|Honour (Crime dhonneur, Phébus), 2013 Prix Relay des voyageurs, France 2013|
|Honour, Long listed for Womens Prize for Fiction, 2013|
|Member of the 2013 judging panel for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.|
|Honour, Long listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2012|
|The Forty Rules of Love, Nominated (long listed) for International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, 2012|
|The Forty Rules of Love (Soufi, mon amour, Phébus), Prix ALEF - Mention Spéciale Littérature Etrangère, France 2011|
|Member of Weforum Global Agenda Council on The Role of Arts in Society|
|TED Global speaker|
|Marka 2010 Award, Turkey|
|Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres, France 2010|
|Ambassador of Culture Action Europe Campaign, 2010|
|Special Envoy, EU-Turkey Cultural Bridges Programme, 2010|
|Turkish Journalists and Writers Foundation "The Art of Coexistence Award-2009"|
|International Rising Talent, Women's Forum - Deauville, France 2009|
|The Bastard of Istanbul, Long listed for Orange Prize for Fiction, London 2008|
|Founding member of ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations)|
|The Gaze, Long listed for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, United Kingdom 2007|
|Maria Grazia Cutuli Award - International Journalism Prize, Italy 2006|
|The Flea Palace, Short listed for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, United Kingdom 2005|
|The Gaze, Union of Turkish Writers' Best Novel Prize, 2000|
|Pinhan, The Great Rumi Award, Turkey 1998|
About the author:
• I like to think of my writing as a compass. One leg of this compass is solidly based in Istanbul and the culture I grew up with. In this sense my fiction has solid roots. The other leg of the compass, however, draws a wide circle and travels the whole wide world. My fiction is cosmopolitan and multicultural. Therefore my writing is both local and universal.
• In my novels I travel endlessly in time and space. Through the art of storytelling we connect to one another. At the core of literature is the notion of empathy and the desire to build connections. It is all about connections...
• I can write everywhere and anywhere. I wrote some of my novels at international airports, on trains, in small hotels... Any place could be a workplace for me: restaurants, cafes, train stations, dormitories... Everywhere except a neat and tidy, sterile and silent bureau. That is the only place I cannot write in.
• They ask me why there are so many djinnis or supernatural forces in my novels. Because there is magic in life, that is why.
• I like to combine the Western techniques of the genre of the novel with Eastern traditions of storytelling. I also like to combine written culture with women's oral culture. This culture is not sufficiently reflected in written culture, which is dominated by men. I like incorporating women's voices into my fiction.
• Humor is an important element for me. But the kind of humor that I like has compassion, intelligence and softness. It is a kind of humor that does not look down upon the readers. I write with love, and my characters have so many layers and conflicts. I do not judge them. It's important to have a « horizontal » relation with them: I do not situate myself above them or above the text. I'm not trying to control them, as if they were puppets. I'm on an equal level with them, as well as with my readers.
• Just like love, literature shows us the connections. We live in a world in which the unhappiness of someone in Pakistan can affect the life of someone in Canada. In this world nobody lives in a vacuum. The sorrow of one person can sadden the entire humanity. The happiness of one person can contribute to the joy of all. Literature and art help us to feel connected with the universe.
• My writing thrives upon journeys. I commute between different cultures and cities, and believe in the power of literature to transcend all sorts of mental ghettoes and boundaries -be it national, religious, class or gender boundaries. The ancient art of storytelling brings us together and bridges the gap between "us" and "them".