Elif Shafak was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1971. She is an award-winning novelist and the most widely read woman writer in Turkey. Her books have been translated into more than thirty languages. Shafak has published ten books, seven of which are novels. She writes in both Turkish and English. Shafak blends Western and Eastern traditions of storytelling, bringing out the multiple stories of minorities, immigrants, women subcultures and global souls. Her work draws on diverse cultures and literary traditions, as well as deep interest in history, philosophy, oral culture, and cultural politics.
Shafak's writing breaks down categories, clichés, and cultural ghettoes, bringing out the multiple stories of minorities, immigrants, women, subcultures and global souls. She also has a keen eye for black humor, as well as spirituality and Sufism.
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, ?ehrin Aynalar? (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. The book was followed by Med-Cezir, a non-fiction book of essays on gender, sexuality, mental ghettoes, and literature.
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 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 most recent novel, The Forty Rules of Love sold more than 550 000 copies, becoming an all time best-seller in Turkey.
In addition to writing fiction, Shafak is also a political scientist, 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. Today Shafak continues to write for various daily and monthly publications in Turkey. She has been featured in major newspapers and periodicals, including the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Economist. 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:
Marka 2010 Award, Turkey
Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres, France
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
Maria Grazia Cutuli Award - International Journalism Prize, Italy 2006
The Flea Palace, Short listed for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, United Kingdom 2006
The Gaze, Union of Turkish Writers' Best Novel Prize, 2000 Pinhan,
The Great Rumi Award, Turkey 1998
This biography was last updated on 03/05/2013.
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A Conversation with Elif Shafak
Where were you born, and when and how did you come to live in America?
I was born in France, Strasbourg, in 1971. All throughout my childhood and youth I have lived in different cities and countries, including Madrid, Spain; Amman, Jordan; and Cologne, Germany. Then in my thirties I came to the United States, first to Boston, then Michigan and Arizona. I am not an immigrant. I guess all my life I have been a nomad, a commuter.
You divide your time between Istanbul, Turkey, and Tucson, Arizona. What do you think is the most striking contrast between the two cities? What do you think they have most in common?
I have always danced around this question, and I think Im going to continue dancing around it now. Like Miles, I grew up in Florida and attended a boarding school in Alabama. And the physical setting of Alaska is very, very similar to the physical place I attended boarding school. Generally, the book is probably more autobiographical than I usually acknowledge. But it is very much a work of fiction. The facts, I can assure you, were ignored.
Right now I divide my time between these two cities and the contrast couldnt be deeper. Tucson when compared to Istanbul is ...
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