Elif Şafak is a world-renowned author, columnist, speaker, and academic. Born in Strasbourg, France to a mother who later became a diplomat,Elif Şafak (sometimes spelled Shafak) spent most of her youth growing up in Spain as well as Jordan, before returning home to Turkey and has since continued to move from place to place even in her adult life.
Raised by her working single mother and grandmother, her adolescence was devoid of the conventional, patriarchal family unit typical in Turkey at the time, an absence she’s noted has had a major impact on her identity and her writing. At the same time, the two women in her life were vastly different, her mother secular and highly educated and her grandmother more spiritual, superstitious and much less educated, exhibiting to a young Şafak the spectrum of both womanhood and of Turkish identities. In fact, when Şafak began her writing career, she took on her mother’s first name, Şafak meaning “dawn” in Turkish, as her new surname (she was born Elif Bilgin), rejecting her father’s name as he had been absent throughout her life.
She has since become “one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Turkish and world literature,” having written 14 books, nine of which are novels that have been published in more than 40 countries. She has also been a contributing writer on politics to several news outlets, including the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Economist and The Guardian, as well as several major newspapers in Turkey, including Zaman newspaper, which was one of the most highly circulated daily newspapers, before the Turkish government seized control in March 2016.
Some of her most internationally recognized novels include: The Bastard of Istanbul (2007), The Forty Rules of Love (2010), and more recently The Architect’s Apprentice (2015). Filling “her books with characters who defy orthodoxy,” Şafak often explores controversial or under-discussed topics in her writing, such as ethnic minorities, women, cultural politics, immigrants, and mysticism. She “lives by the same code” regarding her journalism, “mixing feminism and nuanced political analysis with a deep interest in Ottoman culture.” She is strongly critical of cultural biases on both ends of the spectrum, questioning and challenging Islamophobia as equally as she does blanket anti-Western sentiments.
She has also been known to use more esoteric Turkish words, originating from both Persian and Arabic, in defiance of the linguistic purification that has guided the Turkish language since the language reform in the 1920s. Her refusal to abide by linguistic standards of Turkish literature or to constrain her subjects within the realm of cultural acceptability has drawn the ire of some literary purists in Turkey, and even found her in violation of Turkish law in 2007, charged with “insulting Turkishness,” after referring to the Armenian Genocide in her book The Bastard of Istanbul.
Although the charges were eventually dropped and she never served a jail sentence, Şafak has noted that being a writer from Turkey, she doesn’t have “the luxury of being apolitical,” recognizing that “there is politics in…private space and in gender relations as well,” that there is politics wherever there’s power. Nevertheless, what Şafak is ideally striving for is to lessen our confinement to the rigid binary divisions of identity politics and instead multiply our attachments and affiliations, believing that “overlapping selfhoods bring people closer and reduce tension, hatred and chauvinism.”
*P.S. I know some people don’t consider Turks to be people of color, a notion that is even supported by some Turks who want to be seen as white and/or European, but I am not of that mindset and so I’m going to include Turkish people within the realm of POC, considering the cultural heritage of many Turks today is an amalgam of European, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian ancestry. If anyone has a problem with this / is deeply offended by this please let me know.*
**P.P.S. My apologies for missing so many days in updating my list. I had a rough week, but am working as fast as I can to get back on track!**