What are you working on in Taos?
I’m actually writing my book. Trying to finish this manuscript which I began almost two years ago. I have a contract and my deadline is May 15.
What brought you to this project?
Coming from Turkey, because I have been engaged in women’s life-writing since 2003. I’ve been recording and writing creative non-fiction based on women’s lives. With the conflict in Syria, Turkey received 3 million refugees. This was impossible to ignore. I could contribute with my prior experience writing life-stories. Biographical. I reached out to Syrian women and recorded their stories.
In order to challenge the stereotype of refugee women. The stereotype would be someone poor, uneducated, needy, conservative religious. Covered and conservative women that would be repressed or secondary citizens.
The media representations of these women are fragmented. I will write full biographies of people: the media focuses on their refugee status, and not that they had lives before and after. Childhood memories, recipes, families, personal stories. At the end you get a full human being and being a refugee is just one chapter in their lives.
How do you approach telling someone else’s story?
All of my speakers are in transition and have changed cities. After the recordings of 12 hours, what happens is I send follow up questions through email. We are constantly in touch. I keep getting updates on their lives—last week I got news from a participant and I added paragraphs into her story.
In Istanbul where I started: they don’t stay in camps. Whenever I talk about this in the west, they assume that the women stay in refugee camps. That is not always true.
How did you create comfortable rapport with the 9 women?
NGOs and friends helped to connect me, and I wrote them all letters. I sent 15 letters, introducing myself and the project. They told me when they could be available…
I’m a good listener. I’m originally from Turkey, I grew up in Turkey, it was never out on the table, but many times they said “you know” or “you understand this” so in some way, they assumed that we shared religion, food, culture, etc.
Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we shared many cultural experiences and I think that helped build trust.
How does your women’s studies background inform your creative writing?
I have the feminist lenses. It means to me that the women’s authentic voice comes first. Secondly, even though I am being the writer, I need to have their confirmation. Whatever I write, before it goes out, it goes to the subjects themselves. They have full control until it goes to the publishing house. I’m not taking advantage of their voices.
Each storytelling journey has been an empowering journey. That’s based on their feedback. At the end of these months, I have this question: how do you feel about this? With no exception, they feel much better with no exception. They feel relieved, more complete.
How does your creative writing inform your women’s studies?
I don’t know if it is a powerful effect, but I’d like to make academic language or jargon both on campus and at conferences more accessible, more approachable, more mainstream. I try not to use exclusive language to insert my power as a writer as a teacher.
I decided to separate the creative non-fiction writing as a genre and my career as a professor.
What can you say about the #METOO movement?
I’m a big fan! I’m also aware of the criticism. I’m happy that so many stories came out. I don’t think it is pretentious at all, and by the way, it is becoming really international movement. That makes me proud and happy. One of my Syrian participants is only 25, and she joined the #MeToo Movement on Facebook and she wrote a bunch of things in English. Her mother saw it on Facebook and woke her up and asked her to delete it because it would shame her family. The girl refused to take it down.
I’m following Turkish media, and they wondered why it didn’t catch as fast or wildly as it did in North America. We put the blame on culture and society: geographical difference.
Name 3 inspiring women.
I just read Gloria Steinem’s memoirs, and I felt privileged to get the book from her at Hedgebrook.
What are you reading right now?
I usually read like 2 or 3 things simultaneously. Novel: I’m reading a book named “Go, Went, Gone” by a German novelist, Jenny Erpenbeck
Inter-cultural, comparative, religion books. Comparative theology. I’m really surprised with the different reflections of Islam. Women and Islam.
Do you consider yourself an activist?
I think so, yeah. In different ways: for me, writing is an activism.
How does teaching fit into your life?
Since I gave a break to full-time teaching: it was very demanding. I came to a point after several years where I felt burned out. I came to WISC in 2014 and that was a fresh breath: it feels very different to be a full time writer. I’m a people-person, and I like meeting people.
I feel comfortable in most places. I’ve traveled a lot. I don’t feel unsafe. I don’t feel freaked out. I’m comfortable in that fluid global identity. I feel at home if there is water.