Elif Shafak explicitly defies definition — her writing blends East and West, feminism and tradition, the local and the global, Sufism and rationalism, creating one of today's most unique voices in literature.

Why you should listen

Elif Shafak is the most-read female author in Turkey, where she is as well known for her descriptions of backstreets Istanbul as she is for her global and multicultural perspective. Her writing is at once rooted in her politically feminist education and her deep respect for and knowledge of Sufism and Ottoman culture.

Using these paradoxes, she creates a third way to understand Turkey's intricate history. Shafak's international sensibilities have been shaped by a life spent in a very diverse range of cities, including Ankara, Cologne, Madrid, Amman and Boston. She has written novels in Turkish -- such as her first work, Pinhan ("The Sufi") -- as well as English, including her most recent novel, The Forty Rules of Love, in which two powerful parallel narratives take the reader from contemporary Boston to thirteenth-century Konya, where the Sufi poet Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the whirling dervish known as Shams.

Her uncommon political stances have not gone without controversy. At the publication of her novel The Bastard of Istanbul,  which crosses two family histories, one Turkish, the other Armenian, she faced charges for "insulting Turkishness." The case was later dismissed, and Shafak's role in the rare combination of radical and sentimental writer remains uninterrupted. Shafak also writes song lyrics for well-known rock musicians in her country.

What others say

“Her characters spend their time popping out of categories.” — Andrew Finkel, Turkish Culture

Elif Shafak’s TED talk

Elif Shafak on the TED Blog

Live from TEDGlobal

The politics of fiction: Elif Shafak on TED.com

July 16, 2010

Listening to stories widens the imagination; telling them lets us leap over cultural walls, embrace different experiences, feel what others feel. Elif Shafak builds on this simple idea to argue that fiction can overcome identity politics. (Recorded at TEDGlobal 2010, July 2010 in Oxford, UK. Duration: 19:46) http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf Watch Elif Shafak’s talk on TED.com, where […]

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