Elif Shafak

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Elif Shafak
ElifShafak Ask EbruBilun Wiki.jpg
Native name
Elif Şafak
Born (1971-10-25) 25 October 1971 (age 47)
Strasbourg, France
OccupationNovelist, essayist, academic, public speaker, women's rights activist
LanguageEnglish, Turkish
Notable worksThree Daughters of Eve, The Gaze, The Bastard of Istanbul, The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi, Honour, The Architect's Apprentice

Elif Shafak (Turkish: Elif Şafak, pronounced [eˈlif ʃaˈfak]; born 25 October 1971) is a Turkish-British[1] novelist, essayist, academic, public speaker and women's rights activist. In English she publishes under the anglicized spelling of her pen-name Elif Shafak.[2]

Shafak has taught at different universities around the world, most recently at St Anne's College of Oxford University. She held the Weidenfeld Visiting Professorship for 2017–2018.

Shafak writes in both Turkish and English, and has published 17 books, 11 of which are novels, including The Bastard of Istanbul, The Forty Rules of Love and Three Daughters of Eve. Her books have been translated into 49 languages and she has been awarded the prestigious Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.[3]

She is an activist on women's rights, minority rights and freedom of speech. She also writes and speaks about a range of issues including global and cultural politics, the future of Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, democracy and pluralism. She is a twice TED Global speaker[4], a member of the Weforum Global Agenda Council on Creative Economy in Davos[5] and a founding member of ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations). In 2017 she was chosen by Politico among the 12 people that will "give you a much needed lift of the heart".[6]


Personal life[edit]

Shafak has lived in London since 2013 and is married to the Turkish journalist Eyüp Can Sağlık, the editor of the newspaper Radikal, with whom she has a daughter and a son.[7][8] In 2017, Shafak came out as bisexual.[9]

Early life[edit]

Shafak was born in Strasbourg to philosopher Nuri Bilgin and Şafak Atayman, who later became a diplomat. After her parents' separation, Shafak returned to Ankara, Turkey and was raised by two women: her mother and grandmother.[10] She says growing up in a dysfunctional family was difficult in many ways, but growing up in a non-patriarchal environment had a positive impact on her. She grew up without a father, and she met her half-brothers for the first time when Shafak was in her mid-twenties.

She incorporated her mother's first name— Arabic for "dawn"—with her own when constructing her pen name at the age of 18. Shafak spent her teenage years in Ankara, Madrid, Amman and Istanbul. She has lived around the world—Boston, Michigan, Arizona, Istanbul, before moving to the UK and making it her home. Shafak has two children.[11] She lives in London and "carries Istanbul in her soul."[12]

Academic career[edit]

Shafak holds a degree in International Relations, a Master’s degree in Gender and Women’s Studies and a PhD in Political Science. She has taught at different universities in Turkey, the US and the UK. She was a fellow at Mount Holyoke College; a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, a tenure-track professor at the University of Arizona, and was a Weidenfeld Professor at St Anne’s College, the University of Oxford from 2017–2018.[13]



Shafak has published 17 books, 11 of which are novels.

Shafak's first novel, Pinhan (The Hidden) was awarded the Rumi Prize in 1998,[14] which is given to the best work in mystical literature in Turkey. Her second novel, Şehrin Aynaları (Mirrors of the City), tells the story of a family of Spanish conversos, 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.[15] Her next novel, Bit Palas (The Flea Palace, 2002), was shortlisted for Independent Best Foreign Fiction in 2005.[16][17][18]

Shafak wrote her next novel in English, The Saint of Incipient Insanities, which was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2004.[19]

Her second novel in English, The Bastard of Istanbul, was longlisted for the Orange Prize.[20] In the novel, Shafak addresses the Armenian genocide, which is systematically denied by the Turkish government. Shafak was prosecuted on charges of "insulting Turkishness" (Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code) for discussing the genocide in the novel. If convicted, she would have faced a maximum jail term of three years."The Bastard of Istanbul is perhaps the first Turkish novel to deal directly with the massacres, atrocities and deportations that decimated the country's Armenian population in the last years of Ottoman rule." [21]

Ariel Dorfman says, "Mixing humour and tragedy as effortlessly as her two unforgettable families blend and jumble up the many layers of their identity, Elif Shafak offers up an extravagant tale of Istanbul and Arizona, food and remorse, mysticism and tattoos, human comedy and yes, massacres. Quite an exceptional literary feast."

In 2019 Elif Shafak was again placed under investigation by Turkish prosecutors for tackling child abuse and sexual violence.[22]

Following the birth of her daughter in 2006 she suffered from post-natal depression, an experience she addressed in her first autobiographical book, Siyah Süt (Black Milk). In this book Shafak explored the beauties and difficulties of being a writer and a mother.

Shafak's novel The Forty Rules of Love focused on love in the light of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz. It sold more than 750,000 copies in Turkey[23] and in France was awarded a Prix ALEF* - Mention Spéciale Littérature Etrangére.[24] It was also nominated for the 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.[25] Her next novel Honour focused on an honour killing story, opening up a vivid debate about family, love, freedom, redemption and the construct of masculinity.[26] It was nominated for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize and Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2013.[27][28] “Shafak's wonderfully expressive prose, sprinkled throughout with Turkish words and phrases, brings the characters to life in such a way that readers will feel they are living the roles.”[29] Shafak's novel The Architect’s Apprentice revolves around Mimar Sinan, the most famous Ottoman architect. "Filled with the scents, sounds and sights of the Ottoman Empire, when Istanbul was the teeming centre of civilisation, The Architect's Apprentice is a magical, sweeping tale of one boy and his elephant caught up in a world of wonder and danger."[30]

The Sunday Times said “Shafak is passionately interested in dissolving barriers, whether of race, nationality, culture, gender, geography or a more mystical kind.” And the Irish Times has called her, “The most exciting Turkish novelist to reach Western readers in years.” [31]The New York Times Book Review says, “She has a particular genius for depicting backstreet Istanbul, where the myriad cultures of the Ottoman Empire are still in tangled evidence on every family tree.” [32]

Her novel, Three Daughters of Eve (2017) is set across Istanbul and Oxford, from the 1980s to the present day, a sweeping tale of faith and friendship, tradition and modernity, love and an unexpected betrayal. In the Financial Times, Sadiq Khan chose the book as his favourite book of the year. “This is a truly modern novel — about the way we are shaped by politics, including freedom of expression and political repression, but also by our personal relationships.”[33]

Siri Hustvedt said, "Elif Shafak's urgent, topical novel explores the ambiguities and dangers of being caught in the Land of Between. The book's protagonist, Peri, is torn between her mother and her father, between her love and hate for a charismatic professor, between the double lures of religiosity and secularism. Three Daughters of Eve upends the omnipresent but crude truisms of East and West, oppression and liberation, right and wrong that continue to divide, torment, and haunt us all."[34]


Her nonfiction work 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) and Sanma ki Yalnizsin (2017).


Shafak has written for numerous publications including The Guardian, Financial Times, La Repubblica, The New Yorker, The New York Times and Der Spiegel. Her work has been reviewed in numerous international publications, including The Washington Post, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times, La Repubblica, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Die Zeit, El Pais, and Der Spiegel.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos 2017 she joined a panel discussion for BBC World on ‘Politics of Fear: The Rebellion of the Forgotten?’ with Ursula von der Leyen, German Defence Minister, Eric Cantor, Former House Majority Leader in the US Congress, and Liam Fox, UK Secretary of State for International Trade.[citation needed] On EuroNews she joined a panel discussion ‘Is this the end for multi-culturalism?’ with Brendan Cox, U.S. historian Lonnie Bunch and Belgian deputy prime minister Alexander De Croo.[citation needed] She was also one of three speakers on a panel on “faith” alongside the Muslim Scholar Abdullah Bin Bayyah and the Chief Rabbi of the UK Ephraim Mirvis, moderated by Damien O’Brien, Chairman of Egon Zehnder. In July 2017, Elif Shafak was the ‘castaway’ on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.[35]

TED talks[edit]

Shafak has twice been a TED Global speaker.[36] Her TEDGlobal 2010 talk has been viewed nearly 2 million times, and her 2017 talk has had over 1.5 million views.

TEDGlobal 2010[edit]

The politics of fiction – 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.

TEDGlobal 2017[edit]

The revolutionary power of diverse thought – "From populist demagogues, we will learn the indispensability of democracy," says novelist Elif Shafak. "From isolationists, we will learn the need for global solidarity. And from tribalists, we will learn the beauty of cosmopolitanism." A native of Turkey, Shafak has experienced firsthand the devastation that a loss of diversity can bring -- and she knows the revolutionary power of plurality in response to authoritarianism. In this passionate, personal talk, she reminds us that there are no binaries, in politics, emotions and our identities. "One should never, ever remain silent for fear of complexity," Shafak says.

Public speaking and literary judging[edit]

Shafak has been active in many areas. She is an active social media figure on Twitter and Instagram. Besides her professional titles, she 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; a judge on Baileys Prize; a judge on MAN Booker International Prize; a judge on Goldsmiths Prize; a guest curate at Edinburgh Literature Festival; judge on 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and judge for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award;[37] Ambassador of Culture Action Europe Campaign, 2010; Special Envoy for EU-Turkey Cultural Bridges Programme, 2010. She was awarded the honorary distinction of Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres[38] in 2010. After Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell and Sjon, Shafak has been chosen as the next writer for the Future Library Project, a collection of 100 literary works that will be opened in 2114.[39] Shafak is also an OSLO Freedom Forum speaker.[40]

Prize judging history[edit]

  • Judge for Goldsmiths Prize Goldsmiths Prize, 2018
  • Judge for The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, 2017
  • Judge for Man Booker International Prize, 2017
  • Judge for FT/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices Awards, 2016
  • Judge for the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction
  • Judge for the 10th Women of the Future Awards, 2015
  • Judge for FT/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices Awards, 2015
  • Judge for Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, 2015
  • Judge for Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award 2014, 2015
  • Judge for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, 2013
"How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we."

Elif Safak, [41][42]

Areas of interest[edit]


Istanbul has always been a central part of Shafak’s writing. She depicts the city as a ‘She-city’ and likens her to an old woman with a young heart who is eternally hungry for new stories and new loves. Shafak has remarked: "Istanbul makes one comprehend, perhaps not intellectually but intuitively, that East and West are ultimately imaginary concepts, and can thereby be de-imagined and re-imagined."[43] In the same essay written for Time Magazine Shafak says: "East and West is no water and oil. They do mix. And in a city like Istanbul they mix intensely, incessantly, amazingly."[43]

In a piece she wrote for the BBC, she said, “Istanbul is like a huge, colourful Matrushka – you open it and find another doll inside. You open that, only to see a new doll nesting. It is a hall of mirrors where nothing is quite what it seems. One should be cautious when using categories to talk about Istanbul. If there is one thing the city doesn't like, it is clichés."[44]

Feminism and women's rights[edit]

An advocate of women's equality and freedom, Shafak herself grew up with two different models of womanhood – her modern, working, educated mother and her traditional, religious grandmother. Her writing has always addressed minorities and subcultures, such as post-colonialism and post-feminism, and in particular the role of women in society.[45]

Following the birth of her daughter in 2006 she suffered from postpartum depression, a period she then addressed in her memoir, Black Milk: On Motherhood, Writing and the Harem Within which combines fiction and non-fiction genres. Shafak has commented concerning the book: "I named this book Black Milk for two reasons. First, it deals with postpartum depression and shows that mother's milk is not always as white and spotless as society likes to think it is. Second, out of that depression I was able to get an inspiration; out of that black milk I was able to develop some sort of ink."[46] In an interview with William Skidelsky for The Guardian, she said: "In Turkey, men write and women read. I want to see this change."[47]

Freedom of speech[edit]

Shafak is an advocate of women’s rights, minority rights and freedom of expression. In an English PEN letter to protest against Turkey's Twitter ban she commented: “Turkey's politicians need to understand that democracy is not solely about getting a majority of votes in the ballot box. Far beyond that, democracy is a culture of inclusiveness, openness, human rights and freedom of speech, for each and every one, regardless of whichever party they might have voted for. It is the realization of the very core of democracy that is lacking in today’s Turkey”.[48] Shafak was one of the world authors who signed the open letter in protest against Putin’s anti-gay and blasphemy laws before Sochi 2014.[49] Taking part in the Free Speech Debate, when asked about her role as a writer, she commented: "I am more interested in showing the things we have in common as fellow human beings, sharing the same planet and ultimately, the same sorrows and joys rather than adding yet another brick in the imaginary walls erected between cultures/religions/ethnicities."[50]

Global politics[edit]

Shafak is a speaker and writer on global politics, dangers of populism, dangers of tribalism and nationalism. Writing for The New Yorker, she said, "Although the Turkish case is in some ways uniquely depressing, it is part of a much larger trend. Wave after wave of nationalism, isolationism, and tribalism have hit the shores of countries across Europe, and they have reached the United States. Jingoism and xenophobia are on the rise. It is an Age of Angst—and it is a short step from angst to anger and from anger to aggression."[51]

Mysticism, East and West[edit]

Shafak constantly blends Eastern ways of storytelling with Western forms of storytelling, and blends oral and written culture. In The Washington Post, Ron Charles says, “Shafak speaks in a multivalent voice that captures the roiling tides of diverse cultures. And, of course, as readers know from her previous novels 'The Architect’s Apprentice' and 'The Bastard of Istanbul,' it helps that she’s a terrifically engaging storyteller.”[52] Vogue says, “Elif Shafak, has been building a body of work that needles her country’s historical amnesia.”

Awards and recognition[edit]

Book awards[edit]

  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, 2019.[53]
  • The Architect's Apprentice, shortlisted for RSL Ondaatje Prize, 2015[54]
  • The Architect's Apprentice, longlisted for Walter Scott Historical Novel Prize, 2015[55]
  • Honour, second place for the Prix Escapade, France 2014[56]
  • Honour, longlisted for International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, 2013[57]
  • Crime d'honneur (Phébus, 2013), 2013 Prix Relay des voyageurs[58]
  • Honour, longlisted for Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2013[59]
  • Honour, longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2012[60]
  • The Forty Rules of Love, nominated for 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award[61]
  • Soufi, mon amour (Phébus, 2011), Prix ALEF – Mention Spéciale Littérature Etrangère[62]
  • The Bastard of Istanbul, longlisted for Orange Prize for Fiction, London 2008[20]
  • The Gaze, longlisted for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, United Kingdom 2007[63]
  • The Flea Palace, shortlisted for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, United Kingdom 2005
  • The Gaze, Union of Turkish Writers' Best Novel Prize, 2000[15]
  • Pinhan, The Great Rumi Award, Turkey 1998[14]

Other recognition[edit]

  • Weidenfeld Visiting Professor in Comparative European Literature at Oxford University[64]
  • Joined Future Library, writing piece to be unveiled in 2114[65]
  • Caravan Award for Peacebuilding Through the Arts, 2017
  • Prize for Tolerance in Thinking and Acting, Prize of Honour of the Austrian Booksellers, 2017
  • Member of Berggruen Prize Award Committee
  • WOW committee member
  • Lahore Literary Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, 2016
  • Granted the Seal of the City and Certificate of Commendation by the City of Milan, 2016
  • 2016 GTF Awards for Excellence in Promoting Gender Equality[66]
  • Cultural Leader; Member of Weforum Global Agenda Council on Creative Economy, DAVOS 2016
  • Asian Women of Achievement Awards 2015: Global Empowerment Award[67]
  • Board Member of Free Word Centre, which promotes literacy, literature and freedom of expression
  • Member of English PEN
  • Cultural ambassador for The Ottoman Orient in Renaissance Art/ BOZAR
  • Women To Watch Award, Mediacat & Advertising Age, March 2014[68]
  • Member of the Folio Academy
  • Chevalier Des Arts et Lettres, 2010[69]
  • Turkish American Society Young Society Leader, 2013
  • Member of Weforum Global Agenda Council on The Role of Arts in Society, DAVOS
  • Marka Conference 2010 Award, Turkey[70]
  • 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"[71]
  • International Rising Talent, Women's Forum - Deauville, France 2009
  • Founding member of ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations)
  • Maria Grazia Cutuli Award – International Journalism Prize, Italy 2006[72]


Turkish English
Name Year Publisher ISBN Name Year Publisher ISBN
Kem Gözlere Anadolu 1994 Evrensel 9789757837299
Pinhan 1997 Metis 975-342-297-0
Şehrin Aynaları 1999 Metis 975-342-298-9
Mahrem 2000 Metis 975-342-285-7 The Gaze 2006 Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd 978-0714531212
Bit Palas 2002 Metis 975-342-354-3 The Flea Palace 2007 Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd 978 0714531205
Araf 2004 Metis 978-975-342-465-3 The Saint of Incipient Insanities 2004 Farrar, Straus and Giroux 0-374-25357-9
Beşpeşe (with Murathan Mungan, Faruk Ulay, Celil Oker and Pınar Kür) 2004 Metis 975-342-467-1
Med-Cezir 2005 Metis 975-342-533-3
Baba ve Piç 2006 Metis 978-975-342-553-7 The Bastard of Istanbul 2007 Viking 0-670-03834-2
Siyah Süt 2007 Doğan 975-991-531-6 Black Milk: On Writing, Motherhood, and the Harem Within 2011 Viking 0-670-02264-0
Aşk 2009 Doğan 978-605-111-107-0 The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi 2010 Viking 0-670-02145-8
Kâğıt Helva 2010 Doğan 978-605-111-426-2
Firarperest 2010 Doğan 978-605-111-902-1
The Happiness of Blond People: A Personal Meditation on the Dangers of Identity 2011 Penguin 9780670921768
İskender 2011 Doğan 978-605-090-251-8 Honour 2012 Viking 0-670-92115-7
Şemspare 2012 Doğan 978-605-090-799-5
Ustam ve Ben 2013 Doğan 978-605-09-1803-8 The Architect's Apprentice 2014 Viking 978-024-100-491-3
Sakız Sardunya 2014 Doğan 978-605-09-2291-2
Havva'nın Üç Kızı 2016 Doğan 978-605-09-3537-0 Three Daughters of Eve 2016 Viking 978-024-128-804-7
Sanma ki Yalnızsın 2018 Doğan 978-605-095-146-2
On Dakika Otuz Sekiz Saniye 2018 Doğan 978-605-096-309-0 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World 2019 Viking 978-024-129-386-7
Aşkın Kırk Kuralı (compilation based on Aşk) 2019 Doğan Novus 978-605-095-864-5

NOTE: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd was bought out by Viking in 2011.


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External links[edit]