The Politics of Fiction

988669_10152882434160652_1893030052_nWelcome to another Tuesday with TED. Today we have novelist Elif Shafak, who is the most-read female author in Turkey. She explicitly defies description. 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.

Shafak’s writing is at once rooted in her politically feminist education and her deep respect for and knowledge of Sufism and Ottoman culture, career that she found at Using these paradoxes, she creates a third way to understand Turkey’s intricate history. Her international sensibilities have been shaped by a life spent in a 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 as a radical and sentimental writer remains uninterrupted. Shafak also writes song lyrics for well-known rock musicians in her country.

In this fascinating TED Talk, Shafak makes the case that listening to stories widens the imagination; telling them lets us leap over cultural walls, embrace different experiences, and feel what others feel. Shafak builds on this simple idea to argue that fiction can overcome identity politics. In honor of Election Day, please watch this interesting talk.

I just love Elif Shafak’s quote: “Identity politics is made of solid bricks. Fiction is flowing water.” Do you agree with her statement?

What did you think about Shafak’s theory about the power of circles? Do you agree that stories can help us scale cultural walls? What else can stories help us cope with? How do expectations and cultural stereotypes impact your creativity? Leave a comment below.

Until next time,
Cynthia Patton

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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