Author Sightings: Rayya Elias at UWRF

October 4 2014 at The Salon in Ubud, Bali

The first time I met Rayya Elias was the time she came to Sydney with her best friend: Elizabeth Gilbert. She was part of Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things talk.

As I talked about it in one of my previous posts; I didn’t know that she was going to be there. To be honest, I didn’t know anything about her, let alone her memoir: Harley Loco. I made this little gift for Elizabeth Gilbert, at the time. It was a little hand-made pouch with beads from Turkey, hiding a personal note in it. If I had known that Rayya Elias was going to be there, I would have made one for her, too! Because I hate favouritism, I felt awful for having made something for one and not for the other.

Well, I recovered the situation in style when I went to see Rayya Elias seven months after the first encounter. It was a literary event organised by Ubud Writers’ and Readers Festival. Here’s how the event was advertised:

 

Enter the festival’s den of iniquity where stories of rock stars, drug addicts and inept gangsters will be served along with a healthy dose of Mozaic’s addictive martinis and canapes. Liam Pieper, Kate Holden, Rayya Elias, Carlos Andres Gomez and Skid More will spill the adults-only, behind-closed-doors stories that we all want to hear.

 

Rayya Elias

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival catalogue

So, I made up my mind: this time, I was going to attend the event for Rayya Elias and be fully prepared, too. First of all, I bought my ticket to Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Second, I made the exact same gift for her–with her own personal note in it. Third, I bought the Kindle version of Harley Loco and read it. And lastly, just before I travelled to Bali, I purchased an American First edition of Harley Loco for Rayya Elias to sign.

I guess, it is safe to say that I really was prepared, isn’t it?

The program started with Skid More’s introduction but it was a very short one because she was to attend another event. So, she didn’t have much time. After this quick introduction, each one of the authors took the stage and told us adult-only stories while Mozaic’s sporadic yet delicious cocktails and canapes were being served.

Here, Rayya Elias is playing one of her songs for us.

After the talks, stories, poetry and in Rayya’s case; playing the guitar and singing, I approached her and introduced myself. To my surprise, she remembered me from Sydney! I presented the little gift which I made for her. We chatted for a while and I asked her she would be kind enough to sign my book. She took one look at it and exclaimed: “American first edition!” I told her that I was a collector. After signing my book, she gave me one big, warm hug.

Rayya Elias

Here’s my personal copy of Harley Loco signed by Rayya Elias. I had to reorganise the whole shelf after I came home. This one is placed right next to Elizabeth Gilbert’s signed books I own. I just didn’t want to separate best friends.

Who was who at The Salon
Rayya Elias – USA
Rayya Elias’ debut is Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post Punk from the Middle East to Lower East Side. It charts growing up in Syria, trying to find herself in Detroit, and getting lost in New York’s underground music and drug scene of the 1980s.

Liam Pieper – Australia
According to Liam’s grandmother, he is “My grandson who writes for the internet.” His 2014 memoir, The Feelgood Hit of the Year, follows his journey from starry-eyed flower child to inept gangster. He is co-recipient of the 2014 M Literary Residency.

Kate Holden – Australia
Kate Holden is the author of the memoirs In My Skin and The Romantic. She publishes short stories, teaches writing and contributes literary criticism and features for the major papers and journals.

Carlos Andres Gomez – USA
Carlos Andres Gomez is an award-winning writer and performer from New York who starred in HBO’s Def Poetry and Spike Lee’s Inside Man. He is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir: Man Up: Reimagining Modern Manhood.

Skid More – Canada
Skid More worked as an art critic, columnist and alternative press editor before devoting herself to writing and performance. She has performed widely in Canada and beyond and recent works include the newly founded Bali Gong Show.

My Favourite Authors: Nazım Hikmet Ran

Nazım HikmetNazım Hikmet Ran –commonly known as Nazım Hikmet—was a Turkish poet, playwright, and novelist. He was recognized and revered throughout the world as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century.

In his homeland however he was treated differently by more than one government because of his social criticism and commitment to communism. Basically, Nazim Hikmet was branded as a traitor and imprisoned for over a decade. A. Kadir, another Turkish poet who is a distant relative of mine was arrested together with Nazim Hikmet and served time in prison in 1934. My relative has a book based on his reflection of the time which is still in print. In the end, Nazim Hikmet had no choice but to leave the country. He took a small boat and went to Moscow via Romania. In his home country he left behind, his books were banned and eventually, in July 25 1951, his Turkish citizenship was cancelled. Forty-six years after his demise, he regained his citizenship. No wonder why he called poetry “the bloodiest of the arts.”

I don’t remember ever having Nazim Hikmet books on the shelves of our home library and I have a feeling that my father might have burnt them because they were considered as subversive material at the time. It was simply too dangerous to own such books. Because of that, I have never been able to keep track of which one of his books I read. Here’s the silver lining though… There was this unspoken arrangement between my parents and their communist/teacher friends. Every time we visited those “comrades,” my parents were taken into the living room, I to their home library. I was overly fond of those stolen moments spent on borrowed books. Who knows how many personal libraries I had been through…

Nazım Hikmet

Nazım Hikmet’s Work

In his poetry, the main themes of hope, his women (mainly Vera), his love and longing for his country, hope for social justice and struggles of common man frequently occur.

Many of Nazim’s work have been translated into more than fifty languages. I have put together a list of English translations. They can be purchased through Amazon or eBay.

  • Human Landscapes from My Country: An Epic Novel in Verse (2009)
  • Things I Didn’t Know I Loved: Selected Poems
  • The Day Before Tomorrow
  • The Moscow Symphony
  • Selected Poems
  • The Epic of Shayk Bedreddin

Last time I was in Turkey, his complete works, all in one volume was out. It is a leather-bound, Bible looking book –only slightly thicker—and I am so kicking myself for not buying it. Because of the recent increase in shipping charges to Australia, it is incredibly expensive to buy books from Turkey these days. Well, next time I guess.

International Peace Prize

In 1950, Nazim Hikmet received International Peace Prize and was immortalised with Neruda’s lines in his acceptance speech: “Thanks for what you were and for the fire / which your song left forever burning.” Same year, Pablo Neruda, Wanda Jacubowska, Pablo Picasso and Paul Robeson received the same prize.

Nazım Hikmet

On June 3 in 1963, Nazim Hikmet died of a heart attack in Moscow. Fifty-three years ago, today, to be precise. It is true that he had said he wished to be buried in Turkey. I recently read an article about Nazim Hikmet’s adopted son Cengiz Ferecov who stated that Nazim’s greatest wish was to be able to go back to Turkey. He had said: “If that doesn’t happen, being buried there is enough for me.” Hikmet also mentioned the very same wish in his poem called Vasiyet (Testament) which I translated for you (above). Despite his wish, he is buried in Novodevichy Cemetery today. If any consolation, he is buried in the most famous cemetery in Moscow and sharing the same graveyard with Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov.

I mean you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you will plant olives –
and not so they’ll be left for your children either,
but because even though you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.
(from On Living, 1948)

Kız Çocuğu by Nazim Hikmet

Kız Çocuğu (translated as I Come and Stand at Every Door or The Little Girl) is a one of Nazim Hikmet’s poems. The literal translation of it is The Girl Child. The poem is about a seven-year-old girl who was killed during the bombing of Hiroshima. My primary school teacher was communist so she taught us the song  Kız Çocuğu composed by Zülfü Livaneli as part of his 1978 Nazım Türküsü album using Nazim’s poems. This particular version was sung by many international singers around the world including Joan Baez.

Later on, Fazıl Say, a Turkish pianist and composer wrote Nazım Oratorio (link below).

As you can read the English translations in the video above, the little girl who died in Hiroshima conveys a plea for peace by knocking on every door and asking people to sign a petition so that the children in the future wouldn’t be killed by bombs.

There is no doubt that Nazim Hikmet is the most-loved poet in Turkey. How do I know? Because, people celebrate Nazim’s birthday with carnations at the very spot where he took the boat to escape after receiving death threats. Because, people write his name on their walls with lights. The photo below was taken last year in Istanbul. The name of the place is Franz Kafka Bistro and Bar.

Nazım Hikmet

Additional Information About Nazim Hikmet

There is a movie about Nazim Hikmet’s life called Mavi Gözlü Dev (Blue Eyed Giant) and you can find IMBD information about the movie here.

Nazim Hikmet Poetry Festival
For those poets out there, this annual festival is for you. Nazim Hikmet Poetry Festival is organised by the American Turkish Association of North Carolina, supported by a major grant from the Turkish Cultural Foundation and hosted by Town of Cary.

Nazim Hikmet’s biography on Wikipedia
Nazim Hikmets biography on poets.org.

Author Sightings: Elizabeth Gilbert and Rayya Elias

author sightings elizabeth gilbert rayya elias

Author Sightings: Elizabeth Gilbert and Rayya Elias

March 7, 2014

As part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Elizabeth Gilbert gave a 90-minute talk at City Recital Hall Angel Place about the journey she took to create her book: The Signature of All Things and creativity in general. She was introduced by her best friend: Rayya Elias and we all found out that they “everly” love each other.

I spent whole morning listening Eat, Pray, Love on Audible while making a little pouch with a personal note in it (see photo above) as a gift for Elizabeth Gilbert. I was still in the process of reading The Signature of All at the time but an American first edition of Eat, Pray, Love was organised months before for her to sign after the event.

Before the event, I looked around to observe what kind of people would want to come and hear Elizabeth Gilbert talk. I should say what kind of women because the audience was mainly woman, except for my husband and a few other men –we’re proud of you guys. Although my husband is not familiar with Gilbert’s work, he thoroughly enjoyed the whole event. She was incredibly engaging, approachable, charming, articulate and very funny.

I find Elizabeth Gilbert quite inspiring. Not because she is a brilliant author or memoirist but also an icon of humility. You can be famous, successful and that approachable at the same time? I love people who show me what’s possible.

During the talk, she touched on the subject of perfectionism. This is especially important for women because, us women, let perfectionism hold us back –before we even embark on any creative project. I personally spent quite a bit of time there, waiting for the perfect moment or learning the perfect skill to start writing. Clearly, not knowing something well or having done something before never hold men back in stepping forward.

“Work doesn’t have to be easy, it just has to be interesting.” –Elizabeth Gilbert

Towards the end of the talk, Gilbert’s best friend, Rayya Elias, played some of her songs for us which was unexpected because I was not familiar with her work at all. So, I didn’t know anything about her music, her friendship to Elizabeth Gilbert or her memoir Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, hair and Post-Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side. Don’t worry; I’ll fix all of that and more when the right times. All I want to say for now is “awesome talk and thank you!”

My Favourite Authors: Samad Behrangi

Samad Behrangi has always been one of my favourite authors since I was a little girl –we spell his name as Samed Behrengi in Turkish, by the way. You may have spotted one of his books in my previous post; My Favourite Books Growing Up. If you haven’t, you can read the post here.

We have a saying in Turkey that children who’d been brought up with Samad Behrangi’s books turn out fine no matter what life throws at them. It is no surprise since Behrangi’s books portray the lives of children from poor villages of Iran who remain good in the face of poverty and hardship. Well, I have been brought up with Samad Behrangi’s books and I guess, it is safe to say that I too turned out right despite all that injustice I had to face through a large portion of my life.

favourite authors samad behrangi

Behrangi’s Life
Behrangi was born into a lower-class Azerbaijani family in Tabriz, Iran in June 24, 1939. He graduated from a teacher training school in 1957 and he obtained his degree in English from Tabriz University while teaching Persian in rural Azerbaijani schools.

He was mostly famous for his children’s books, especially The Little Black Fish but he was also a teacher, translator, social critic, poet and folklorist. He wrote many pedagogical essays, translated Persian poems into Azerbaijani and collected and published several samples of oral Azerbaijani literature.

Behrangi’s Children’s Books
Here’s a list of some of Behrangi’s children’s books. Why some? Because I don’t know the English titles for many and finding all the book titles is a bit of a drama because at the end of the day, these are not Harry Potter books, are they?

The Little Black Fish (this is my favourite Behrangi book, ever!)
The Tale of Love (the very first, full-size, non-curriculum book I have ever read)
Oldooz and the Talking Doll (also one of my favourites)
Oldooz and the Crows
The Little Sugar Beet Vendor (loved that little guy and how he peeled the sugar beets)
One Peach and One Thousand Peaches
Talkhoon
24 Restless Hours

I read all of Behrangi’s books and I read them all in Turkish. At that time, as a child, I believed that there was goodness in the world. Only light, no darkness. I truly believed that until one day I turned over one of his books and found out that my favourite author was actually killed by Shah Pahlavi’s men and thrown into Aras river to make it look like he was drowned in there. It was exactly three years one day before I was born. I remember how my child brain struggled to process this. At that moment, my whole perception of life was shattered. In the photo below, you see Behrangi being carried out of Aras River.

my favourite authors samad behrangi

Then came the military coup in Turkey when I was ten and my Behrangi books were screaming communist or leftist —both were equally bad at the time. I wondered if the police or gendarme came to our flat and searched for banned material and found my books, would they take me into custody and beat the sole of my feet with sticks until they split off, then make me walk on prison floor washed with salty water like they had done to one of my parents’ teacher friend?

As a final note, I would like to leave you with one of Behrangi’s profound quotes.

My Favourite Authors: Samad Behrangi

My Favourite Authors: Aziz Nesin

Aziz Nesin has always been one of my favourite Turkish authors —and my first writer crush, too! He was probably the most prolific author Turkey has ever seen —I mean we’re talking about more than 100 books here, Peoples! It wasn’t just me, everyone in my family enjoyed his writing. Together, we even went through a phase of quoting from a particular book of his (Seyyahatname) which was about an American tourist visiting Istanbul. It was so funny, like clever funny. Later on, they made it into a four-part television series.

Aziz Nesin. That’s him in the photo below. Photo taken by internationally acclaimed Turkish/Armenian photographer Ara Güler.

Aziz Nesin

He pissed a lot of people off, though. Not just by criticising Turkish government on the grounds of free speech and human rights violations but also translating and attempting to publish Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel: The Satanic Verses. That on its own made him the target for radical Islam organisations which led to some despicable chain of events.

On July 2, 1993 while Aziz Nesin and many other intellectuals, poets and musicians were attending a cultural festival in Sivas (my birthplace) to celebrate the life and work of a 16th century poet: Pir Sultan Abdal. Soon after Friday prayers, a group of Islamic fundamentalists somehow broke through the police barricade and surrounded a local hotel called Madimak (madimak is an edible wild herb/vegetable which grows only around that area). This was the hotel where the attendants of the festival like Aziz Nesin were staying, most of them Alevi musicians, writers, poets. The crowd was shouting “Death to the infidel!” They were of course threatening Aziz Nesin with that. The hotel was under siege for 8 hours until the monsters set the place on fire with everyone in it. The incident left 35 people dead. However, Aziz Nesin was one of the lucky people who managed to escape with the help of a firetruck. Initially, they failed to recognise him but when they did Aziz Nesin was beaten by the very firemen who rescued him while a city councilman, Cafer Erçakmak was shouting “This is the real devil we should have killed.” Like I said before; he pissed a lot of people off. This time by simply staying alive.

Although Aziz Nesin died of a heart attack in 1995 and I have never met him personally, we still have a friend in common: Saliha Scheinhardt. She is an internationally acclaimed Turkish author who writes in German. My friend and Aziz Nesin wrote to each other between 1980 and 1995, basically until he passed away. After his death, my friend published those letters exchanged between them two. She signed and gave me a copy of the book in 2001 (see photo below), quoting Paulo Coelho. By the way, the profit from the sale of this book goes to Nesin Foundation which was founded by Aziz Nesin in 1973 to provide education and accommodation for underprivileged children.

Aziz Nesin