Hello, I am a writer. If you are looking for an short/ PR-friendly bio, you can find one here.
I wrote most of my first novel, The Idiot, in 2000-01, when I was taking a year off from grad school. It wasn’t called The Idiot yet—the title comes from perspective I gained in later years. It was about a crush I had in my first year of college. I ran out of money before I finished it, so I went back to school where I had health insurance, and got a PhD in comparative (mostly Russian) literature.
In 2010, I published my first book, The Possessed: a collection of interconnected essays about the pursuit of Russian and other literature, with a cover by Roz Chast (I think about this pigeon 2-3x a week). Pictured in the middle row, second from the right, is my Uzbek teacher, Dilorom.
In 2010, I moved to Istanbul, where I taught at Koç University for 3 years and did reporting about Turkey. At some point, I started writing a book about my changing ideas about Turkey, but didn’t finish it. In fact, for several years I didn’t finish any books at all—partly because I was concentrating more on journalism, and partly because so much of my time and energy was going into “romantic” relationships: a phenomenon that has been well described by Shulamith Firestone (though I didn’t know this at the time.)
In 2014, I started psychotherapy, which I recommend to everyone—it’s not just if you have a “chemical imbalance” or survived extreme adversity. Literally anyone who was once a child can benefit! Shortly afterwards, I ended up rereading the novel I abandoned in grad school—the one about the college crush. As I read, I noticed many resonances with problems I had now, in my 30s. I had thought of them as 30s problems, but apparently the groundwork was already there when I was 18. I realized this was the book I had to finish now!
The Idiot came out in early 2017, a few months before my 40th birthday. I then had the experience of promoting a “debut” novel about my first year of college, at age 40, in an America in which Donald Trump, a familiar figure from my childhood, was now somehow all of our ruler. Throughout this time, I was so uplifted by getting to meet and talk to so many smart readers.
One question I occasionally got during this period was why I had written such a “non-political” book. By “non-political,” people meant that the narrator, Selin, rarely reads the newspaper or thinks about world affairs. I increasingly found myself wondering why a story about a teen girl’s crush didn’t count for many readers—or even for me—as “political.” What could be more political than the question of how certain people (e.g. young women) are steered away from politics?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had to write a sequel. That’s Either/Or! I wrote it between 2017 and 2021. In it, I tried to reconstruct how I managed to emerge from the 90s with an idea of myself as a “literature person” rather than a “politics person” (a distinction I now find misleading and unhelpful). As I was writing, I was reading Second Wave feminists for the first time, so part of the project was to figure out how I had missed people like Shulamith Firestone and Adrienne Rich back when I was a student, and how the kind of depoliticization that they talk about had actually happened to me!
If that sounds boring or off-putting, then Either/Or is definitely the book for you, because that’s just how Selin feels! The book is mostly about what she finds interesting instead (love, travel, etc.), and where it leads her… viz. to some pretty dark places, which she takes to be unavoidable and part of the rich tapestry of life—but are they? That’s a question I invite you to answer from the 2020s!