Aslı Erdoğan

Writer, author of eight books translated into twenty languages, columnist, human rights defender, ex political prisoner, particle physicist

Aslı Erdoğan is a writer of literature and author of eight books, novels, novellas, collections of poetic prose and essays, translated into more than twenty languages including English, French, German, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Greek and published by various publishers such as Actes Sud, Penguin Germany, Garzanti, Gyldendal, The City Lights, Ramus, Soft Skull, Potamos  among others. She has also worked as a columnist in various national and international papers, and she was arrested in 2016 for her collaboration with the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem. Aslı Erdoğan has received more than thirty prizes in literature, arts and human rights  such as Simone de Beauvoir Award, Karl Tucholsky Award, Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize, European Cultural Foundation Award, Words Without Borders Prize, Vaclav Havel Prize, Chevalier des Arts et Letres, among others.  Her work has been adapted into theater and acted in Milan, Graz and Avignon, into classical ballet, radio, film and finally  to opera.  She is also a high energy physicist and has completed her thesis on Higgs particle at CERN, European Laboratory for High Energy Physics.  She is currently living in exile in Germany.

A short story version of a Life

Aslı Erdoğan was born  in Istanbul , on the 67 th day of 1967, on March 8th,   International Womens Day, to which she points out as the first irony of her life. Being discovered as a child prodigy, she had learned on her own to read and write and solve arithmetic equations by the age of four, only added to the alieanation of a lonely, misearable childhood in the junta years.  Her first poem was published when she was ten without her permission. The same year she passed a nationwide exam into the prestigious Robert College, her gateway to an excellent education. In the eighties, all the sharpest kids competed either for medicine or engineering, so she acquired  a BS in  Computer Engineering from Bosphorus University in 1988. But then she made a rather inconventional, daring choice and decided to study physics. When she started working as a research physicist at CERN, European Laboratory for High Energy Physics, she had already won her first literary prize in 1990: Yunus Nadi Prize in Short Story, the oldest surviving literary prize that time.

 In 1993, she completed her thesis in particle physics, the first in Turkey on Higgs particle, which was not yet popularised. Although her thesis met all the reqirements of a PHD, due to regulations that year,  she received an MS in Physics. When her first novel, ‘‘ The Crust Man‘‘  was published in 1994, she had already moved to  Rio de Janeiro, working on her thesis on Higgs particle  in PUC. A year later later, she took another  daring  decision and quit sience all together. The missed tittle of ‘‘Doktorat‘‘ was in a way made up for in 2019, when she received a  Doktorat Honoris Causa in Literature from Jules Verne University. Her interest in antropology took her as far as the Amazonian jungle  and she stayed two years in South America until she felt safe to return. The real reason behind this first self induced  exile was not the pursuit of a scientific career, she had actually ended up in serious trouble when she had tried the defend the   rights of the African immigrants in Istanbul.

 A few months after her return  to Istanbul, she published her second  novel, ‘‘ The Miraculous Mandarin‘‘, written back at Cern and travelled with her all the way into the jungle. Although the book received a few praising reviews, it generally passed unnoticed. 10 years later, the same book would receive great reviews in France and be chosen amongst the ‘‘Books of  the Year‘‘ in Sweden. In 2019, Luk Percival adapted the text for  the Mozart Opera ‘‘The Abduction from Serail‘‘.

‘‘The City in Crimson Cloak‘‘, a city novel, or rather two intertwined novels, a re-interpretation of Orpheus myth, set to  the back streets of Rio,   established her as a writer.  She was described as  ‘‘a master of metaphors‘‘, ‘‘author of poem novels‘‘ ‚‘‘poet of the twilight zone‘‘. The novel, dark and intense in style,  and uncompromising in its confrontation with existential themes, was well reviewed in Turkey, Europe and US, with over 200 reviews. In the  following decades it was published in fifteen  lanuages: In  French by Actes Sud, German by Unionsverlag as a part of  Turkische Bibliotek, Swedish by Ramus, Italien by Garzanti, Norwegian by Gyldendal in MARG series, a special series for twenty selected writers including W.G. Sebald and H. Cixous, and in English by Soft Skull, Swedish by Ramus, Greek by Potamos, amongst others.

In 1998, Aslı Erdoğan started to write a column in the leftist intellectual paper ‘‘Radikal‘‘. Her column, tittled as ‘‘the Others‘‘, in which she touched such taboos as prisons, torture, Kurdish issue, women rights etc brought her some fame and serious trouble and she was fired in two years. A degrading book on her personal life was published and taken to headlines in mass media. While her work was being compared to that of  Kafka in Norway and  Antonin Artaud in Belgium, in her country, she was publicly demonised as a ‘woman of poor morals‘,   lynched and  outcast from the literary circles. Three books she published in these years were recived with absolute silence.

After a long period of health problems and enforced isolation, she published a collection of poetic prose, ‘‘ In the Silence of Life‘‘, and received DUNYA Book of the Year Award. Although very few reviews appeared on the book and foreign publishers showed no interest, texts from the book were adapted into theater, performed in La Piccolo, Milan, choreographed into classical ballet and into dance theater, published in collaboration with such artists as Ghada Amer and Francois Daireaux, and exhibited in the exhibitions she was invited to as a conceptual artist. Two different collections from the book were published in French, first by MEET. The latter  ‘‘ Requiem pour une Ville Perdue‘‘ by Actes Sud in 2020 has become her most reviewed book in France so far, with around  thirthy reviews in major newspapers and literary magazines.   

After another long period of serious health problems, in which she couldn‘twork for nearly two years, she published perhaps her most demanding book: ‘‘The Stone Building‘‘, a premonition for the prison yet awaiting her. Probably due to her deteriorating health, the Turkish literary scene seemed to remember her and she was awarded Sait Faik Award, arguably the most prestigious literary award in 2010. She had already been translated into nine languages and had received six literay awards, but she was still unable to find a job in the press. Jobless, poor, humiliated and alienated, incapacitated by her health condition, she tried Radikal again but in a few months was fired again.  She took another bold decision: She joined the pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem , where she thought she could express her ideas without being fired, as a columnist and a literary advisor. The first consequence was that she was unable to return to Turkey after her residency in Zurich as the City Writer. She lived in exile first in Graz, then as an ICORN resident in Krakow. Just as she was preparing to leave  for another ICORN residency, she was taken under custody on August 16th, 2016, her apartment busted by Special Forces and searched for seven  hours, her library and manuscripts damaged. On the pretext that she was an advisor to the totally legal newspaper Özgür Gündem, she was arrested on August 19th, from the heaviest charge available in the Turkish penal code‚‘‘the destruction of  the unity of the state‘‘, and the prosecutor asked for an aggravated life sentence, the heaviest sentence asked for a female writer in the history of Turkish literature.

She was released after four and a half months in prison, thanks to a world wide solidarity campaign of several organisations and individuals, writers, publishers, journalists, readers and human rights defenders…  Her readers regularly  came to demostrate in front the of prison , placing her Karl Tucholsky Award in front of the  iron doors. Her case was mentioned in the European Parliament. The loneliest woman in the world was now at the center of attention of millions. And the most politicized, hence literaturewise  the weakest examples of her writing had been translated into  more than three dozen languages…

Surely, her release did not mean freedom. As her passport was confiscated, she could not attend the ceremonies of several imporatant awards in human rights, literature and arts such as European Cultural Foundation Award. Nine months later, just a  week before Erich Maria Remarque Prize ceremony, she was handed back her passport. In Germany she learned she can not return.

Currently, the writer is living in exile in Berlin. Her books have beeen translated into twenty one languages and she is the  holder of more than thirty prizes including Simone de Beauvoir Award, France; European Cultural Foundation Award, the Netherlands; Vaclav Havel Award, the USA; Erich Maria Remarque Prize, Germany; Words without Borders, Norway; Karl Tucholsky Award, Sweden , Chevalier des Arts et Letres among others. Her work has been staged in Milan, Graz and  Avignon, choreographed into classical ballet and dance theater, one of her short stories has been turned into a short film in France and Luk Percival has worked with her text for Geneva Opera fort the production of ‘‘Entfuhrung aus dem Serail‘‘. But in her own country, her trial still continues. She was acquitted of all charges in February 2020, however, months later another prosecutor objected and restarted the case. Her publisher refuses to publish her books, even to update  her biography still left in  2003, and took her to court when she tried to find another publisher. She had to undergo a second nationwide lynch campaign at the end of 2019, the week she was hospitalised for an operation, declared once again as a  pseudo writer, an immoral woman, a terrorist lover, a traitor…

Life, at least hers, likes irony… In its  crude forms… After a lifetime  of suffering from various diseases, which were  too easily taken as psychosomatical, she was finally diagnosed to have an underlying disease, a very rare, very nasty auto immune disease, CREST syndrome, so rare that it appears only in a  handful in a million. A discovery much too late… Like all else  in her life: Very early in my life, it was already too late.

Just to finish up formally as in all biographies: Aslı Erdoğan   had various jobs in her life. She has worked as a research physicist at CERN and as a teaching assistant in BU and PUC, trained in classical ballet, danced and choreographed for professional theater,  wrote geographical articles, worked as a columnist for national and international papers, worked as a translator and teacher of English, prepared radio programmes on classical music and literature , held seminars in mythology in Diyarbakir Art Center, the first art center in Diyarbakir, as one of the volunteers in its foundation, held literary workshops in high security prisons. She joined four exhibitions as a conceptual artist and collaborated  with artists  as Ghada Amer and Francois Daireaux. Her work was adapted into theater, ballet, opera,radio and film. Most recently she has worked with Luk Percival on the Mozart opera , an ongoing project in Germany.

Residences

  • Maison des Ecrivains Etrangers et des Traducteurs M.E.E.T., St. Nazaire, (February-March 2005.)
  • International Centre for Writers and Translators, Rhodes, (February of 2007,2004, 2003, 2002, 2001)
  • PASSA PORTA, Belgium (May 2006)
  • Andre Malraux Institute, Sarajevo (April-May 2007)
  • Heinrich Böll Haus (August-December 2009)
  • Kultur Kontakt, Austria (October-November,2010)
  • Alte Schmiede-Neuer Wiener Diwan (December 2010)
  • City Writer of Zürich (December 2011-June 2012)
  • Margerite Yourcenar (June,July 2012)
  • Writer-in-exile in Graz, Austria (from August 2012 to July 2013)
  • ICORN writer in Krakow in 2015
  • ICORN writer in Frankfurt since September 2017

International Meetings, Festivals (Last years)

  • Les Nuits, Les jours de Querbes; August 2004.
  • Stavenger Festival of Literature and Freedom of Expression (honorary guest); September 2004.
  • Reading with E.S. Ozdamar; September 2004, Antwerp.
  • Festival Teatro Mediterraneo; (Text Acted in Piccolo Theatre); October, 2004.
  • Les Bonheurs de Babel, St. Nazaire; November 2004.
  • Winternacten Literary Festival, Den Haag (replacing Orhan Pamuk); January 2005.
  • St. Malo Festival du Livre et du Film, “Etonnants Voyageurs”; May, 2005.
  • Sarajevo International festival du Livre; May, 2005.
  • Jakarta Literary Biennale; September 2005.
  • Winternachten Literary Festival 2006 (for commemoration of Henk Van Woerden)
  • Festival of Mid-Eastern Literature, Kopenhagen, September 2006
  • Ubud Literary Biennale, October 2006
  • SICA Meeting, Amsterdam, January 2007
  • Berlin Literatur Festival 2007
  • First literary festival of Suriname 2008
  • Twice in Frankfurt and Leipzig Book Fairs
  • Readings in  Berlin, Cologne, Hannover, Dresden, Hamburg, Essen, Bonn and various German cities
  • Rauris Festival 2008 and readings in Linz and Salzburg in 2009
  • Die Festival 2009, readings in Lyon, Grenoble,Paris and Marseille Festival
  • Readings in Basel and Zurich as a part of a project of Goethe Institute, June 2010
  • Les Marathon des Mots, Literary Festival 2010, Brussels
  • Joint reading with Josef Winkler in Alte Schmiede,  December 2010
  • Reading in Kultur Huset, Stockholm, which had invited writers as Ian Mc Ewan this fall
  • ”MAIN SPEECH” in Lillehammer Literary Festival, 2011
  • Copenhagen Literary Festival, 2012
  • Readings in Zürich, Basel and Zug, Solothurn Literary Festival in 2012
  • Reading in Odeon, as a part of the Meditterenean Festival organized by Alte Schmiede, Wien, 2012
  • Conference, FREE MUSE, Oslo, 2012

Aslı Erdoğan was amongst the writers and intellectuals who joined the modernity conferences hosted by the Presidency of Germany. The list of literary festivals and readings or discussions the author has taken part of in the last years is very long. Just a few selective ones will be mentioned. Conrad Festival (Poland) in 2015, Passa Porta (Belgium), Reading in Kultur Huset with Ian Mc Ewan (Stockholm), honorary guest of Brussels Book Fair, Malta Literary Festival (2018),  UN Conference (Geneva), readings and reception by the mayor in Pittsburgh, discussions in Frankfurt Book Fair in 2017 and 2018, various readings in Italy, Switzerland, France and Germany.

Education and Jobs

  • Graduate of Istanbul American Robert College (1984)
  • BS in Computer Engineering, Bosphorus University in 1988 and MS in Physics in 1993
  • Started PhD in physics in PUC (Brasil) but quit after the publication of her first novel (published scientific articles in 1993)
  • Honorary doctor of Literature, Jules Verne University, 2019
  • First job as a dancer of classical ballet, danced on TV, professional theater, and musicals, also did some choreography, worked as a ballet teacher
  • During her university years, worked as a dancer and gave private lessons on math and physics, worked also on social research.
  • Office job debut as a programme developer for PIAR-GALLUP in 1989
  • Teaching assistant in Bosphorus University, Physics Department from 1990 to 1994
  • Research physicist at CERN from 1992-1993, on leave from Bosphorus University
  • Teaching assistant at PUC, Brasil, 1994-95
  • Teacher of English in Brasil (Oxford method) and in Istanbul
  • Writer and translator (Turkish-English) of Atlas Geography Magazine in 1997
  • Columnist of Radikal (1998-2001) and again 2010
  • Columnist of Arena (Sweden) in 2012
  • Columnist of Özgür Gündem (2011-2016) and a free lance writer for KlasseKampen (Norway)   

Aslı Erdoğan has participated in various non profit projects. She has prepared radio programmes on music and literature, worked in favelas and with street children, held workshops in prisons. She is one oft he co-founders of Diyarbakir Art Center and has given many lectures there on literature, creative writng and mythology. She has also joined four exhibitions as a visual artist and has collaborated with artists as F. Daireaux and G, Amer.

Political Activities

Although she has acquired her fame as a political prisoner, the writer had never been a member of a party or a political group. But she was a keen human rights defender since 1993, when she defended the rights of African immigrants who were rounded up by police and put to a camp. Her first column, “The Others” was a major voice in defense of the rights of all victims, mainly the women and the prisoners. In her column in the pro-kurdish newspaper, she tackled more directly such taboos as Armenian genocide and the oppression of Kurds, while she wrote several essays on militarism, nationalism and gender discrimination.

As one of the first female conscientious objectors of Turkey, she has attended several seminars on militarism. She has been a member of PEN Writers in Prison Committee in 2000 and been the representative of Writers for Peace in 2016.

Before and after her prison stay, Aslı Erdoğan has been a strong voice in several international conferences on freedom of expression and thought as mainly a writer of literature.    

Books And Translations

Taş Bina ve Diğerleri

(“The Stone Building” 2009, Winner of Sait Faik Prize 2010)  

Swedish (Ramus) in October 2012

French (Actes Sud) in November 2012

Norwegian (Gyldendal)  in November 2012

Portuegese (Clube de Autor) in February 2017

English (The City Lights) in February 2018

German (Knaus-Penguin) in March 2019

Spanish (Armenia) in October 2020

Kurdish (Aryen) in August 2020

Publication in Indonesian is scheduled for 2020

Artık Sessizlik Bile Senin Değil

 (“Now Even the Silence No Longer Belongs to You”, a collection of essays first published in French)

French (Actes Sud) 2016

Audio book voiced by Katherine Deneuve in 2017

German (Knaus) in 2017

Turkish and German (Knaus) in 2017

Turkish  in 2017

Italien (Garzanti) in 2017

Swedish (Ramus) in 2017

Norwegian (Gyldendal) in 2017

Dutch (De Geus) in 2017

Greek (Potamos) in 2018

Romanian (Polirom) in 2018

Soon to be published in Croatian and Serbian

Kırmızı Pelerinli Kent

(“The City In Crimson Cloak ”, Novel, 1998)

Actes Sud, (France) April 2003, tittled “La Ville dont la Cape est Rouge”

Gyldendal (Norway), Marg Series, September 2004

Soft Skull (USA), tittled ‘‘The City in Crimson  Cloak ’’,2007

Cadmus (Syria and Lebanon), 2007

Unionsverlag (Germany) , ‘ Die Stadt mit der Roten Pelerine’,February 2008

Bosnian (Buybook), 2010

Swedish (Ramus), 2010

Macedonian (Gotan), 2012

Albanian (Gotan), 2012

Bulgarian (Agon 2011, Paradox 2017)

Danish (C/K Verlag), 2017

Greek (Potamos), 2019

Italien (Garzanti), 2020

Romanien (Polirom), 2020

Croatian (2020) 

Translations into Serbian,  Arabic(Egyptian), Kurdish are  in the progress.

Mucizevi Mandarin

(“The Miraculous Mandarin”;Novella,1996)

Actes Sud (France),  published May 2006

Ramus (Sweden),  September 2008

Galata (German) September 2008

Buybook (Bosnian) March 2009    

Gylendal (Norwegian) 2010

Italian (Keller) 2015

Greek (Potamos) 2017

Publications in Portuegese and Catalan scheduled for 2021.

Tahta Kuşlar

“The Wooden Birds”; A Collection of Short Stories

Published as “Holzvögel” in German in 1998 by Deutsche Welle-Onel, translated by Cornelius Bischoff

French (Actes Sud), 2009

Bulgarian (Paradox), 2010

Published as a book in Turkish and Catalan in 2016

The short story alone is translated to ten languages, including Bieolorussian and Lituanian

Hayatın Sessizliğinde

(“In The Silence of Life”; A Collection of poetic prose, 2005)            

Translated into Italian by Serra Yilmaz and acted in Milan

“Je t’interpelle dans la nuit”

Parts of  the book, ‘‘In the Silence of Life’’ was published in French by MEET        

Published in Bulgarien in October 2010 by Paradox

Requiem pour une Ville Perdue”  (Whole collection published under this tittle in French by Actes       Sud, 2020)

Kabuk Adam

(“The Shell Man, Novel,1994)

Bulgarien (Paradox) 2010

French (Actes Sud) 2018

Norwegian (Gyldendal,2019)

Bir Delinin Güncesi; Bir Kez Daha

(“Diary of a Perturbed  Woman”, “Once Again”, 2006, Collections of essays and political satire)

”Journal de une Detraquee”, in Folio 2006

Japanese (2015)

Click for Asli Erdogan Short Biography, Bibliography and Prizes 2018 – Prepared by Pierre Astier