Elif Shafak was born in October 25, 1972 in Strasbourg, France to lecturer Nuri Bilgin and diplomat Şafak Atayman. Her parents divorced a short while after she was born and she was raised mostly by her grandmother. Though her birth name is Elif Bilgin, she has used her mother’s name Şafak as her last name in her publications, and Shafak in her international publications.
She finished primary school in Ankara Kubilay Primary School in 1982 and middle school in Runnymede College, Madrid, where her mother was stationed at the time, in 1986. She gratuated from Ankara Atatürk High School in 1989 and the department of International Relations department in Middle East Technical University in 1994. She got her MA degree from the same university’s Women’s Studies department with her thesis, titled "Destructuring woman in İslam within the context of Bektashi and mawlawi thought”, which was awarded by Social Scientists Institute. She received her Ph.D. also from the same university, but this time from the department of Social Science with her thesis, titled “Women Prototypes in Turkish Modernization and Boundaries of Tolerance for Marginality”.
Her first short story collection Kem Gözlere Anadolu was published by Evrensel Kültür Kitapligi in 1994. Telling the story of a dervish who left the lodge to go to Istanbul in search of self-discovery, her debut novel Pinhan was published in 1997. It was awarded The Great Rumi Award in 1998 by Kombassan Trust.
After finishing her Ph.D., Elif Shafak moved to Istanbul from Ankara and published her second novel Sehrin Aynalari in 1999. She gave lectures on “Turkey and Cultural Identities”, “Women and Literature” in Istanbul Bilgi University. She received public recognition with her third novel Gaze, which was published in 2000. She states in her interviews that she started writing this novel on ideas and feelings about how “seeing, peeking and the eye shatters one’s privacy”. Gaze won Union of Turkish Writers' Best Novel Prize in 2000.
She published The Flea Palace in 2002 and The Saint of Incipient Insanities in 2004. In The Flea Palace, she told the stories of the dwellers of an apartment building from their point of views by using a postmodernist method that deconstructs “real” and “fiction”. She faced criticisms for The Saint of Incipient Insanities, in which she tells the story of three Turkish, Moroccon and Spanish students living in America with themes of identity, belonging and living inbetween, because she wrote the said novel in English. She explained the reason for this choice with “the novel’s progression in her mind and dreams in English”, and The Saint of Incipient Insanities was translated into Turkish by Asli Bicen.
She went to the United States for her post-doctoral research and gave lectures in various universities on topics such as Middle Eastern women writers, gender identities, literature and exile, memory and politics, sexuality and gender in Muslim countries. She also gave lectures as an assistant professor in Michigan University between 2003-2004, and afterwards in the department of Near East Studies in Arizona University.
Her previously published essays were collected and published under the title Med-Cezir in 2004. These essays dealt with topics such as women, identity, cultural schism, language and literature.
The Bastard of Istanbul, her second novel written in English, told the interconnected story of a Turkish and an Armenian family from female characters’ point of view. Published in 2006, this novel dealt with themes such as diaspora, tradition, gender, incest and folklore. Elif Shafak was charged with “insulting Turkishness” under Article 301 for The Bastard of Istanbul but the charges were later dismissed.
Her first autobiographic novel Black Milk, which was written about her post-natal depression after Shafak had her first baby, was published in 2007. In 2008, she was on the 27th International Istanbul Film Festival jury. In 2009, her third novel written in English, The Forty Rules of Love, in which she claimed to reveal her secret of sufism and dealt with both worldly and ethereal love, was published. Translated into Turkish by Kadir Yiğit Us and telling the story of Americans who were influenced by Sufism, The Forty Rules of Love was named the fastest selling book of all time in Turkey, selling more than 200.000 copies in a short period of time. It was also awarded with Prix ALEF - Mention Spéciale Littérature Etrangère in France. In 2010, she published her second collection of previously published essays with illustrations of M.K. Perker under the title Firarperest.
Her latest novel Honor, which was published in 2011, deals with familiar themes in Shafak’s work such as identity, sufism, belonging and migration from the point of view of half Turkish, half Kurdish Iskender who is an immigrant living in London. Written in English and translated into Turkish by Omca Korugan, Honor was subject to a lot of controversy because of its cover photograph that shows Shafak in man’s make-up and clothing and the claims of plagiarism from Zadie Smith novel White Teeth. Smith reportedly learned about the plagiarism claims through Hanif Kureishi and wrote a letter to Shafak and Shafak’s agency saying that she found the claims absurd.
Elif Shafak writes for various publicatons, including HaberTürk and The Guardian website. Her essays that were featured on Habertürk was published in her latest collection Semspare in 2012 with again M.K. Perker’s illustrations. Translated into thirty languages, her books are published abroad by publishers such as Viking, Penguin, Rizzoli and Phebus.
She married reporter and national newspaper Radikal’s editor-in-chief Eyüp Can Saglik in Berlin in 2005. She has a son and a daughter, named Emir Zahir and Şehrazat Zelda respectively.
Şemspare (2012 – Doğan Kitap)
Honor (2011 – Doğan Kitap)
Firarperest (2010 – Doğan Kitap)
Kâğıt Helva (2010 – Doğan Kitap)
The Forty Rules of Love (2009 – Doğan Kitap)
Black Milk (2007 – Doğan Kitap)
The Bastard of Istanbul (2006 – Metis)
Med-Cezir (2005 – Metis)
Beşpeşe (2004 – Metis)
The Saint of Incipient Insanities (2004 – Metis)
The Flea Palace (2002 – Metis)
The Gaze (2000 – Metis)
Şehrin Aynaları (1999 – Metis)
Pinhan (1997 – Metis)
Kem Gözlere Anadolu (1994 – Evrensel)
The Forty Rules of Love long listed for IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012.
Prix ALEF - Mention Spéciale Littérature Etrangère, Soufi, mon amour (Phébus), 2011.
Marka 2010 Award, Turkey
Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres,France 2010
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"
International Rising Talent, Women's Forum, Deauville, France, 2009
The Bastard of Istanbul, Long listed for Orange Prize for Fiction, London, 2008
Maria Grazia Cutuli Award - International Journalism Prize, Italy, 2006
The Flea Palace Short listed for Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, United Kingdom 2005
The Gaze, Union of Turkish Writers' Best Novel Prize, 2000
Pinhan, The Great Rumi Award, Turkey 1998
Selected Theses on Her Work
Akbatur, Arzu. “Writing/translating in/to English: The ‘ambivalent’ case of Elif Şafak”, Ph.D. thesis, Boğaziçi University, Translation and Interpreting Studies, December 2010, Supervisor: Assoc. Prof. Şehnaz Tahir Gürçağlar.
Pirinçci, Yıldız Sinem. "The dilemma of the gaze in Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus and Elif Şafak’s Mahrem (the Gaze)", MA thesis, Middle Eastern Technic Universitery, Department of Gender and Women Studies, September 2011, Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Yıldız Ecevit, Co-supervisor: Yrd. Doç. Dr. Nil Korkut.
Mol, Tümay. "Novel By Elif Şafak ‘Mahrem’ and the Power of Gaze", MA thesis, Istanbul Bilgi University, 2007, Supervisor: Bülent Somay.
Vargeloğlu, Deniz. “Kararmış sütten mürekkep elde etmek istedim”, Seninle, 2008.
Uludağ, Turgay. “Mahrem Üzerine”, TürkiyeOnline.com, http://www.elifsafak.us/roportajlar.asp?islem=roportaj&id=41 .
Türkmenoğlu, Fatih. “Elif Shafak Söyleşi”, Cosmopolitan, Mayıs 2004, http://www.elifsafak.us/roportajlar.asp?islem=roportaj&id=80.
Kaplan, Sefa. “Edebiyatta rekor Aşk 200 bin sattı”, Hürriyet, July 5, 2009, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/12006481.asp .