Yalçın Tosun’s story “Muzaffer and Bananas,” translated by Abby Comstock-Gay, was performed as a part of WWB’s Selected Shorts event at Symphony Space on Wednesday, February 27. We spoke with Tosun about his inspirations, writers he admires, and his impetus for writing “Muzaffer and Bananas.”
What inspired you to become a writer and what inspires your writing today? Has your relationship to your work changed over time?
I don’t believe in inspiration. I believe in constant observation and the necessity of working hard. I think that a writer should never underestimate the power of curiosity and should always follow his/her intuitions. My relationship to my work has not really changed over time. The only thing I can add is that I’ve written more slowly in recent years.
Do you feel that you’re writing within (or against) a specific cultural or linguistic tradition? What authors or works that have influenced you?
Turkish literature has a very powerful short-story tradition. But I don’t feel that I’m writing within or against a linguistic tradition. I have my own writers who have guided me over the years: Katherine Mansfield, Raymond Carver, André Gide, Cesare Pavese, Italo Svevo, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Also great Turkish writers, such as Sait Faik Abasıyanık, Füruzan, and Sevim Burak.
In your work, do you find that you return to particular ideas or themes?
I think so. In my short stories, I generally talk about outsiders, young people with gender issues, the difficulty of being somebody, and familial problems. I think that my work is all about uncertainty and I don’t like to reveal all the details to readers. Finally, I try to provide some memorable moments that I want readers to live with for a while.
Are there other contemporary writers from Turkey who you wish more people were reading?
I think there is a new generation of writers coming up and I’m quite hopeful. It’s unfortunately hard to name all of them here.
Your story “Muzaffer and Bananas,” which appeared in Words Without Borders, portrays the friendship between two teenage boys with a humor and a tenderness that one doesn’t always find in depictions of male friendship. Was that something you were consciously considering when you conceived of the story?
It’s again about our limitations and borders, set mostly by heteronormative society. I love to think about the possibility of relationships between people who seem separate or distant from each other. I generally try to look at things and people from a different angle. Therefore, in my short stories there are delicate teenage boys who can build tender relationships with each other, as happens in real life. Those relationships are always there—we just need to look closely to notice them.
Born in Ankara in 1977, Yalçın Tosun teaches law at İstanbul Bilgi University. His first story collection, Anne, Baba ve Diğer Ölümcül Şeyler (Mom, Dad and Other Fatal Things, 2009), won the Notre Dame de Sion Prize for literature. His second collection, Peruk Gibi Hüzünlü (Sad like a Wig, 2011), won the 2012 Sait Faik Prize. After his third story collection, Dokunma Dersleri (Lessons in Touching, 2013), he published his most recent collection, Bir Nedene Sunuldum (I Was Offered to a Cause, 2015), for which he won the 2016 Yunus Nadi Literature Prize. He also writes poems and lyrics, and published his first poetry book, Kendini Tutan Su (The Water Restraining Itself from Flowing), in 2016.