Fifteen Questions with F. Orhan Pamuk

The Nobel Prize winning novelist sits down with FM to talk about the writing life and life at Harvard.

As if Harvard didn’t already have enough rockstar professors, we just managed to snag F. Orhan Pamuk, the famed Turkish novelist and Nobel Laureate, as Harvard’s Charles Eliot Norton Lecturer of the semester. The English Department’s new kid on the block will be giving guest talks on the art of the novel, which will be open to all at Sanders Theater. The Columbia professor, who splits his time between New York and Istanbul, sits down with FM to chat about Harvard, freedom of speech, and why winning isn’t everything.

1. Fifteen Minutes:  You are currently delivering a series of talks titled, “The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist.” What is the main focus of your lectures?

Orhan Pamuk: My lectures are focused on the art of the novel. They are from the point of view of the practitioner, not of the scholar or the historian.

2. FM: What do you hope to achieve during your time as Harvard’s Charles Eliot Norton Lecture this fall?

OP: First, as a professor, it is a joy to be here meeting students in various classes and looking at the interested audiences as they listen during my lectures. Next, as a writer, this is the best opportunity that I have to focus on my craft and write a book about the craft as I see it and as I practice it. Third, as a human being, what I want to achieve is to enjoy Harvard and be happy here.

3. FM: You’ve lectured at schools like Columbia University and Bard College. How do you think Harvard compares to other places that you’ve taught?

OP: At Harvard, there is more university self-consciousness. Everyone is proud to be at Harvard, especially young students, new faculty and new fellows. Me too, of course. I am new here as well!

4.FM: “My Name is Red” is possibly your most acclaimed novel. What do you think makes this book special?

OP: This book is about a painter’s dilemmas in Islam, and I actually painted until the age of 23. I knew how it felt to be a painter, when your hand does one thing, while your mind and your eye watch with amazement, as if someone else is drawing. I wanted to pass this experience to the reader.

5.FM: Which one of your characters are you most like and why?

OP: [Laughs] I distribute my feelings and my perceptions of the world through all of my characters. I don’t want any of them to look too similar or different from me. In “My Name is Red”, I appear as a small boy. I am also close to the protagonists in “Snow” and “The Black Book”.

6. FM: Which of your books are you most proud of?

OP: I can’t say I’m most proud of any of them, because the relationship is more complicated than that.  I am very deeply involved with my books, I wrote them. They’re like a part of my body.

7.  FM: These books have won you countless awards, including the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. What’s the best part about winning the Nobel?

OP: It’s a lot of joy and makes life easier. Doors open by themselves. You have more strength to address readers. It brings you a lot of prestige, which makes life easy.