Having been one of the contributors to the Tales from the Expat Harem anthology over a decade ago, I was excited to see a call for submissions for a new compilation. The spirit of the project remains — foreign women in Turkey sharing their experiences — but the focus this time is centered around food. For anyone who has been here for more than, say, two weeks, you know that Turkey and food go hand in hand. Sofra is an interesting word because it is what a regular masa (table) magically turns in to when it is filled with food. Hearing the word I am immediately reminded of the many times my mother-in-law summoned us to feast, yelling “sofra hazır!” or when she advised me to always make sure the sofra is set (complete with table cloth) when guests arrive as it will make them feel welcome. So I think the new direction of this anthology is perfectly appropriate in capturing what it means to live in Turkey. Don’t have a story only about food? No worries, say the editors, because any story about Turkey has a food related element just waiting to be excavated. Their advice is to just start telling your story and the food connection will emerge.
Speaking of the editors, Katherine and Rose are a dynamic duo — both are seasoned expats, writers, multitaskers, moms and all around creative types who are smart, fresh, and fun to work with. Check out their web site www.expatsofra.com to learn more about them and see some great photography by Journey Collective. They also agreed to sit down and answer some questions about their new project.
What is the spirit of the project?
Our project, Sofra: A Gathering of Foreign Voices Around the Turkish Table, is part of a wider vision of bringing expat-hood, Turkey, and food together into one, hopefully taste-full, book and community.
What gave you the inspiration to start?
As longtime expats in Turkey, we feel deeply rooted here and would love to share a meaningful side of the country we love and respect that is not commonly portrayed in mainstream media. As writers, and Rose also an artist, we have always felt inspired in Turkey, and starting this project came naturally to us. Tales from the Expat Harem was the first expat anthology to chronicle the lives of expat women in Turkey and it came out in 2005. Although no longer in print in Turkey, Tales from the Expat Harem is still widely discussed and is available online through Amazon and Seal Press. We not only want to celebrate its ten-year anniversary, but also to add another chapter on the connection between food and expat experiences in Turkey in a myriad of flavors: savory, sweet, bitter, tangy, and spicy.
What kind of pieces are you looking for?
Just as the sofra is the heart of the Turkish hearth, we want stories that are steeped in the experience of being an expat in Turkey. We want stories that have depth and share real moments of being on an expat journey, and feel that food — from street food to sharing a third cup of tea — is a defining characteristic of navigating life abroad. It is the flavor of the story we are seeking — a savory moment, a sweet reunion, a bittersweet goodbye, the tang of a new experience, or a spicy, unexpected moment. Tell us about something that captivated you or made you brush tears away from your cheeks, but tell us about the pomegranates on the table while you spoke in hushed tones, or the first time you ate börek before you spoke a word of Turkish. How can you relate an experience in Turkey with the flavor of it?
Can the novice writer submit a piece?
Absolutely! We are accepting submissions from writers of all levels. Katherine was a novice writer when she submitted to Tales from the Expat Harem. Rose has been developing her craft with fiction over several years. We are seeking stories from all walks of life with the stipulation that it’s written in English and from a woman writer who has lived at least one year in Turkey. This is a chance to tell your story, and we will help and encourage along the way.
Once pieces are selected, how will the editing process work?
The deadline for submissions is April 1. We will release a long-list of writers in summer 2015 and announce the finalists late summer/early fall. We are committed to working closely with our writers — including writers for whom English is a second language — and know each piece will have individual needs.
Before announcing the finalists, we will provide editorial guidance on pieces that could be successful with revision. And publication in the book is not the only path to sharing your story — we will be engaging on social media and our blog. Have an open mind and be open to feedback, and get excited by your story!
Of note: Not all of our contributors may be currently living in Turkey. Stories may be a reflection of childhood, of a year abroad, or years spent making roots in Turkey. We look forward to working with writers all over the world.
Where and how will we be able to read all of the stories once the project is completed?
The stories will be available in both print and e-book form. More details on that will be announced at a later date.
What are you most looking forward to about working with expat writers?
Just when you think you are stuffed and have tried everything on the sofra, there comes a surprise — something you’ve never tasted before. For us, it is the excitement of tasting and seeing Turkey through the eyes of other expats. Learning something new. And sharing a ‘meal’ of sorts with other expats. We are both active in the Istanbul expat scene, so we are especially looking forward to reading the stories of expats from other parts of Turkey.
Do you have any tips or advice on writing to give to people?
Write from your heart. There are a ton of resources online that give tips on how to write creative non-fiction. However, we find that writing from the heart is the place to start for an anthology that asks you to take a seat at the Turkish table. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think of a moment that connected you to Turkey. Don’t be afraid to push your boundaries. Be fearless. Most importantly, before clicking ‘send’ make sure the piece is a true reflection of yourself.
Want to tell your story? Here are the submission guidelines:
Submission window is from January 1, 2015 to April 1, 2015. Unpublished work only. Contributors must have lived in Turkey for at least one year. Women only. Personal essays of 2,500 words or less. Please send your story as an attached Microsoft Word Document (.doc), double-spaced 12pt Times New Roman font to firstname.lastname@example.org. The email subject line should read: Last name, First Name: TITLE of your piece (in uppercase). No names on attached document please, title only. In body of email, please indicate which flavor your story represents (savory, sweet, bitter, tangy, or spicy). Simultaneous submissions accepted, but please notify the editors immediately if the work gets accepted for publication elsewhere. Long-listed writers will be announced Summer 2015. Payment $75 upon publication.
Featured Image Source: Journey Collective