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For a man who has spent his life around books and is known to write 10 hours a day, a press tour can be a bit of a breather for Orhan Pamuk.
Sitting in his publisher Knopf’s offices on Friday afternoon, fresh from a public radio interview about his first nonfiction title, “Other Colors,” out now, Pamuk says cheerily, “All these friends of mine call this work — this is fun.”
Accepting the Nobel Prize for literature, as he did last year in Stockholm’s City Hall before a 1,000-plus crowd, now that’s daunting. A remnant of that experience, the lyrical acceptance speech he delivered named “My Father’s Suitcase,” is featured in “Other Colors.” Major awards aside, the author is most often inspired by the everyday occurrences that others would blindly let pass. Chapter titles like “Seagull in the Rain,” “My Wristwatches,” “To Look Out the Window” and “Frankfurter” don’t exactly seize the reader.
“The challenge of being a literary writer is to see things differently, to look at an empty living room, a chair, an empty wall or a flat, uninteresting landscape and to have your imagination work over some things. James Joyce called these moments of epiphany,” he said.
That doesn’t mean Pamuk is afraid to tackle weightier subjects. In “In Kars and Frankfurt,” he hints at improving mankind, “By putting ourselves in another’s shoes, by using our imaginations to shed our identities, we are able to set ourselves free.”
In fact, liberty, whether it be in the traditional sense or freedom of speech, is something Turkey’s most famous writer has been outspoken about and subsequently chastised for in his homeland for years. In 2005, he blasted his country’s acquired amnesia about the 1915 Armenian genocide and for suppressing the Kurdish minority. Still, Pamuk does not see himself as a political figure. “I see myself as a writer who has fallen into the political side sometimes, based on some comments I made that were taboo. In Turkey, there are so many things we can’t talk about. I don’t have a political agenda. I have political ideas. But very few go into my novels.”
This story first appeared in the October 8, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Recently, Pamuk, a Columbia University professor, closed on a Riverside Drive apartment. “I feel freer in New York,” Pamuk says. “In Turkey, I felt responsible for political sin, cultural sin — for everything.”
His life in the States, however, remains quite uncomplicated. He doesn’t own a TV, preferring to read, take near-constant notes, spend time with his 16-year-old daughter, take walks and watch DVDs. Any downtime often leads him back to his desk. “Writing is neither a business nor a job, it is something I get delight from. And when I have more time, I write,” he said. “I am not such a superficial person to be happy with the success of my books. I need literature and writing not for my ego but sort of like a pill or medicine I need to take every day.”