The Delicate Power of Stories

This beautiful talk by writer Elif Shafak has had me thinking about stories. As with any good story, Shafak’s talk is filled with humor, nuance and symbolism, as she gracefully describes her family background and experience of living as a child of a divorced mother in Turkey, going to international schools when her mother became a diplomat, and later living as an adult in the USA and Turkey.

Shafak explains how fictional stories, “cut across all boundaries,” and have the ability to help us look outside of ourselves and learn about people who are different than us.  She sees a danger in our tendency to gather people around ourselves that look and think just like us and build stereotypes around those who are not like us.

She goes on to point out that while stories are powerful, they, “lose their magic when they’re seen as more than a story.” This is interesting, because I’ve often been taught to look behind the story at what point the author is trying to make (although the best stories make me forget to do so!). Shafak writes international stories with diverse characters. She explains the expectations put on her as a Muslim woman to write about the “unhappy lives of Muslim women” in her stories. “I want to celebrate fiction for what it is, and not as a means to an end.”

Watch her talk below (or here) and let me know your thoughts about stories. Do stories always have a point, or are they most powerful as “just stories”? And, do you have any fiction reading recommendations?


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