Ayşe Papatya Bucak, 41, author of The History of Girls, will see her work published in the 2013 PEN/O’Henry Prize Stories and the 2014 Pushcart Prizes: Best of the Small Presses XXXVIII. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Ron Hayes
On the wall of her third-floor office in Florida Atlantic University’s Culture & Society Building, the director of the university’s creative writing program has posted a sign she doesn’t need to read.
Live What You Love.
The sign is there to inspire all those aspiring novelists and poets Ayşe Papatya Bucak encourages — and criticizes — each term.
“Yes, I was one of those,” she says with a laugh. “As a child, once I’d learned to read, I thought, ‘Oh, how do you do this?’ You want to create what you’ve enjoyed so much.”
Bucak’s love of reading led to a love of writing. And now, living what she loves has led to her upcoming appearance in two of the nation’s most prestigious fiction anthologies.
In September, The History of Girls, an eerie tale of the living and dead conversing under a collapsed building, will be published in the 2013 PEN/O’Henry Prize Stories.
And next year, Iconography, a surreal fable of a university hunger striker, can be found in the 2014 Pushcart Prizes: Best of the Small Presses XXXVIII.
For those unfamiliar with the O’Henry and Pushcart prizes, suffice it to say that Bucak joins such writers as John Irving, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Saul Bellow and Tim O’Brien, all previous winners of one or both awards.
“It’s been a nice year,” she says.
Bucak (pronounced Boo-jack) was born in Istanbul of a Turkish father and American mother and came to Ardmore, Pa., at the age of 4. She earned a B.A. from Princeton University, an M.F.A. from Arizona State, and has been at FAU since 2003. She lives in Delray Beach.
“The first thing I tell my students is, ‘Tortoise beats hare,’ ” she says. “They’re 23, and they want to be rich and famous and published. But you have to put your time in. It helps to have talent, but perseverance is far more necessary.”
Bucak knows. An early novel, Wood For Stone, never sold. One publisher was interested but wanted a stronger, more commercial plot. She declined. Since then, her short fiction has appeared in The Iowa Review, Glimmer Train and Prairie Schooner, among other literary reviews.
“I’m lucky,” she says. “I have a full-time job, so I don’t have to be commercial to keep my house. I can write what I want.”
Right now, she’s concentrating on a series of short stories that draw on her Turkish heritage, while pondering a second novel.
“Commercial fiction helps you get away from life,” she says. “Literary fiction makes you want to engage life. I’m interested in writing that’s accessible but also wants to say something.”
In addition to writing and teaching, Bucak keeps a blog, Reading For Writers, on which she comments on the books she’s read and writers she admires.
“My favorite novel of all time is Catch-22,” she says. “That’s my desert island book.”
Even on that desert island, though, she would still write.
“I tell my students they have to learn how to write any place, under any circumstances, for any length of time,” she says.
Or, as the sign on her door puts it: Don’t Forget To
Bucak’s blog, Reading For Writers, can be visited at http://readingforwriters.blogspot.com/p/personal-favorites.html.