Literature Series


in discussion with the author Gündüz Vassaf
and Meryem Demir, preceptor in modern Turkish, Harvard University

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2023 | 4:30 pm

Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Room 102
Harvard University, 38 Kirkland Street, Cambridge

Co-presented with Harvard University Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Ressamin Isyani Gunduz Vassaf

The Painter's Rebellion is significant as the first prose novel of the prolific author Gündüz Vassaf.

A voyage of discovery into the multifaceted character of the enigmatic Caravaggio, intertwined with a love story. This 'non-formulaic' text, incorporating fiction, biography, poetry and song, questions what it means to be human, examining the role of art, literature, history, religion, and gender in dialogue with eminent figures across history.

The novel is a love letter to art and passion and a search for justice for Giordano Bruno and Caravaggio.


Gunduz Vassaf

Gündüz Vassaf has been writing since 1987, prior to which he was a psychologist and university lecturer.

He graduated from George Washington University, where he studied psychology on a football scholarship. As a young man he worked in various jobs, as a mental hospital guard and a language teacher in the USA, then in Turkey as a radio announcer and managing editor at the Daily News.

After receiving his doctorate in psychology, he worked as a clinical psychologist at Ankara University's Student Health Centre and later at the Averroes Stichting in Amsterdam. He developed the first intelligence test in Turkey, which he later regretted. For many years, he drew attention to the fact that these tests were a kind of intelligence massacre.

After working as a clinical psychologist, he taught at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul for several years before resigning in protest at the military coup in Turkey which abrogated academic freedom. He was then Visiting Professor in Germany and subsequently a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Vienna, before turning to full time writing.

He served as the European and Middle Eastern coordinator of the American Psychological Association's community psychology section, was a founding member of the Committee for Peace of the International Union of Psychological Science and of the Turkish Psychological Association and the founder of the Istanbul Amnesty International Section.

Gündüz Vassaf has published seventeen books in Turkish. They include fiction, poetry, and essays focusing on the psychology of everyday life with an overarching theme of the quest for freedom. His writing weaves literature, anecdotes, philosophy, and psychology. His 1992 book Prisoners of Ourselves: Totalitarianism In Everyday Life has sold over 200,000 copies and has become a cult classic in Turkey.

A leading figure in Turkish intellectual life, Vassaf had a weekly cultural column in the newspaper Radikal for eighteen years and subsequently hosted a weekly discussion group on Turkish television for a year, covering topics such as
youth, social class, religion, literature, feminism, and the future. He has given many interviews over the years, many of which are available on YouTube.

A biography of his life and work by Kürşad Oğuz was published under the title Gündüz Feneri in 2011.

His latest book, The Painter's Rebellion is his first novel in prose.


Meryem Demir

Meryem Demir is the Preceptor in Modern Turkish in the department of Near Eastern Language and Civilizations of Harvard University.

Before arriving at Harvard in July 2018, Meryem Demir was an Ataturk Turkish Fellow of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh for two years and a Turkish lecturer at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara for seven years.

She received her BA (Istanbul University) and MA (Marmara University) in Turkish Education and her PhD in Turkish Literature from Bilkent University with her dissertation title, “Youths of the Young Literature: Youths, Future and the Ideals in the Late Ottoman Novel.” She taught a broad range of courses including Turkish (as a native language and as a foreign language), Critical Reading, Culture-Society, and Literary Criticism, Oral Communication and Written Expression.

Meryem Demir’s research interest draws on Modern Turkish Language and Literature, late 19th and early 20th Century Ottoman Modernization, Literary Criticism, Discourse Analysis, and Stylistics. She also published several conference papers and journal articles, and she is a published short story writer.