‘New York Writes Itself.’ Splattered across a city bus, the words roll past me (writes Yeşim Cimcoz, photographed above by Monica Fritz). Maybe that was what started it all. I grab my mobile phone, write in the web address and before me opens a bright yellow website. People all over New York are writing at that very moment. New posts come in seconds. ‘Watch it lady!’ overheard at a bus stop in Queens. ‘What’s your poison?’ in a juice bar near Central Park. Bits and pieces, the voices of the city come together to create a story. The structure changes every time a post comes in. I spend hours pouring over new and old posts as New York comes to life before me.
Back in Istanbul, something tugs at me, won’t let go. Istanbul, too, is filled with stories. I am a writer. I write to understand, to give meaning to chaos. In a small tea garden by the Bosphorus, I begin to write. ‘Abi n’aber?’ two men greet each other at the table next to me. They don’t hug or kiss as most people here do. They hold each other's hands and touch heads. Even after 20 years in this city, this greeting surprises me. A child of maybe three walks past me; his grandmother, a spoon in her hand rushes after him. ‘Bak uçak geliyor!’ (Look, a plane's coming!); Turkish mothers feed. A well-fed child is sign of a good mother. Maybe these are what trigger me. I don’t have enough money to start a website or rent a space, so I will make Istanbul my writing house. If New York can write itself, so can Istanbul. I write a post on Facebook calling out to writers who, like me, want to write the city. We will meet in Kuzguncuk to walk the neighbourhood and write our impressions. The cost: TL20 for tea, coffee and cakes. Thirty five women show up that day. We walk, write, share our raw impressions, I post them on a website. We will write together, each time in another part of Istanbul, until a year later when I decide to create Yazı Evi (The Writing House).
It’s another New York story that triggers me: The Writers Room is the top floor of a high rise in the city. Writer’s become members. The Writers Room is open 24/7, a place for writers to write without distraction. That’s what I want to create. Istanbul is, after all, my New York. Somehow I have enough money to rent a small flat in Kadıköy. I put up a sign by the door – ‘Yazı Evi’ (The Writing House) – and we are in business. Friends, family are sceptical. Who, they ask, would come here to write? Why would someone go somewhere else to write, and pay money on top of it? But slowly they begin to trickle in. The writers I’ve been with for a year are my first students. They aren’t New Yorkers. Turks like to gather around a table, share, chat. They don’t want to write alone. They like ‘together’ and want to learn. I am a writer but I’m also a teacher. I teach. One of the participants writes great stories, reads voraciously. She is an English teacher. I ask. She accepts and now we are two teachers. I teach an introductory class in creative writing; she teaches short story. The students keep coming.
It has been six years now. Yazı Evi has grown. From our single-room flat in the Bahariye district of Kadıköy on the Asian side of Istanbul we have moved twice. Today Yazı Evi is a flat in a 200-year-old building in Moda. High ceilings, wooden floors, french windows, a winding staircase and a garden in the back. We have grown. Around one hundred students attend our 20 seminars and 10 workshops every month. About two years ago we branched out into the virtual world and opened up an online writing school. Like her sister, she is growing every day. We have a new branch developing slowly. It’s still an idea, a hope, an excitement: creative-writing workshops in English. Who knows where we will go from here?
Sometimes I believe the Writing House is her own person. She accepts or rejects people, workshops. There is an energy here that belongs to none of us, an energy that holds us together. Most of the participants are women, though a few men have the courage to come and share with us. I say courage because Yazı Evi is not so much about getting published or becoming literary. It is about having the courage to tell your story, in words, on paper. We come here to share, to express, to feed our creativity. Technique, structure, publishing and guidance come with the package for anyone who needs it. But in the end our mission is and has always been to let people write how life touches them, runs through them and finds itself on a page. Yazı Evi is a place to just write because writing feels good, because it let’s us breathe again, and gives meaning to the chaos that is life. Two cities, New York and Istanbul, maybe two parts of me, met on a street in New York and today Istanbul also writes herself.
Photographs by Monica Fritz
Yazı Evi, Bademaltı Sk. Hürriyet Ap. No: 3 Kat 1 Daire 3, Moda – Kadıköy