Prep Talk Too: Joanne Kutup

JOANNE ALIYE NOONAN KUTUP, granddaughter of Halikarnas Balıkçısı, one of the guest speakers at the the second PREP  talks. Everybody calls her Kuki.

Growing up she moved from place to place and she studied at Izmir Amerikan Kız Lisesi, Boston University, Boğaziçi University and the University of Manchester (Psychology). She loves travelling, her son, gardening and yoga. Her career started as a psychologist, but then moved on to teaching. She spent 12 years at IUE and now she is retired, translating her grandfather’s work.

Any suggestions on how to love what you are doing?

Be excited about everything. Have a passion, be curious. Ask questions, learn, try things, don’t be afraid. Just talk to people. Laugh a lot. The world is really yours.

Can you describe Halikarnas Balıkçısı from his granddaughter’s view?

I never knew that Halikarnas Balıkçısı was such an important literary figure because for me he was just my grandfather. My grandfather was incredibly smart and he had a good sense of humour. He would laugh and sing. He was around 80 years old when I was living with him and he was still able to talk to me. Not as a child, as a normal human being. He was just really special. I learnt from him how to gather seeds from trees and how to plant things.

How do you feel when you translate your grandfather’s work?

I feel very excited and happy. My grandfather is a part of me and we are going through this journey together. It won’t be the same as what he would have written, but it is my attempt to remember and to create his words as how he would say them. He was born in 1890 and he grew up speaking Ottoman. He knew Arabic, Turkish, English and a lot of other languages. I am not half as smart as he was, but I love English and words almost as much as he did.

Your grandfather wrote many books, you are translating them, what are your favorites?

My favorite is actually what I am translating now: Mavi Sürgün, ‘The Blue Exile’. It is very important for me, and I was very scared to try to translate it. Years ago, they asked my grandfather to do it and he said that he didn’t believe in translations. So, in the beginning I was very uncomfortable about translating his work and asked myself if I could really do it. Then, this year, because I have time and because I think I am mature enough now to do it, I sat down and as I translate, I swear he is watching me from over my shoulder and saying “aha, tamam, oldu” (“that’s it, you got it”). I love it because it is the story of his life and my mother’s life, and my grandmother’s life, and of course it leads to me and to my child and my brother and sister. It is the story of our lives, so it is very precious.

Have you got an interesting story about your grandfather?

When I was living with him, I was 13 and my grandfather used to take people to Ephesus as a tour guide because he didn’t earn enough money from his books. One day he came home and I said “dede, dede”, but he shut his eyes and said “go get your grandmother”. I brought my grandmother to the balcony and my grandfather opened his eyes when she was there. There is a tradition, a superstition that when you see the crescent moon, you make a wish. And when you open your eyes, the first person you see will be lucky. And for him that had to be my grandmother, that was how much they loved each other.

He was crazy about the sea. What about you?

I think all of us living in the Aegean are addicted to the sea. We can’t live without it. He loved the sea because when he went to Bodrum, Bodrum was not like it is today. It was very very different: no electricity, very few homes. He loved the sea because he saw the blue, the green, the yellow, the pink. He was an excellent artist because before he wanted to write, he wanted to draw. He was an awesome artist and he loved color. When he saw the sea, he made a small boat and went out fishing and that’s how he got the name ‘The Fisherman of Halikarnas’.

Interview by Deniz Seferoğlu and Gökberk Çetin