Ten Terrifying Questions with Eda Gunaydin!

by |May 25, 2022
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Eda Gunaydin is a Turkish-Australian essayist and researcher whose writing explores class, capital, intergenerational trauma and diaspora. You can find her work in the Sydney Review of Books, Meanjin, The Lifted Brow and others. She has been a finalist for a Queensland Literary Award and the Scribe Nonfiction Prize. Root & Branch is her debut essay collection.

Today, Eda Gunaydin is on the blog to take on our Ten Terrifying Questions! Read on …

Eda Gunaydin

Eda Gunaydin

1. To begin with, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in the western suburbs of Sydney and went to school there. When I was about nineteen I moved into the inner west of Sydney and studied English and Politics at the University of Sydney (where I still work, teaching and completing a PhD). So I’d characterise myself as a writer and a researcher, in two pretty disparate fields (I write personal essays and cultural criticism, and my dissertation is about Middle Eastern politics). I’m also, importantly, a Sagittarius (I’ve said this as a joke so many times that it’s stopped being one).

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to be a memoirist, I think. I read Augusten Burroughs’ books (totally inappropriate for a twelve year old, to be clear, but I did it secretly) and they, in the long-run, changed the course of my life, although of course I didn’t do anything to action this desire at the time.

When I was eighteen I think I flirted with the idea of becoming a microbiologist, because of a crush I had. But I turned out to be fatally bad at science and utterly incapable of making it to my 8am Chemistry lectures. So I fell back on English literature and Politics in university, and found leftism at uni (a common tale, I suspect). I don’t think I had any grand designs for my future, though. I was having kind of a tough time at this age, so I was mostly trying to get through every day and support my loved ones.

And, I’m the tender age of twenty-eight now, so I can’t answer that final question yet. I hope that I will want to be what I want to be now, which is more patient, more kind, and a brilliant writer.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you don’t have now?

That most people are bad. I distinctly remember insisting this to someone: “Ninety-nine percent of people are awful,” I said, and called myself a misanthrope. She gently disagreed, and I thought I’d always feel that way, but now I don’t really recognise the person who believed this. I hope it means I’ve developed a lot more compassion for others. I certainly no longer believe in the idea of ‘bad people’: as I say in my book, there aren’t really (that many) bad people, just bad coping mechanisms.

4. What are three things – this could be a book, painting, piece of music, film, etc – that influenced your development as a writer?

The film A Serious Man by the Coen brothers; the book The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut; and Barış Manço’s music.

‘I wrote it because I have always struggled to answer the question of how to be here – to be fully present in my life, and in Australia – with nowhere else, realistically, to go.’

5. Considering the many artistic forms out there, what appeals to you about writing non-fiction?

I started off writing fiction, actually, but I write too much about my own life for any other form to sustain me. I also read way too much theory (thanks to my day job as a political theorist), which inevitably finds its way into my work, to do anything but write essays. I also am deeply invested in the material reality of our world – our living conditions – and am extremely nosy – wanting to know everything about everyone. Both of those things make non-fiction kind of inevitable for me.

6. Please tell us about your latest book!

My debut essay collection is called Root & Branch. It’s a book of essays, some quite personal, that reflect on capitalism, class and class mobility; race, being a second-generation migrant and living in diaspora; Western Sydney; and inter-generational trauma. I wrote it because I have always struggled to answer the question of how to be here – to be fully present in my life, and in Australia – with nowhere else, realistically, to go. Jhumpa Lahiri recently commented that, “Because of my divided identity, or perhaps by disposition, I consider myself an incomplete person, in some way deficient,” and I felt compelled to publish this book in response to that, and offer an alternative take on that.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope the book acknowledges that life is full of trauma (the ones we inherit, the ones we experience, the ones that major life events like migration give us) and that it’s hard for many of us to feel at home (where we live, in our bodies, etc). And I hope that the take-away people get from the book is that we don’t have to think of ourselves as deficient just because of these things.

8. Who do you most admire in the writing world and why?

Essayists who I want to be more like include Maria Tumarkin, Ellena Savage and Fiona Wright.

Theorists I adore, whose insights help sharpen mine, and make me want to not just interpret the world, but also to change it, include Noam Chomsky, Mark Fisher, Gavin Mueller, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Sabrina Strings, and Jodi Dean.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I discuss in the book that I used to be extremely ambitious but am not so much anymore: I just want to be remembered well, after I die, by the people I love, as having had zeal, stuck to my values, and shown patience and kindness. My only professional goal as a writer is to make a living writing books (not easy to do where I live!), without having to work two or three other jobs. And more than anything else, I hope that people read my work and that it helps them not just understand me, but understand themselves.

10. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

The cynic in me says treat everyone well on the off-chance you encounter them again. The idealist in me says treat everyone well because it’s the right thing to do. But, treat everyone well. And find a community: not just one that you take from, but one that you give back to. Be in your community: read your peers’ work, go to their events, joy in their successes and join them in raging about their losses. The stakes in writing are in some ways very low: most of us will never be rich or famous! So relax and spend time with the people who are passionate about the same thing that you’re passionate about.

Thank you for playing!

Root & Branch by Eda Gunaydin (NewSouth Publishing) is out now.

Root & Branchby Eda Gunaydin

Root & Branch

Essays on inheritance

by Eda Gunaydin

There is a Turkish saying that one’s home is not where one is born, but where one grows full – dogdugun yer degil, doydugun yer. Mixing the personal and political, Eda Gunaydin’s bold and innovative writing explores race, class, gender and violence, and Turkish diaspora.

Equal parts piercing, tender and funny, this book takes us from an overworked and underpaid café job in Western Sydney, the mother-daughter tradition of sharing a meal in the local kebab shop, to the legacies of family migration...

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