Özgen Felek
PhD Near Eastern Studies/Middle East Studies
CWPS 2007 Cohort

Özgen Felek is the lector of Ottoman Turkish in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. She holds two Ph.D. degrees, including one from Firat University in Turkey and a second from the University of Michigan. Before joining Yale, she was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (2013-2016), and a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University (2011-2013). She is currently working on a monograph on Sultan Murad III. With Prof. Walter G. Andrews, she has been translating the dream letters of the Ottoman Sultan Murad III (r. 1574-1595) into English as well. The first 100 letters were published digitally under the title, “The Sultan’s Dreams Project,” as part of the Newbook Digital Texts Project.

In addition to research, she has a strong interest in creative writing. She has also published short stories in several magazines in Turkey, and has been working on a trilogy. Felek is also an accomplished artist of Islamic illumination and miniature painting. She has been painting since 1989, and she taught this art at the Fırat University Youth Educational Center (FUGEM) in Turkey, the University of Michigan, and Stanford University.

Q: How did you hear about the World Performance Studies center?
In 2005, when I was a graduate student in the Near Eastern Studies department, I was working closely with Professor Walter Andrews from the University of Washington in Seattle on Ottoman dream literature. Our hope was to put on a theatrical performance of the work we were doing together as well. In my home department, theatre and drama were not typical ways of showcasing your research. Kristina Richardson, a dear friend of mine in Near Eastern Studies, had a fellowship from the [world performance studies] Center. When Kristina told me about the Center, I thought, ‘I am not a dancer. I am not an actress. I am not a musician. What am I going to do there?’ She highly recommended it, saying that I would learn about theories and ways to focus my research on the early-modern Ottoman dream literature from a new perspective. She insisted that I apply; I did and was then accepted.

Q: Tell us about some of your earlier projects. How has CWPS influenced your work?
Once I started reading about different theories and world performance research, I soon realized that dream telling is a performance, just like any other daily activity. I really loved the perspective I gained through course readings and conversations I had with others at the Center. I greatly benefitted from these theories while writing my dissertation, but more than this, I gained the confidence and skills needed to produce this kind of work moving forward. I knew this was the place I needed to be in.

Ottoman Poetry in the Age of Beloveds was a piece composed and narrated by Walter Andrews and performed by University of Michigan drama students. This was put on in September 2005. Professor E.J. Westlake was a great help in this project; she helped me recruit students from the drama department for the performance. The success of the Ottoman Poetry Night furthered our interest in performance projects, and Professor Andrews and I also wanted to stage Beauty and Love, one of the most acknowledged masterpieces of Islamic mystical poetry. Beauty and Love is an Ottoman Turkish verse romance written in 1783 by Sheikh Galip, who was the head of an influential Istanbul center of Rumi's order of whirling dervishes. Our hope was to highlight this romance through performance and make this mystical narrative accessible to students and modern Western audiences. We were able to complete this project with support from The Islamic Studies Initiative, Center for World Performance Studies, The Center for Middle Eastern & North African Studies, The University of Michigan International Institute, The Institute of Turkish Studies, and Near Eastern Studies.

The Center was a great support for these shows. I am especially grateful to Professors Mbala Nkanga and Glenda Dickerson for their amazing help and support. There was no way I could have done it without their help.

Q: What are some of your current works and projects?
I graduated from Michigan in 2010 and worked at Stanford University for two years. While at Stanford, I instructed a painting course that taught and encouraged students to illuminate texts from the Ottoman world. At the end of the semester, we even organized an exhibition with my students’ paintings. This class was very performative and definitely inspiration from my past performative research. After Stanford, I was a postdoctoral researcher at the graduate center in CUNY in Manhattan for three years. Then in 2016, I joined the faculty at Yale University.

A few years ago, I left my full time position at Yale to finish my first short story book and a trilogy that I have been working on for a few years. It has always been my dream to be an author. Since I was six years old, I knew I was going to be an author! I started writing and publishing in my high school years. I owe it to myself to continue with my dream and see my works come to light.

My short stories are about common people residing in the United States, focusing on immigrants and common difficulties people face -- financial trouble, job insecurity, health concerns. These are issues many people aren’t aware of when they talk about the “American dream”.

I still teach courses on Ottoman Turkish and manuscripts at Yale. I still write academic pieces, I still get invitations for book chapters, articles, and talks. But I am working full time on my short stories and my trilogy.

Q: What advice do you have for current and future CWPS graduate students?
The Center was a great community, it felt like a family! I felt comfortable visiting with professors and cohort members anytime. The togetherness of the program helped me gain confidence in my research and endeavors. I encourage you to get involved with the Center and get to know those around you. Plan dinners together, talk about your research with one another. I still keep in touch with some cohort members. The memories I had at the Center have stayed with me throughout the years.