The Struggle for Modern Turkey | Free Word

21 October 2019
19:15 20:15-

Presented by:
English PEN


Justice, activism and a revolutionary female journalist

Sabiha Sertel rewrote history. She was a woman of firsts. Modern Turkey’s first professional female journalist. The first to face prosecution and imprisonment for her writings. And the first to end her life in political exile.

Shortly before her death in 1968, Sertel completed her autobiography Roman Gibi (Like a Novel), written during her forced exile in the Soviet Union. Translated into English for the first time, it offers a rare perspective on Turkey’s history as it moved to embrace democracy, then violently recoiled. Sertel’s unique first-hand account foreshadows Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian state with remarkably relevant insights for 21st century readers.

At a time when press freedom is under attack worldwide, Sertel’s memoir provides timely lessons for journalists, intellectuals and activists in Turkey and beyond confronting a surge in authoritarian repression.

Sertel was born into revolution in 1895 as an independent Turkey rose out of the dying Ottoman Empire. A passionate feminist, and committed socialist, her unrelenting push for democracy and social reforms ultimately cost Sertel her country and freedom.

Co-editors Tia O’Brien, journalist and granddaughter of Sabiha Sertel, Nur Deriş, independent translator, interpreter and grandniece of Sertel, and Kaya Genç, author and essayist, will join in conversation discuss this revolutionary journalist and her book with chair of English PEN Maureen Freely.


Presented by English PEN in association with IB Tauris and SOAS.

21 October 2019
19:15 - 20:15
£8 / £5

English PEN


Tia O’Brien

Reporter and Editor

Tia O’Brien is and an award-winning reporter and editor based in San Francisco. Her journalism focuses on politics, business and technology, Turkey and consumer affairs. She is the granddaughter of Sabiha Sertel.

Nur Deris

Translator and Interpretor

Nur Deris is a freelance translator and interpreter, who has worked most recently at Bosphorus University, Istanbul. She is the grandniece of Sabiha Sertel,

Maureen Freely

Author, Journalist and Translator

Maureen Freely is an author, journalist, translator and academic, who has written seven novels, as well as non-fiction. She is professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick and the director of its writing programme. Her novel Sailing through Byzantium was named as one of the best novels of 2014 in both the TLS and the Sunday Times, and she has translated five books by the Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. She is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Kaya Genç

Novelist and Essayist

Kaya Genç is a novelist and essayist whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review, and TIME Magazine, among others. He is the Istanbul correspondent of The LA Review of Books and a contributing editor at Index on Censorship. His first novel, L Avventura was published in 2008. He is the author of Under the Shadow (I.B.Tauris, 2017), an account of the Gezi Park uprisings and the coup attempt of December, 2016. His latest book The Lion and the Nightingale: A Journey Through Modern Turkey is publishing on October 17th, 2019.