Ayse Papatya Bucak made a visit to Minnesota State University, Mankato as one of the featured authors in the Good Thunder Reading program on campus. As stated from the Good Thunder Reading program’s website, Bucak was born in Istanbul, who was then moved to and raised in Pennsylvania.
She then continued her education endeavors at Princeton University for a Bachelor of Arts, and then went on to obtain her Masters of Fine Arts from Arizona State University.
Bucak has received multiple awards for her writing, including Kenyon Review, the Iowa Review, and Brevity. She won the Story Prize Spotlight Award and Robert W. Bingham Prize in 2020 for her story collection “The Trojan War Museum”. Bucak currently teaches for the MFA program at Florida Atlantic University.
On Thursday night, Bucak read a short story she wrote, titled “Iconography”. The subject was one of intrigue: it followed a Turkish girl attending an American university, who one day refuses to eat.
“First, she fasts in silence,” Bucak read. But soon, the girl’s roommate begins to notice and takes her to the university’s health center. People begin to try to get the girl to eat, but, despite everyone coming together to help her, they are unsuccessful.
Following this downfall, the university sends a man in to speak with the girl –an alumnus who lived in a tree for two years. He asks her to eat.
“You need to live so you can spread your message,” the tree boy says.
“My death is my message,” is the girl’s response.
The student body begins to catch on, and start camping outside the health center. People are convinced that it’s a political motive, whether she’s making a stand against global warming, fast food, or pesticides, but “she was not terribly political, not terribly religious, not even terribly Turkish,” as Bucak read.
The girl’s parents soon try to come over from Turkey in order to help her but get caught up in customs at the airport. Word of her story starts to get out and the nation begins to think of her as a symbol.
“The world is soon split,” Bucak said, “between those who want to feed her, those who want to join her, and those who are afraid,” she read
The girl is a sensation, a sign, for change. Change of what, though, the audience is unsure.
“I hunger for things to be different,” Bucak writes. There is no clarity in the point of the story, which seemed to be the point.
“We live as if we know what we want, as if we are capable of deciphering the signals our bodies send us, but what if we were wrong?” Bucak asked.
“Could eating be the drug that masks the disease?”
Eventually, the girl’s parents arrive. They try to help their daughter on their own, but fail. They ask the university president for help and he arranges a ride to an eating disorder clinic.
But this is where the story diverges. There is no clear ending. Perhaps the girl went to the clinic, got better, and graduated. Or didn’t graduate.
She could have gone back to Turkey and graduated there. Or maybe she didn’t even make it to the clinic, instead getting separated from her parents and taken by the government. We are not to know.
All we know is that “in her long dying, she is completely alive,” as Bucak finishes the reading with.
Bucak left the room speechless after this story with so many unanswered questions.