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FAU Professor Awarded Prestigious PEN/O. Henry Prize for Short Story

BOCA RATON, Fla. (January 16, 2013) –Ayşe Papatya Bucak, associate professor of creative writing within Florida Atlantic University’s Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, has been awarded a prestigious 2013 PEN/O. Henry Prize for her short story, “The History of Girls.” Considered by The Atlantic Monthly to be “…the nation’s most prestigious awards for short fiction,” the PEN/O. Henry Prize recognizes 20 of the best short stories of the year, selected from thousands published in literary magazines in the U.S. and Canada. The winning stories will be featured in an anthology by Anchor Books due in the fall of 2013.

“It's particularly gratifying to win an O. Henry award because it's something I saw my professors do when I was a graduate student,” said Bucak. ”Despite the fact that I've been a professor for more than 10 years, there is still a part of me that is amazed when I do something that my professors did.”

"The History of Girls," first published in the journal Witness, is a moving portrayal of a group of Turkish girls trapped in the rubble after a gas explosion at their school. Connecting their struggle to make sense of this misfortune to wider universal themes of girls and women’s rights in patriarchal societies, Bucak creates powerful voices of solidarity in the face of tragedy, woven together through the power of storytelling.

“This particular story grew out of a newspaper article about a large number of Turkish schoolgirls who died in an explosion,” said Bucak. “The news first said they didn't know what caused the explosion, but my mother who taught English in Turkey for nine years said, ‘Of course it was the gas. It was always the gas.’ She was right, and that line made it into the story. I quickly realized that it wasn't that easy to write a story about a group of girls buried under rubble in the dark, and that's how it became something of a ghost story.”

The story is part of a collection that Bucak is writing that all have something to do with her “version of Turkishness.”

“I was born in Turkey but raised in the U.S., have a Turkish father but an American mother, and a Turkish name but not the Turkish language,” said Bucak. “As a result, I'm only comfortable writing stories that reflect Turkey the way I experience it, which is largely through an American lens, through the newspaper, through literature and folk tales and through my father.”

Bucak earned an M.F.A. from Arizona State University and a B.A. from Princeton University, where she studied writing with Russell Banks and Joyce Carol Oates. She has been at FAU since 2003, and received an Individual Artists Grant from the state of Florida in 2005. She directs the M.F.A. program in creative writing at FAU.

“We are so proud of the peer-reviewed research produced by our faculty,” said Heather Coltman, interim dean of the college of arts and letters. “Professor Bucak’s accomplishment is a testament to the high standards of our faculty scholarship, research and creative achievement.”

“We are thrilled that Papatya has won this most prestigious award,” said Andy Furman, chair of FAU’s Department of English. “It will bring well-deserved attention both to her powerful writing and to our burgeoning MFA program in Creative Writing.”

For more information about FAU’s M.F.A. program, call 561-297-2973.


Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of three signature themes – marine and coastal issues, biotechnology and contemporary societal challenges – which provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit

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