Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the sixty-eighth, is of poet, novelist, memoirist and children’s author Judy Light Ayyildiz.
Judy Light Ayyildiz has lived in southwestern Virginia for most of her life, although she was “born and bred” in West Virginia. She enjoys a spectacular view of the famous Blue Ridge Mountains through the picture windows of her home. She was trained as a music educator at Marshall University, and spent many years singing and conducting on community stages, and years in the classroom teaching music.
Her life changed dramatically in her fourth year of university when she married a young surgeon who was an immigrant from Turkey. From the hills of West Virginia to the plains of Anatolia was a mighty leap. Frequent trips there opened a whole new perspective for her, and became a highlight of her life. Through the years, Judy has traveled throughout the Turkish Republic doing what she has done in the United States: teaching, singing, giving speeches, and conducting workshops and seminars.
Judy’s first chapbook of poems, First Recital, was published with the encouragement of the Junior League, with sketches by a league member. These early poems not only reveal her involvement with her growing family but also show the poet’s restless nature that wanted to break away from the norm of the white picket fence and cocktail chatter. Eventually, Judy would embrace Feminism and help other women to find their own unique voice.
In 1979, Judy’s three children were growing up and her community roles such as a founder of the local opera company, the creating of a doctor’s wives choir that eventually took a standing ovation at the national AMA convention, her joining of artistic boards such as the committee to inaugurate the Blue Ridge Writers Conference, the organizing and directing of a bunch of youth who toured Poland with singing, instrumentals, and dancing, and her work as editor of a literary and arts journal for Artemis, Artists and Writers from the Blue Ridge were not filling that desire deep down inside of her: to be a professional writer. She became a “back to school Mom” who donned two different graduation caps in Liberal Arts and in English / Creative Writing of the Hollins University graduate programs.
For Judy, the 1980’s and ’90’s were a joyous flurry of being the doctor’s wife, mothering three children, freelance teaching all over Virginia and neighboring states, and launching into her own writings—which eventually would grow to 10 published books of various genres. All of her works have sprung from her personal quest for life, and out of a search for continual greater awareness of body, mind, and spirit.
When she went to Poland with the National Alliance of Arts Educators, Judy kept a journal that she later turned into another book of poems called, Smuggled Seeds. The unpublished manuscript was a reflection on her determined effort to grow as a poet. It featured in Collage of Los Gatos, California—and Judy was off to a national recognition. The manuscript won, “The Gusto Press Poet Discovery Series,” from a small press in New York City. The prize was publication and royalties. In 1989, Lintel Press out of Manhattan picked up her new manuscript of poems, many of which had previously been published around the U.S. in literary magazines. That book, Mud River, was critically acclaimed by the legendary writers, William Packard of The New York Quarterly and Fred Chappell of UNC. Mud River is in its 3rd edition under the “Back in Print” program of the Authors Guild.
During her years as a writing teacher (to all age groups and campuses of all sorts), she co-wrote four supplementary texts on writing for teachers and students with the writer, Rebekah Woodie. Rebekah and Judy formed their own company and published the first text after a company in Texas broke their contract. The text was Skyhooks and Grasshopper Traps. A school system adopted it as a core book for ushering in the new “Writing Process.” Frank Schaffer Publications, later titled two other books called, Creative Writing Across the Curriculum and Easy Ideas for Busy Teachers, and then International Fair-Denison, titled, The Writers Express.
When Judy suddenly came down with the autoimmune disorder, Guillain-Barre Syndrome (called a “syndrome” because science hasn’t figured out what triggers the system to turn on its body, eating away the peripheral nerves’ myelin sheath) her world stopped. She taught writing in the Hollinsummer program, she had a family to care for, and she had engagements. All that was far from her control and reach as she lay paralyzed from the waist down with numbness tingling the rest of her body. Even when she was in the NICU, her mind began to bring up stories of her life, which she told to the nurses and doctors. Months later, after hospital and rehabilitation care, she came home with wheelchair, crutches, and a walker—and a journal that she had kept since her third day of illness. From this devastating illness, Judy learned to live in the present moment; and also that courage is the highest virtue that can break through pain and despair. She was determined to walk again. Today, she is fully recovered and is proof that positive thinking coupled with will power and hard work can bring a miracle.
The journal, several years later, turned into her memoir, Nothing but Time, A Woman’s Triumph over Trauma—meant as a book of hope for anyone going through any kind of trauma. It is, furthermore, a book of the power of story to enable remembering who we are in times of disaster. To recover, one must find hope within the self, out of all of the years that one has lived. We are never just a failure or just sick. We are always all that we have been and known. Judy’s husband, three children, and her mother rallied around to meet the test of helping her recover.
When Judy completed the final re-writing of Nothing but Time, print-on-demand was just coming into being. Xlibris offered to publish the memoir with no cost to the author (limited time offer) with royalties, and Judy accepted. The book eventually was nominated for the College Bookstores’ Best Book of the Year award. One reviewer said that it surpassed Joseph Heller’s account of his experience with GBS. She even appeared on Book TV at the Virginia Festival of the Book.
A few years later, Greenhouse Books, a Turkish-American publisher, brought out, Some of my Ancestors are Ottomans and Turks, a picture book illustrated by Judy’s retired surgeon. The book was a love gift for their grandson.
In the fall of 2011, Turkey’s oldest and largest publisher, Remzi Kitabevi, released her first novel, Forty Thorns, translated into Turkish as Kirk Diken. In Istanbul, the novel quickly went into its 2nd Edition. Forty Thorns is the epic story of a remarkable woman who faces wars and losses of the worst kind and who manages to survive well. The story is framed in the tumultuous historical changes that washed over Anatolia and Thrace from the Balkan Wars through the Republic Era and into the present
What Judy has to say about her life as an artist…
I wrote my first poem in the second grade, a Christmas assignment that surprised the teacher, I suppose. She made a big deal of its details and rhyme and of the fact that it was two pages long when most of the class had just managed four or five lines. My family lived in the country. Daddy was a salesman and Momma was a waitress. I didn’t think I was anybody much until I learned that writing was my gift. In our Scotch-Irish family, lots of tall tales were stirred up over the smallest incidents. I learned to add the flavor of imagery and exaggeration from my home life—and later from the Baptist Church. Preachers wove a story from their sermons. I knew what an epiphany was all about long before I knew how to pronounce, let alone spell, the word. We also did a lot of singing. Daddy and I took the lead and the rest harmonized. In my family, you had to find your role and play it. I used to think that everyone naturally thought in metaphor because I have always related unlike objects and people by a common detail. I later became a musician first because getting a music degree required so many class hours, practice, and recital. I could have only taken a double major of Music/English if my piano playing was strong. I didn’t get a piano until the age of sixteen, so I was never an accomplished pianist.
Even as a little redheaded and freckled-faced girl, I knew I wanted to have a nice home and become a mother. I used to think that seven children would be perfect; but I guess the powers that be knew how many irons I’d have in the fire at once and only gave me three. I have to admit that of all of the songs and poems and stories that I have created, nothing even comes near to their births and the experience of living with each of my children. They were my first audience. I rehearsed my music with them, read my poems, and made up wild bedtime stories for them. I took them to musicals, readings and art galleries. My kids grew accustomed listening to people argue about which line of a poem was best. As they matured, they, too, made up poems and songs and presented them. No wonder my elder son makes films (http://www.moonstarfilms.com) and the second son is a published poet and a visual artist (http://www.kamalayyildiz.com) and my daughter is an editor, Webmaster, and creative cook.
I write from my life, but I have to refer to the seven years of research that I put in for my new novel, Forty Thorns. The history of the Turks and Ottomans is long and multi-layered. There are so many kinds of Turks, to begin with; and the Ottomans weren’t necessarily Turks to end with. I traveled over the lands and interviewed the people, especially the old people. I took photos and bought old postcards, reading everything that I could get my hand on pertaining to the periods in which my novel was going to take place. I am one of the millions of Westerners who are enchanted with Turkey. I tell people that I first fell in love with my husband; and then, I fell in love with his mother; and then, I fell in love with the culture and people. Forty Thorns is an unusual book because it is based on the oral memoir of my 91-year-old mother-in-law, on my own memories, history, and fictionalized stories and scenes to hold it all together. I was terrified when a woman in the audience asked me when the sequel was coming out. As it was, I was still taking deep breaths from having finished the novel. Well—who knows, perhaps after I complete a couple more projects, there will be another novel set in Turkey. Turkey is like a baklava, many layers of subjects for theme and action.
I write because I breathe and think. I’m never lonely with so many stories. Of course, there is the writer’s hard work of editing and marketing and there are the friendships that fade because one has a deadline. But, there is the sense of having given back to the universe when you finally end a work that you know is as good as you can make it at that point in time. And, there is the hope that you will continue to become better as long as your mind is clear. Writers’ block has not been a problem for me thus far. My difficulty is in finding enough hours to accomplish what my spirit wants to do. When I am in the creative stream, it carries me throughout my days. It is a truly a gift to find that space.
My new work is a woman’s journey from a place of not knowing that she had individual choices in life to the awareness of her own power within herself. Looking back, I see that I have always been writing about that theme. I feel compelled by women throughout the world today and yesterday who search for righteousness and true freedom. Women, the life bringers, are often entrapped by that role. We need stories and poems that encourage and empower both men and women to live in equality. Back in the sixties, I hoped humankind would be beyond disparity. Yet today, many women and children all over the globe are bound. I believe that education and enlightenment and not politics and religion bring justice. Chains is a metaphor for whatever controls an individual’s freedom to be and become.
Wow, thank you, Judy. You can find more about Judy via her web site http://www.judylightayyildiz.com and her books are available from http://www.fortythorns.com, http://www.remzi.com, http://www.amazon.com, http://www.tulumba.com and http://www.turkishforum.com.
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with sci-fi / fantasy writer Agron Shehu – the three hundred and twelfth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can read / download my eBooks from Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore and Kobo. And I have a new forum at http://morgenbailey.freeforums.org.