As you came into the department of American Culture & Literature at Kadir Has University, chances were you’d see Selhan there, working on a translation, working with a student, planning a visiting lecture—getting things done, in other words. Like most well-educated people in Turkey, she learned British English in school, which was tempered by the influence of her husband’s light Austin accent, giving her a New-Englandesque combination of American phrases and the Queen’s diction.
She often added “canım” at the end of sentences. Pronounced ‘janum,’ this word translates literally as ‘my soul’ but tends to mean something like ‘honey.’ Unlike the American version, which reminds me of wait staff in diners, Selhan’s ‘canım’ softened critique, encouraged redoubling your efforts, and never came off syrupy or artificial.
For yet another of us, the exchange was often funny, earthy but warm. She had a keychain with a huge and suggestive soft ball on the end of it, and I can remember the two of us collapsing in laughter when I reached around her slightly open door where her keys hung, and squeezed.
This also seemed to be her approach to translation. In the early pages of the English version of Selçuk Altun’s The Sultan of Byzantium, which she translated with her partner, Clifford Endres, the narrator’s grandmother indicates the bathroom window with a view of Topkapı Palace:
The economy and clear wit of this short passage gives no indication of what I can only guess must have been a multi-step process between the two languages, first expanding meaning like the bellows of an accordion, then contracting it again to the current presentation.
On the serious side, she was absolutely dedicated to her students; and her combination of patience and ambition led students to love her classes, many of whom now see her as a role model. They have described her loss as a loss for the country, a loss for real and dedicated education. But her 'canım' will continue to motivate the rest of us in all of our work.