Letters to Iris and Leo by Zeren Earls

A Writing Style Invented by the Author?

By: - Dec 29, 2010

Letters to Iris and Leo - A Life Journey Through Continents and Cultures
by Zeren Earls
286 pages - $ 20
Can be ordered at

Zeren Earls wrote letters to her grand-daughter Iris for the first five years of her life, chronicling her observations from the day that she came to be a member of the family. A couple of years later, Leo was born and, of course, he would be included in her thoughts and letters. The children live in Brussels, Belgium, with their parents, Selim Earls, Zeren’s son, and Kimon Fotiadis, Selim’s partner and spouse. Selim has worked in Greece and other countries as an interpreter, before they settled in Brussels. He is now a Simultaneous Interpreter for the European Union Parliament. And Kimon, of Greek origin, owns an art gallery in Brussels.  Zeren lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Little Compton, Rhode Island, and Istanbul, Turkey. During those five years, many visits in both directions across the ocean have established a loving extended family.

I have known Zeren for more than thirty years, first as an acquaintance and later friend via her husband, Dr. Paul Earls, with whom I worked at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies for many years.  And, a decade later I participated as mini-caretaker during the last weeks before he died of heart failure, after years of cancer treatments, in 1998. Paul Earls was an environmental and laser artist, and composer, who’s work is known nationally and in many countries in Europe. This is a truly international, no global family! And, could be a new norm for families - yet global it need not be - if more people in the world would just open their hearts and minds to children being raised ‘by the entire village’ and in that I mean a ‘new kind, all inclusive village.’

Selim and Kimon are gay men, who lovingly, with hard work and support raise two siblings, whom the birth mother asked shortly before Leo was born to please accept her new baby as well. She, herself, also is raising a big family. You must read the letters Selim and Kimon continue to write to the birth mother and keep her well informed.

Zeren was born in Ankara, Turkey, and juxtaposed her upbringing with that of her grand children. She wove an intricate family portrait, growing up at a time in Turkey, when traditional ways and (so called) more progressive forces strongly interacted. She wrote about those years in poignant details, as well as raising Selim. Zeren placed an array of photos throughout the book, beginning with small photos of the children at each new letter. In the first chapters many generational family pictures punctuate her descriptions and later in the book, one may find career related photography and those from her many globe trotting travels, always enjoyable photos.

Zeren received her Baccalaureat at the Uskudar American Academy for Girls in Istanbul, a US supported high school. The school and her resolve to study outside of Turkey positioned her to become the first foreign undergraduate student at Duke University in North Carolina. There, she met her husband, Paul, who had just accepted his first teaching position at Duke, after graduating with a PhD in composition and musicology at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music.  Zeren grew up with opera, because her mother enjoyed taking her older daughter to many performances during her child hood years. Zeren’s extensive knowledge of the medium was one of the reasons that drew the young people together.

After graduating from Duke University and a few year’s interlude in several locations,  California being one of them, the couple moved east, where Paul was appointed in 1970 as Research Fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which would become his base for nearly three decades. Zeren began teaching inventive and inspired art classes. They became part of the founding group of ‘First Night’ in Boston in 1976/77. Both were involved in the programming or making works of art for the newly developed December 31st festivities, originally planned as the ending of the Bicentennial Celebration of Boston. Other cities nationwide soon developed a ‘First Night.’ Earls took over the directorship of ‘First Night Boston’ a few years later and held that position and responsibilities for ten years. And they were marvelous ten years, where hundreds of thousands of revelers participated and greeted each New Year.  And First Night in Boston lives on !

It was Earls' idea to create ‘First Night International,’ because the Non Profit organization had been giving advice to other towns and cities, in addition to then year round programming activities: How to start, include as many parts of local communities as possible, fund, and how to celebrate the beginning of each New Year.  Zeren began to travel nationally and internationally in earnest and spent another ten years in pursuit of excellence and to assist communities now around the globe. The International First Night organizations also hosted annual conferences. She garnered accolades and recognition. She received the Commonwealth Award of Massachusetts, honored by Governor Weld in 1993.

It must have also whet her appetite for her own world-wide travels, once she handed ‘First Night International’ over to the next director. Since that year, she has traveled extensively in many parts of Turkey, after 30 years; North and South Africa; China, various Asian countries; Central and South America. In 2007 she became a travel writer for, (BFA) and credits mostly Charles Giuliano, the publisher of BFA, for offering her a new direction for her professional life. Please read a few of her many informative articles on BFA, which are illustrated by her own photography.

Zeren Earls has added to her portfolio the title of book author: ‘Letters to Iris and Leo – A Life Journey through Continents and Cultures’ is an intimate family account but also chronicles with candor exceptional lives, well worth reading! Here, we can only touch on major parts of the story. She beautifully and honestly describes her life and people in her orbit in nearly 300 pages. Through her words, the reader may be inspired to keep an open mind, tolerance for all, and embrace the obstacles that life presents.

The book was self published in 2010 and ‘Letters to Iris and Leo’ can be ordered via Harvard Book Please do so, it is a thought provoking read !