A Short Biography


Walter grew up in the then rural outskirts of St. Paul, Minnesota amid many fields and woodlands but few neighbors. He was educated in private military schools (The Breck School and The St. Paul Academy) where he received an excellent education and developed a life-long antipathy to many aspects of the military life. While he was in high school, his family hosted an exchange student from Turkey for a year. which brought him into an enduring relationship with the Tanberk family: The late Rasih and Melda, who treated him like a son, and his Turkish “brothers”, Sibel ağabey and Noyan. The consequences of this are everywhere evident in his life. He received an excellent education and his undergraduate degree in English Literature from Carleton College. Upon graduating from college he married Melinda Kohler, which was far and away the best choice he made during his early years.

As an undergraduate, Walter was a very mediocre student---more interested (and successful) in athletics than scholarship.  He became a scholar during graduate school at the University of Michigan where he wound a torturous path from English literature to the literature of the Middle East with a specialty in the early-modern literature of the Ottoman Turks. He was much blessed by being the student of Professor James Stewart-Robinson, whose kindness, generosity, intellectual brilliance, and patient instruction have influenced everything Walter has done as a scholar and teacher.

Walter was hired by the University of Washington in 1968, while he was working on his dissertation in Istanbul (and coaching Orhan Pamuk's basketball team). Strangely, he never actually applied for the job. A friend from the University of Michigan, Prof. Jere Bacharach, had recently been hired by the UW and when a job came open there in Turkish literature, he asked Michigan for Walter's records, wrote to his professors for recommendations, and did all that was necessary for Walter's application. The first Walter heard of it was when he received a job offer. Never having applied for a job, he simply stayed at the University of Washington for his whole career. Probably not the best career move but one he has seldom regretted.

Impelled by the intransigence of the University of Washington administration, he withdrew from his full professor position in 1991 after many years of teaching Turkish and Ottoman language and literature (too much language, not enough literature, and no other way out) and lately has been spending his time (among other things) teaching Ottoman poetry to a few interested students and working on several books and the Ottoman Texts Archive Project. In 2001 he was appointed as one of the few "research professors" in the humanities at the UW (this means that he has to find his own money but can use the library and other resources without being harassed). His latest book, The Age of Beloveds written jointly with his beloved colleague and collaborator Mehmet Kalpakli is now finished and has been published by Duke University Press.

Walter has been uniformly fortunate in his colleagues and students. They have supported him and enhanced his life beyond measure and he is profoundly grateful to them all.

He shares with Melinda two children, Lisa Machotka and Pamela Sheffield (and their wonderful companions, Mike Stilwell and Harley Sheffield), and excellent grandchildren: Matt, Kristin, Katie, and Madeline Machotka, and Max Sheffield. For fun he still enjoys sports and woodworking, writing and producing plays, and he especially loves working with children and teens. He is a very active Unitarian-Universalist as well. The less important things can be found in his CV.