In May of 2007 Writers & Company aired a four-part series, View From the Bridge: Turkish Writing Today. In this special series, Writers & Company host Eleanor Wachtel surveys contemporary Turkish life through conversations with some of the country's most engaged and perceptive writers.
Since its creation in 1923, from the remnants of the 600-year-old Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey has represented a new ideal. But Turkey is still a country in transformation, divided not just by the complexities of its heritage - Europe and Asia, West and East - but also by increasing tensions within the society. The growth of Islamic fundamentalism is threatening Turkey's secular constitution, which is defended not just by street demonstrations, but by the military, whose "interventions" represent a different kind of threat. Meanwhile, Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union has met with resistance from secular ultranationalists, who want to preserve the country's insularity. The rise of historical consciousness, so long suppressed in Turkey's drive to erase the memory of its Ottoman past, is now also causing disturbances.
A new generation of Turkish writers is using the novel and other contemporary literary forms to re-imagine society from within. But growing curbs on freedom of expression have resulted in the persecution of even the most celebrated Turkish writers, including Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, tried last year for "insulting Turkishness." Countless charges have been laid against journalists, publishers, editors, novelists, scholars, politicians, cartoonists, and other artists. The shocking murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul, in January 2007, took the harassment to a new level.
In this four-part special series, Writers & Company host Eleanor Wachtel surveys contemporary Turkish life through conversations with some of the country's most engaged and perceptive writers.
6 May 2007: Perihan Magden
Born 1960 in Istanbul, PERIHAN MAGDEN is the author of surprising and inventive novels such as The Messenger Boy Murders and 2 Girls (which was made into a movie). Passionate and outspoken, she is a widely read and often controversial columnist. In 2006 she was tried and acquitted on charges of "alienating the people from military service," for arguing in support of the right of conscientious objection to mandatory military service in Turkey. In a lively and candid conversation with Eleanor Wachtel, she explores the imaginative forces that shape her provocative fiction, and also addresses some of the most urgent issues facing Turkey today.
The Messenger Boy Murders is available from Milet Publishing (2003); 2 Girls is published by Serpent's Tail (2005).
13 May 2007: Refik Erduran/ Buket Uzuner
Born 1928 in Istanbul, REFIK ERDURAN is a well-known personality in Turkish culture, as a playwright, journalist, novelist, publisher, television producer and host, arts administrator, and more. His many colourful adventures include helping Turkey's famous revolutionary poet, Nazim Hikmet, escape to Russia back in 1960. He shares vivid memories of the early days of Ataturk's republic and at the same time offers astute observations on contemporary life in Turkey.
BUKET UZUNER, born 1955 in Ankara, worked for many years as a biologist and environmental scientist, while producing award-winning fiction that often blends fantasy and reality. Her imaginative novel The Long White Cloud - Gallipoli re-visits a key event in modern Turkish consciousness. She is also the author of Istanbul Blues, A Cup of Turkish Coffee, Mediterranean Waltz and The Sound of Fishsteps - all available in English.
20 May 2007: Elif Shafak
ELIF SHAFAK, born in 1970, draws on an unusual perspective that comes from an early life of dislocations. Her daring and ambitious fiction offers new angles on Turkish society. Last fall she was tried for "insulting Turkishness," for a remark made by one of the characters in her novel The Bastard of Istanbul, which deals with the Turks' treatment of the Armenians.
Shafak's titles The Flea Palace and The Gaze are available from Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd.; The Saint of Incipient Insanities is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; The Bastard of Istanbul is published by Viking.
27 May 2007: Talat Sait Halman/ Ozen Yula
TALAT SAIT HALMAN, born 1931 in Istanbul, is one of Turkey's great cultural ambassadors. Through his long career as translator, poet, literary historian and critic, editor and teacher, he has widely shared his passion for Turkish culture. After many years in the United States, at Columbia, Princeton and NYU, he returned to Turkey in 1998 to found the Department of Turkish Literature at Bilkent University in Ankara. He has translated 5,000 poems, including the Sufi master, Rumi.
Titles by Halman available from Syracuse University Press include: The Turkish Muse: Views and Reviews, 1960s - 1990s; A Brave New Quest: 100 Modern Turkish Poems; and Nightingales & Pleasure Gardens: Turkish Love Poems.
Born 1965 in central Anatolia, and raised in the southeast, OZEN YULA grew up outside Turkey's major urban centres, which gives him a different view on Turkish life. His prize-winning plays and fiction explore the dark side of human experience and reflect his interest in alternative or unofficial history.
View from the Bridge: Turkish Writing Today was produced for Writers & Company by Sandra Rabinovitch