Yasar Kemal (born Kemal Sadik Gokceli; 6 October 1923 - 28 February 2015) was a Turkish writer of Kurdish ethnicity. He was one of Turkey's leading writers. Kemal was long a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, on the strength of Memed, My Hawk.
An outspoken intellectual, he often did not hesitate to speak on sensitive issues. His activism resulted in a twenty-month suspended jail sentence, on charges of advocating separatism.
Kemal was born to Sadik and his wife Halime on in Hemite (now Gokcedam), a hamlet in the province of Osmaniye in southern Turkey. His parents were from Van and came into Cukurova during the First World War. Kemal had a difficult childhood because he lost his right eye due to a knife accident, when his father was slaughtering a sheep on Eid al-Adha, and had to witness as his father was stabbed to death by his adoptive son Yusuf while praying in a mosque when he was five years old. This traumatic experience left Kemal with a speech impediment, which lasted until he was twelve years old. At nine he started school in a neighboring village and continued his formal education in Kadirli, Osmaniye province.
Kemal was a locally noted bard before he started school, but was unappreciated by his widowed mother until he composed an elegy on the death of one of her eight brothers, all of whom were bandits. However, he forgot it and became interested in writing as a means to record his work when he questioned an itinerant peddler, who was doing his accounts. Ultimately, his village paid his way to university in Istanbul.
He worked for a while for rich farmers, guarding their river water against other farmers' unauthorised irrigation.
Later he worked as a letter-writer, then as a journalist, and finally as a novelist. He said that the Turkish police took his first two novels.
When Kemal was visiting Akdamar island in 1951, he saw the Island's Holy Cross Church being destroyed. Using his contacts to the public, he helped stop destruction of the site. However, the church remained in a neglected state until 2005, when restoration by the Turkish government began.
In 1952, Yasar Kemal married Thilda Serrero, a member of a prominent Sephardi Jewish family in Istanbul. Her grandfather, Jak Mandil Pasha, was the chief physician of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II. She translated 17 of her husband's works into the English language. Thilda predeceased Yasar on January 17, 2001 (aged 78) from pulmonary complications at a hospital in Istanbul, and was laid to rest at Zincirlikuyu Cemetery. Thilda was also survived by her son Rasit Gögçel and a grandchild., Yas Kemal remarried on August 1, 2002 with Ayse Semiha Baban, a lecturer for public relations at Bilgi University in Istanbul. She was educated at the American University of Beirut, Bosphorus University and Harvard University.
Kemal was hospitalised on January 14, 2015 into the hospital of Istanbul University's Çapa Medical Faculty due to respiratory insufficiency. He died at age 92 in the afternoon of February 28, 2015 in the intensive care unit, where he was taken due to multiple organ dysfunction syndrome. Following the religious funeral service held at Tesvikiye Mosque, attended by former president of Turkey, political party leaders, high-ranked officials and a huge crowd, he was laid to rest in Zincirlikuyu Cemetery on March 2, 2015., rks: "I don't write about issues, I don't write for an audience, I don't even write for myself. I just write." -Interview with The Guardian.
Kemal published his first book Agitlar ('Ballads') in 1943, which was a compilation of folkloric themes. This book brought to light many long forgotten rhymes and ballads. He had begun to collect these ballads at the age of 16. His first stories Bebek ('The Baby'), Dükkanci ('The Shopkeeper') and Memet ile Memet ('Memet and Memet') were published in 1950. He penned his first tale Pis Hikaye ('The Dirty Story') in 1944, while he was serving in the military, in Kayseri. Then he published his book of short stories Sari Sicak ('Yellow Heat') in 1952. The initial point of his works was the toil of the people of the Çukurova plains and he based the themes of his writings on the lives and sufferings of these people. Kemal used the legends and stories of Anatolia extensively as the basis for his works. He received international acclaim with the publication of Memed, My Hawk (Turkish: Ince Memed) in 1955. In Ince Memed, Kemal criticises the fabric of the society through a legendary hero, a protagonist, who flees to the mountains as a result of the oppression of the Aghas. One of the most famous writers in Turkey, Kemal was noted for his command of the language and lyrical description of bucolic Turkish life. He was awarded 19 literary prizes during his lifetime and nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973. His 1955 novel Teneke was adapted into a theatrical play, which was staged for almost one year in Gothenburg, Sweden, in the country where he lived for about two years in the late 1970s. Italian composer Fabio Vacchi adapted the same novel with the original title into an opera of three acts, which premiered at the Teatro alla Scala in Milano, Italy in 2007. Kemal was a major contributor to Turkish literature in the early years after the language's recreation as a literary language following Atatürk's Reforms of the 1930s.
Bibliography : Stories: Sari Sicak, ("Yellow Heat") (1952)., Novels: Ince Memed (Memed, My Hawk) (1955), Teneke (The Drumming-Out) (1955), Orta Direk (The Wind from the Plain) (1960), Yer Demir Gök Bakir (Iron Earth, Copper Sky) (1963), Olmez Otu (The Undying Grass) (1968), Ince Memed II (They Burn the Thistles) (1969), Akçasazin Agalari/Demirciler Carsisi Cinayeti (The Agas of Akchasaz Trilogy/Murder in the Ironsmiths Market) (1974), Akçasazin Agalari/Yusufcuk Yusuf (The Agas of Akchasaz Trilogy/Yusuf, Little Yusuf) (1975), Yilani Oldürseler (To Crush the Serpent) (1976), Al Gozum Seyreyle Salih (The Saga of a Seagull) (1976), Allahin Askerleri (God's Soldiers) (1978), Kuslar da Gitti (The Birds Have Also Gone: Long Stories) (1978), Deniz Küstü (The Sea-Crossed Fisherman) (1978), Hüyükteki Nar Agaci (The Pomegranate on the Knoll) (1982), Yagmurcuk Kusu/Kimsecik I (Kimsecik I - Little Nobody I) (1980), Kale Kapisi/Kimsecik II (Kimsecik II - Little Nobody II)(1985), Kanin Sesi/Kimsecik III (Kimsecik III - Little Nobody III) (1991), Firat Suyu Kan Akiyor Baksana (Look, the Euphrates is Flowing with Blood) (1997), Karincanin Su Içtigi (Ant Drinking Water) (2002), Tanyeri Horozlari (The Cocks of Dawn) (2002), Epic Novels : Uc Anadolu Efsanesi (Three Anatolian Legends) (1967), Agridagi Efsanesi (The Legend of Mount Ararat) (1970) - the base of the opera Agri Dagi Efsanesi 1971, Binbogalar Efsanesi (The Legend of the Thousand Bulls) (1971), Cakircali Efe* (The Life Stories of the Famous Bandit Cakircali) (1972)
Reportages : Yanan Ormanlarda 50 Gün (Fifty Days in the Burning Forests) (1955), Çukurova Yana Yana (While Cukurova Burns) (1955), Peribacalari (The Fairy Chimneys) (1957), Bu Diyar Bastan Basa (Collected reportages) (1971), Bir Bulut Kayniyor (Collected reportages) (1974)
Experimental Works : Agitlar (Ballads) (1943), Tas Catlasa (At Most) (1961), Baldaki Tuz (The Salt in the Honey) (1959-74 newspaper articles), Gökyüzü Mavi Kaldi (The Sky remained Blue) (collection of folk literature in collaboration with S. Eyüboglu), Agacin Curugu (The Rotting Tree) (Articles and Speeches) (1980), Yayimlanmamis 10 Agit (10 Unpublished Ballads) (1985), Sari Defterdekiler (Contents of the Yellow Notebook) (Collected Folkloric works) (1997), Ustadir Ari (The Expert Bee) (1995), Zulmün Artsin (Increase Your Oppression) (1995)
Children's Books : Filler Sultani ile Kirmizi Sakalli Topal Karinca (The Sultan of the Elephants and the Red-Bearded Lame Ant) (1977)
Notable works : Agitlar ('Ballads'; debut), Ince Memed ('Memed, My Hawk'), Teneke ('The Drumming-Out'), Ince Memed II ('They Burn the Thistles')
Notable awards: Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger 1979, Prix mondial Cino Del Duca 1982,Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur de France, 1984, Peace Prize of the German Book Trade 1997 Grand Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de France 2011
Awards and distinctions : Literature prizes : "Seven Days in the World's Largest Farm" reportage series, Journalist's Association Prize, 1955, Varlik Prize for Ince Memed ('Memed, My Hawk'), 1956, Ilhan Iskender Award for the play adapted from his book with the same name, Teneke ('The Drumming-Out'), 1966, The International Nancy Theatre Festival - First Prize for Uzun Dere ('Long Brook'), 1966 -Theater adaptation from roman Iron Earth, Copper Sky., Madarli Novel Award for Demirciler Carsisi ('Murder in the Ironsmith's Market'), 1974, Choix du Syndicat des Critiques Litteraires pour le meilleur roman etranger (Eté/Automne 1977) pour Terre de Fer, Ciel de Cuivre ('Yer Demir, Gok Bakir'), Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger 1978 pour L'Herbe qui ne meurt pas (Olmez Otu); Paris, Janvier 1979., Prix mondial Cino Del Duca decerné pour contributions a l'humanisme moderne; Paris, Octobre 1982.
The Sedat Simavi Foundation Award for Literature; Istanbul, Turkey, 1985., Premi Internacional Catalunya. Catalonia (Spain), 1996, Lillian Hellman/Dashiell Hammett Award for Courage in Response to Repression, Human Rights Watch, USA, 1996., Stig Dagerman Prize (Swedish: Stig Dagermanpriset), Sweden, 1997., Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (German: Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels), Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1997., Premio Internazionale Nonino for collected works, Italy, 1997, Bordeaux, Prix Ecureuit de Litterature Etrangere, 1998, Z. Homer Poetry Award, 2003, Savanos Prize (Thessalonika-Greece), 2003, Turkish Publisher's Association Lifetime Achievement Award, 2003, Presidential Cultural and Artistic Grand Prize, 2008, The Bjørnson Prize (Norwegian: Bjørnsonprisen), Norway, 2013., Decorations: Commandeur de la Legion d'Honneur de France; Paris, 1984., Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, Paris, 1989., Grand Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de France; Paris, 2011., Krikor Naregatsi Medal of Armenia, 2013.
Honorary Doctorates : Doctor Honoris Causa, Strasbourg University, France, 1991., Doctor Honoris Causa, Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey, 1992., Honorary Doctorate, Bilkent University, 2002, Honorary Doctorate, Çukurova University, 2009, Honorary Doctorate, Bogazici University, 200., Honorary Doctorate, Bilgi University, 2014.
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