Yaşar Kemal (Born 1923)
Kemal Gökceli was born in 1923 in Hemite, a 60-house hamlet in the province of Adana in southern Turkey. At the age of five Yaşar Kemal suffered a
profound shock when his father was murdered while praying at the mosque and this left him
with an impediment of speech which lasted up to his twelfth year. Surprisingly, it was
only when singing that he did not stammer and this led him very early in life to
improvising songs according to the Anatolian tradition of folk minstrels.
It was this love of poetry that made him want to learn to read and write in order to
record the poems he composed. But at that time there was no school in Yaşar Kemal's
village, as was the case then for 95% of Turkish villages. So at the age of nine the
little boy walked to the neighbouring village every day and attended school there. Later
his family moved to the small town of Kadirli where he completed his primary schooling. He
was the first villager of Hemite ever to finish a primary school.
After leaving school he took up such a great variety of jobs that he himself does not
remember them all. He worked as a labourer in the cotton and rice fields, taught in a
school for a while, then switched to agriculture again and operated a threshing machine.
He went to Istanbul where he was employed by the gas company, then returned to the little
town of Kadirli, bought a typewriter and earned his living as a public letter-writer. He
even managed to get into prison.
During this time he had read all the books he could lay his hands on and had made
friends with intellectuals who contributed to his cultural formation. He wrote his first
story in 1947.
In 1950 he came to Istanbul again and after a time of hardship and difficulties looking
for work he managed to obtain a job as a reporter for Istanbul's most important daily
newspaper, Cumhuriyet (Republic). His articles were written in a unheard-of style for
Turkey and have since been published in book form, caused a sensation and he soon won the
annual Journalists' Association Prize for the best reportage of the year.
His first book of short stories was published in 1952 under the title Yellow
Heat. He then wrote İnce Mehmet (Mehmet my Hawk) which was
published in 1955. This book was an event both in Turkey and abroad. In Turkey it won the
newly set up Varlık Prize 1996 for the best novel of the year and was also chosen as the
best-liked novel after a one-year opinion poll among readers all over Turkey. The book has
broken the record of novel sales in Turkey. Abroad, The PEN Club International recommended
the book to UNESCO which sponsored translation. İnce Mehmet has been
published with success in more than thirty countries, and so have the other novels Yaşar
Kemal has written since.
Other Awards and Distinctions:
Choix du Syndicat des Critiques Littéraires pour le meilleur roman etranger
(Eté/Automne 1977) pour Terre de Fer, Ciel de Cuivre (Yer Demir Gök Bakir).
Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger 1978 pour L'Herbe qui ne meurt pas (Ölmez Otu); Paris,
Prix Mondial Cino del Duca decerné pour contributions a l'humanisme moderne; Paris,
Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur de France; Paris, 1984.
The Sedat Simavi Foundation Award for Literature; Istanbul, Turkey, 1985.
Doctor Honoris Causa, Strasbourg University, France, 1991.
Doctor Honoris Causa, Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey, 1992.
VII Premi Internacional Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain, 1996.
Lillian Hellman/Dashiell Hammett Award for Courage in Response to Repression, Human
Rights Watch, USA, 1996
- Unionsverlag Zürich