By Chip Rossetti
In the field of publishing, Turkey’s international profile has risen dramatically in the last six years, particularly following Orhan Pamuk’s winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, and Turkey’s selection as the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2008.
Last week, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair brought visitors an overview of Turkey’s dynamic book market, featuring a panel of experts, ranging from editors and directors of Turkish publishing houses, to a literary agent, a representative from the Istanbul Book Fair, and representatives from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. For those panelists who did not speak English, Özge Calafato, programming manager of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, ably translated for the audience.
Panelists included Prof. Dr. Onur Bilge Kula, the Director General of Libraries and Publications in the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Dr. Kula also serves as the chief executive of TEDA, Turkey’s official translation subvention program. Launched in 2005, TEDA has as its goal “the wider dissemination of Turkish culture through the translation or publication of Turkish cultural, artistic and literary work outside of Turkey.” Since 2005, TEDA has offered support to publishers from 50 different countries for the translation and publication of 552 works into 40 languages. (As Dr. Kula pointed out, given that 3 million Turks are resident in Germany, the highest numbers of TEDA awards have so far gone to German publishing houses.) In his remarks, Dr. Kula characterized Turkey’s publishing environment as robust, with over 35,000 new titles published in 2010.
Along with Dr. Kula was his colleague Dr, Ümit Yaşar Gözüm, a deputy general director at the ministry, with an extensive background in magazine publishing. In his speech, Dr. Gözüm highlighted the “most dynamic categories” in current Turkish publishing, namely literature, medicine, history, education, and religion.
Taking a different approach was A. Ali Ural, a poet and festival organizer who currently serves as the VP of the Turkish Authors’ Association, and was general coordinator of the inaugural Istanbul Literature Festival in 2009. His presentation offered an overview of Turkey’s literary history, as well as a tour d’horizon of major figures in contemporary Turkish fiction.
Part of the broad canvas of publishing in Turkey today includes publishing on Turkey’s Islamic and Ottoman heritage, represented by panel member Şaban Kurt, founder of Çağrı Publishing House, which produces books on subjects ranging from Ottoman history to Islamic culture and the study of the Qur’an. Speaking from a more religious perspective, he provided his own history lesson, emphasizing the linguistic and civilizational links between Turks and Arabs, from the pre-Islamic era through the Ottoman period. (In fact, his comments that Turks and Arabs shared a very similar outlook on the world, given their shared religion and history, rankled with at least one secular-minded Turk in the audience — a reflection of the ongoing debate on identity and religion in modern Turkey.) Kurt emphasized that, like other foreign-language publishing houses, Arabic publishers as well should take advantage of the financial support of TEDA to translate Turkish books.
Kurt was followed by Cemran Öder, the communications corporate manager of the Istanbul Book Fair, which will have its 30th edition November 12-15, 2011. Last year, the Fair brought in 410,000 visitors, with 570 publishers and NGOs in attendance. 2010 also saw the introduction of a Literary Agencies area at the Fair, as well as an e-publishing zone, as part of its growing status as a trade fair.
Representing one of Turkey’s leading literary publishers is Nazlı Berivan Ak, editor, foreign rights manager and PR specialist at the Ankara-based April Publishing House. Founded in 2005, April Publishing publishes Turkish fiction, as well as international authors in translation, including Jodi Picoult, Mary Higgins Clark, Leonard Wlodinow, and John Perkins (author of bestseller Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.) “In 2011 our goal is to publish the very best young Turkish authors, namely Murat Menteş, Alper Canıgüz, and Emrah Serbes, as well as authors from Arabic countries. This book fair represents a wonderful opportunity for this, and I am so honored to attend. I believe that the best bridge between cultures and countries is literature.” Ak echoes the thought that Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel prize and the 2008 Guest of Honor role for Turkey at Frankfurt in 2008 have helped bring more attention to the Turkish publishing market in the last few years. In Turkey itself, she finds that “Turkish readers have become more flexible and much more adventurous in their choice of books than in the past. There is a body of readers who follow the international bestseller lists quite carefully and ask for these books to be published in
Books Still Supported by the Media, Word-of-Mouth
Unlike in other countries, where print coverage of the book industry is in decline, Ak explained the vital support the publishing industry receives from the media in Turkey: “Today more or less all of the major newspapers have book supplements. Literary agencies such as Kalem and Anatolialit (whose co-founder wrote about for us last year), as well as the Turkish Publishers Association, publish informative newsletters and host conferences about the publishing sector in Turkey.” In addition to a thriving book review industry, she says, “there is a core of strong intellectual readers who are amazingly effective in recommending books by word of mouth. I think this is a fascinating phenomenon, as a great many readers respect this medium of information much more than blogs or internet reviews.” Likewise, publishing houses have become savvier about choosing the right media for their books, including commercials on popular television shows.
In addition to international titles and prominent Turkish novelists such as Elif Şafak and Sinan Yagmur, Ak points out that health, psychology, personal development and growth books are all popular genres among Turkish readers. “Based on my experience, the Turkish market is seeking unique authors and their stories, and Turkish readers are always more than ready for original cultural literature. I would advise international publishers to be inventive in the books they offer us. I would also suggest working with experienced literary agents and maintaining one-on-one brainstorming sessions about their upcoming authors with their Turkish publishing counterparts. The Abu Dhabi Book Fair represents a wonderful opportunity for such brainstorming.”
Part and parcel with the growth of the Turkish publishing industry has been the emergence of Turkish literary agencies. Nermin Mollaoğlu established the Kalem Agency in 2005, and it currently represents fifty-six Turkish authors and many publishers and agencies in the Turkish market, focusing primarily on fiction, although it also represents children’s books and nonfiction titles. Kalem also organises the Istanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival (ITLF). “Kalem Literary Agency is aware that we still have to improve our market and get more books translated abroad,” she says (it’s an issue she wrote about in an editorial for us last year.)
Much of Mollaoğlu’s work in raising the profile of Turkish literature has involved organizing public events, such as the ITLF, which will have its third edition this fall (on the theme of “City and Food”), as well as arranging translation workshops and organizing an upcoming April tour of the Balkan countries “to open new doors for Turkish literature.” In Istanbul, Kalem has established a series of public readings at a picturesque palace hotel on the Bosphorus. Known as the Çıragan Readings, the events regularly attract large audiences, including a “very successful” reading recently from the works of Naguib Mahfouz, according to Mollaoğlu: “The audience was very interested in Mahfouz and asked many questions of the Turkish translator and publisher. What is a still big problem here, however, is the lack of qualified translators from Arabic to Turkish, although we have been working very hard to get Arabic books into Turkish for the last few years.” (Including Mahfouz himself, since Kalem represents his primarily English-language publisher in Turkey.)
Chip Rossetti is the Managing Editor for the new Library of Arabic Literature book series being published by New York University Press, and was the Editor of the ADIBF Show Daily, where this article originally appeared in a slightly different form.