Istanbul’s ‘Sunflower’ ITEF Goes Digital – With Translation Provided

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The coronavirus pandemic pushes another literary festival into the digital realm this week: the Istanbul International Literature Festival program expects a tri-lingual event, with Spanish and English translation.

Turkish sunflowers in Central Anatolia. Image – iStockphoto: Cane Larsel

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Turning Our Faces Toward the Light of Literature’
When last we heard from literary agent Nermin Mollaoğlu about the Istanbul International Literature Festival—which is produced by her Kalem Agency—it was on March 13. The festival had put out the call at that point for applications to its 2020 fellowship program.

It would surprise no one in the world publishing industry that Mollaoğlu and her team were so optimistic amid the gathering force of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. An upbeat bearing is a hallmark of the Kalem, all the more admirable as the group works in Turkey, named as one of the four most oppressive regimes to writers, academics, and public intellectuals by PEN America’s new Freedom To Write Index.

Undaunted by the inability to stage a physical event this year, Kalem opens its #ITEF2020OnAir festival today (June 15) with its original “sunflower literature” theme intact and a week of online presentations meant “to bring hope to our lives in isolation, and joy and excitement to our ‘new normal’ by turning our faces toward the light of literature and sunflowers.”

To that end, Mollaoğlu and crew have had a logo created this year for them by Kirikkale-born author and illustrator (and Kalem client) Feridun Oral, a sunflower’s stem ending as a quill on an open book.

And while the agency says it expects to produce a physical rendition of the 2020 festival in the autumn, that for now, “We’d like to welcome everyone to join us in joy for our first ever digital festival.”

What’s distinctive here among so many events-gone-digital is that Istanbul’s sessions will be offered not only in Turkish but also in English and Spanish—such translation being important, as we’ve written, if publishing’s events are to be offered to a potentially international audience.

Nermin Mollaoğlu

“The listeners,” Mollaoğlu tells Publishing Perspectives, “will hear the simultaneous translation during the live events, with English and Spanish offered” in simultaneous interpretation.

“It sounds easy to do as we have translation during our normal events, but it’s a bit complicated for the digital edition.

“But we’ve managed it, hopefully.”

Another thing these folks are good at: Setting events to happen at wonderfully decent Mediterranean hours. None of this early-morning nonsense for the Kalem team. The key events will begin at 9 p.m. Istanbul time (TRT). How civilized, and smart for being sure that colleagues in the West are in daylight hours and can catch some of the events.

At this writing, the 6:33 p.m. ET update (2233 GMT Sunday, 0133 TRT Monday) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reports that Turkey is 12th in the world for it COVID-19 caseload, with 178,238 confirmed infections and 4,807 deaths in a population of 82 million.

And to sense something of the severity of that fatality level in a country the size of Turkey, consider that China with its population of 1.4 billion–while suspected by critics of reporting lower than actual death numbers–has cited fewer deaths than Turkey: 4,638.

ITEF 2020 ‘On Air’ Key Events

Click on an event’s participants’ names to reach that event’s registration page. All events are offered free of charge.

Amin Maalouf

Monday, June 15

2100 TRT / 1900 BST / 1800 GMT / 2 p.m. ET
Amin Maalouf in Conversation with Maya Jaggi
Maalouf is an author, essayist, and librettist, and Jaggi is a journalist, critic, and  artistic director based in London.

Tuesday, June 16

2100 TRT / 1900 BST / 1800 GMT / 2 p.m. ET
The Voice of Latin America: Alejandro Zambra and Nilay Örnek
Chile’s Alejandro Zambra’s Bonzai (2006) was adapted into a Cristián Jiménez film (2011) shown at Cannes and the Istanbul Film Festival. Örnek, in Turkey, is a journalist and author.

Vladimir Pistalo

Wednesday, June 17

2100 TRT / 1900 BST / 1800 GMT / 2 p.m. ET
Vladimir Pistalo and Şebnem İşigüzel on Pistalo’s book about Nikola Tesla
The Serbian-American writer Vladimir Pistalo’s 2015 novel Tesla: A Portrait With Masks is the topic of conversation with author İşigüzel, whose books include the highly successful 2016 The Girl in the Tree.

Thursday, June 18

2100 TRT / 1900 BST / 1800 GMT / 2 p.m. ET
Eva Meijer in Conversation With Başak Güntekin
The Dutch author Meijer talks about her book The Bird Cottage with editor Güntekin, who prepared the book for publication.

David Nicholls

Friday, June 19

2100 TRT / 1900 BST / 1800 GMT / 2 p.m. ET
Time Travel Through Novels
British author David Nicholls talks with the European Literature Network’s Rosie Goldsmith about his 2019 novel Sweet Sorrow.

There are additional author talks planned this week, as well, including one with Days, Months, Years author Yan Lianke (China); the author of The Memory Artists and The Extinction Club, Canadian Jeff Moore; and Scavengers author Darren Simpson of the UK.

Sponsorship support for this week’s programming comes from the EU-Turkey Intercultural Dialogue Programme, as a part of the project Diversity in Unity: Intercultural Dialogue Through the Waves of Danube and Civil Society Dialogue Programme, headed up by the İstanbul Hungarian Cultural Center. The program is presented in partnership with the Turkish European Foundation and the Kalem Culture Association.

More information is at the festival’s site, its Instagram account, and its Facebook page.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Turkish market is here, more from us on translation is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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