FEATURE: Istanbul Tanpinar Festival by Ursula Bergenthal

Istanbul Tanpinar Festival
Istanbul is a three-dimensional city. This might not come as a surprise to most. But to me Istanbul was one of the first cities that displayed its dimensions immediately, where I did not want to consult a two-dimensional street-map to find my way around. A place that is so layered that I felt I had the choice of multiple paths – beneath, above or right through the many bridges, up and down the hills, on and off the Bosporus – without ever having the fear of getting lost. After all, you are in fact in the middle of the world, the exact place marked by a milestone.

Sometimes you have to be on-site to fully realize what you are looking for. Even with Orhan Pamuk receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, Turkey being the guest of honour at Frankfurt Book Fair in 2008, and with well-attended events like the Turkish-German literary festivals taking place in Berlin or Schleswig-Holstein; from my distant perspective, Turkish literature had still been a world of its own. It is a world very well worth discovering - I caught impressive glimpses now and then - but also somewhere difficult for a stranger like me to evolve a sense of direction. When Nermin Mollaoğlu, the founder of KALEM literary agency and initiator of the Istanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival (ITEF), invited me to join the fellowship program of the festival, I of course seized the chance.

Istanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival was founded in 2009, and one notices quickly how well Nermin and her team have managed to spread their passion for literature. The festival has already become truly international in its third year, with 54 authors from 13 countries taking part in the readings and discussions, with names such as Mario Levi, Jean Orizet, Ipek Calışlar, Vladislav Bajac, Adam Foulds, Charles den Tex, Mircea Dinescu, Tiffany Murray, Péter Zilahy or Timothée de Fombelle. ITEF has been developed in cooperation with Literature Across Frontiers and is supported by the Culture Programme of the EU. And thanks to its recently established cooperation with the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, the Copenhagen International Literature Festival, and the British Council, it is part of a rich international network and exchange.

The enthusiasm is infectious. This epidemic of energy also shows when you realize how many sponsors and volunteers make the festival possible, for example by allocating astonishing venues like the Çırağan Palace Kempinski overlooking the Bosporus, where the opening ceremony takes place.

The literary events during the five days of the festival blended in very naturally with the architecture and infrastructure of the city. The theme of this year’s festival was “City and Food”, and indeed one was nourished not only with intellectual (and often emotional) literary discussions and texts to savour, but also with culinary delights at the different “Literary Feasts” taking place in Cezayir Restaurant and other places.

Another important aim of the festival is to bring literature to schools, with authors visiting classes and discussing their texts; the organizers are well aware that you have to reach the young generation – not just our future clients, but also those who will form the societies we will have to (or hopefully want to) live in.

The fellowship program debuted this year, bringing together publishers, editors, translators, authors, and representatives from different cultural organizations, who, after all, share one common goal: to find and distribute and, yes, to live and enliven literature.

Besides the inspiring festival program, the fellowship program involved visiting several of the most acclaimed Turkish publishing houses like YapiKredi, Metis, Everest, and Timaş, as well as the Turkish Publishing Association. It is fascinating to see how literary markets deal with topics like pirate copies (the silver holograms on the back of Turkish books show the importance of this discussion), e-publishing, how international publishing houses define their lists, market their books, work with their authors, and to discuss how the literary market can benefit from book fairs and literary festivals. You come to question and reconsider your own approach.

Even if the book market is quite concentrated in Istanbul, the Turkish literary society that I encountered seems very dynamic – and from the talks I had with agents and publishers in Istanbul and later at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I have the feeling that constructive, often controversial (public) discussions are adding to this vivid literary scene.

And this scene is well prepared to share its treasures with other countries. Or maybe one should be realistic and say: to offer its treasures to the international market. It is certainly investing in becoming better equipped and more customer-oriented. Agencies like KALEM prepare their manuscripts very well – they offer (sample) translations in English and additionally in other languages, they provide detailed synopses and information on the authors, they organize workshops for translators and they give helpful advice on the subvention granted for the translation, promotion and printing of the works they represent.
With the TEDA project, introduced in 2005, publishers from more than 50 countries have already been awarded subventions.

And with Turkey as the market focus at the London Book Fair in 2013, one can only assume that Turkish literature will soon be spotlighted even more on the international stage. You should be quick if you want to add titles to your list.

I know that you should never, ever reveal the secret places where you find hidden treasures (the date for the next festival will soon be announced on www.itef.com.tr). But after all, publishing is not just about finding new talents, unusual voices and interesting stories. Above all it is driven by the urge to share what you find – with the readers, but also with the literary communities and the literary market. And this is exactly what ITEF and the fellowship program aim at: rewarding discussions, a profitable exchange of ideas, and a widely spread literary network.

And the journey is worth it. One cannot help but be infected by the enthusiasm of the dynamic Turkish literary scene, and to perceive the richness of the diverse, heterogeneous literary traditions and contemporary voices. It is impossible not to be thrilled by the beauty of the multi-dimensional city of Istanbul, where you cross bridges to find yet another dimension. You climb hills to see what is hidden behind the next ridge. And together with the other participants of the festival, you sit in a rooftop bar at night and watch as the lights of the city and the boats cruising on the Bosporus slowly connect to a pattern - like on the skin of a cantaloupe.

Further information can be found at:
Istanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival www.itef.com.tr
Kalem Agency www.kalemagency.com
Istanbul Book Fair www.istanbulbookfair.com

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