Literary games

Istanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival

By Victoria Khroundina | October 24, 2013

Time is fast approaching for the Istanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival (this year taking place between October 31 and November 3). The brainchild of the Kalem Literary Agency, the Festival is now in its fifth year and aims to promote the country’s literary scene by bringing international and Turkish authors to Turkish audiences.

The festival is named after Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar (above), one of Turkey’s most important contemporary novelists and essayists. Tanpınar lived and worked during a crucial period in Turkey’s history – the end of the Ottoman Empire and the golden years following the formation of the new Republic. He even did a stint as a member of parliament between 1942 and 1946. Having witnessed both Ottoman and Republic life, Tanpınar was able to approach both sides critically, Cihan Akkartal, the Festival’s organiser tells me. He can be seen a ‘bridge between the East and the West,’ says Akkartal, and his novels, stories and poetry are marked by this dichotomy. The Turkish short-story writer Çiler Ilhan – also taking part in this year’s Festival – is quoted in this Guardian article as saying Tanpınar was ‘despised for years by writers who believed only in the Turkish Republic. He was seen as old-fashioned – but he’s groundbreaking’. Although not a direct reason for the Kalem Literary Agency’s decision to name their festival after Tanpınar, he is undoubtedly ‘a figure able to bring people from different backgrounds together’, as Akkartal says. 

The theme of this year’s festival is ‘City and Game’, inspired by Tanpınar’s book Five Cities, in which he writes: ‘all creation is a game created by a God that was lonely and bored’. In choosing a theme, the organisers always combine an abstract idea inspired by or linked to Tanpınar’s work with the word ‘city’. The festival aims to be ‘urban’ – thus the ‘city’ part – and ‘endeavours to spread to the totality of Istanbul,’ Akkartal tells me. Although that seems like an impossible dream, the two main venues are on opposite sides of the city – KargART in Kadıköy and Cezayir Restaurant Conference Hall in Beyoğlu.

The highlight this year will be the Argentinian author Alberto Manguel’s ten-day tour of the cities Tanpınar wrote about in Five Cities. Manguel will document his impressions of Istanbul, Bursa, Ankara, Erzurum and Konya in a book that will become a kind of homage to Tanpınar. Five Cities is an important book, Akkartal tells me, ‘because Tanpınar lived in each of the cities personally’. He was an ardent traveller and made a six-month journey around France, Belgium, Holland, England, Spain and Italy in 1953. Manguel, as a fellow ‘man of the world’, will see the same cities as Tanpınar but in a completely different era. Festival-goers in Istanbul and Bursa will also be treated to a conversation between Manguel and Gökhan Yavuz Demir, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Uludag University. The Istanbul event will be part of the Istanbul Book Fair and is scheduled for November 3; Bursa’s will take place at the Nazim Hikmet Cultural Centre on November 8.

Another event Akkartal is looking forward to is Grim City, in which the English author David Pearce will talk about cities and gentrification – currently a very pertinent subject in Istanbul – with the Turkish journalist and author Ece Temelkuran. The two will discuss recent events in the city, linking them to their own work. Pearce has written a dystopian trilogy about the United States’s military occupation of Japan, while Temelkuran usually makes connections between cities (especially in the Middle East) in her work. Another fun event, Akkartal tells me, will involve the board game ‘Class Struggle’, developed by an American professor of politics, Bertell Olman, in the 1970s in order, apparently, to instil socialist values in young people. The Turkish journalist Doğan Ergün will first discuss the game, dubbed the ‘Marxist’s Monopoly’, and then initiate a tournament. 

Looking to the future, the festival hopes to engage, or even create, future readers. For the first time, it will involve international authors in a ‘Writers in Schools’ project – aimed at reaching out to children in primary and middle schools located in the far corners of the city. In previous years, only local authors have taken part in this programme. The next step will be to reach out to university students.

‘People in Istanbul are not avid readers,’ Akkartal tells me. ‘There is no culture of literary events, so the audience’s attention has to be captured.’ Thus, the Festival’s overarching goal is to establish not just a literary festival, but a cultural practice of going to literary events. An ambitious goal, but a very important one.

Visit the Festival’s website for the full programme.

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