Bilgi’s literary archive silently expanding, awaiting donations

Old documents, letters and correspondence by prominent people hold the key to their secret world. Taking a stroll through this secret world usually offers an awe-inspiring experience for many.Documents belonging to authors and poets deserve to be scrutinized with the curiosity of a child. The literary archive founded under the auspices of İstanbul’s Bilgi University offers such an experience, promising to delight writers and bookworms alike.

The archive, the brainchild of editor, literary critic and academic Sevengül Sönmez and academic, translator, literary critic and columnist Murat Belge, was founded in December 2008 and has been growing steadily since then -- albeit without much public attention.

The archive, similar to many that can be found in European countries, is chiefly aimed at preserving personal documents left behind by Turkey’s most prominent authors, in addition to serving as a source for academic studies of those authors and their body of work. Nevertheless, the most exciting part of the archive will be a museum to be founded in the near future.

Sönmez, thought of among academic circles as a literary archaeologist for her studies on prominent authors, such as Sait Faik Abasıyanık, Kemal Tahir and Sabahattin Âli, oversees the archive, which currently possesses personal correspondence, documents, personal belongings and book collections belonging to Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu, Memet Fuat and Sabahattin Âli. The first collections donated to the center were the archives of journalist Burhan Belge, Murat Belge’s father, and Karaosmanoğlu, who was Murat Belge’s uncle.

The center is not only interested in written documents, but any kind of material, including personal belongings, voice recordings, manuscripts, incomplete or unpublished drafts; in short anything that an author has left his/her mark on.

The Memet Fuat and Sabahattin Âli archives are currently not on display due to a shortage of space but they will be available once a suitable location is found. In the meantime, the center is currently in talks with the holders of the personal archive of author Reşat Nuri Güntekin, one of whose best-known works is the novel “Çalıkuşu” (The Wren).

Yakup Kadri exhibition on the way

Sönmez’s contentment with the outcome of their efforts can be seen in her smile. As one of very few people in Turkey who traces authors and their life’s work like a detective and assembles these into publications that serve as source material, Sönmez and her students now have a treasure trove of such material waiting to be explored. Noting that personal documents and other belongings of famous authors serve as major sources for exploring matters related to literary history and the history of a society, Sönmez goes on to say that this is still a rather less-explored arena for Turkey. “A book is always a book, and we want books to be available for everyone to read. This is the reason why we are establishing this archive. … Otherwise books remain objects that are accessible by a single person.”

As for possible contributions the archive can make to Turkey’s literary history, Sönmez gives Karaosmanoğlu’s 1932 novel “Yaban” (The Stranger) as an example. “Every single draft of the novel ‘Yaban,’ starting with its first draft and its handwritten manuscripts, are present in the archive. What are the differences between Karaosmanoğlu’s first draft and the final published version of the novel? Was it subject to censorship or self-inflicted censorship? [This archive] is capable of revealing many things about censorship, of deciphering traces of social or personal pressure.”

Another example Sönmez gives is short-story writer Sait Faik Abasıyanık: “We have an image of Sait Faik as a slovenly, messy man who used to write a lot and just throw away stories [he did not like]. But he was not actually such a person; it is evident in the letters he wrote to his peer Yaşar Nabi Nayır in his manuscripts.”

Sönmez adds that the archive is likely to yield new publications, such as Karaosmanoğlu’s letters, which have never been compiled as a book before. Underlining that Karaosmanoğlu’s archive is a matchless collection, Sönmez also notes that they might put together an exhibit on the life and works of the author toward the end of 2010.

Calling on all literature enthusiasts, Sönmez says, “We will accept [donations of] all kinds of documents that can be part of social history.”

What’s in Bilgi University’s new literary archive?

* 434 books from the personal library of Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu, most of them first editions and signed by their authors.

* 123 books that belonged to Leman Karaosmanoğlu, most of them signed by their authors.

* Documents belonging to historian Mehmed Asaf.

* Letters Burhan Belge wrote to his acquaintances from Yassıada while serving time in prison.

* Old issues of literary magazines Akbaba, Akis, Ayın Tarihi, Forum, Hayat, Hürriyet Gösteri, Karagöz, L’illustration, Malumat, Milliyet Sanat, Mizah, Polis Mecmuası, Radyo, Resimli XX, Asır, Servet-i Fünun, Sevimli Ay, Şehbal, Tef, Türk Hava Mecmuası, Ülkü and Yedigün.

* Voice recordings of interviews with authors Adalet Ağaoğlu, Fethi Naci, İlhan Berk, Ömer Laçiner, İsmet Özel, Hüsamettin Bozok, Sabahattin Batur, Faik Baysal, Mücap Ofluoğlu, Özcan Ergüder, Naim Tirali and İhsan Devrim.

Musa İğrek, İstanbul

15/04/2010

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