Haldun Taner is an important author of the Turkish Republican era. Born in Istanbul in 1915, Haldun Taner lost his father when he was five years old and started to live at his grandfather’s residence. He graduated from the Galatasaray High School with full scholarship in 1935. After his graduation, he was sent by the government to study economics and political science at Heidelberg University in Germany. He had to discontinue his studies in Germany and return to Turkey after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. During his four years of treatment at the Erenköy Sanitorium, he wrote short stories for the Ankara Radio.
Haldun Taner completed his tertiary education in 1950, graduating with a German Philology degree from the Faculty of Arts of Istanbul University. The author who worked in the Art History Department between 1950 and 1954, was on the publishers board of the magazine ‘Küçük’ (Little), a 12-issue magazine published between the years 1952 and 1953. In 1954 he published the theatre magazine ‘Oyun’ (Play). In 1955 he went to Vienna for his theatrical education, and upon returning a year later, he began to write on art and literature for the Tercüman newspaper.
Haldun Taner who was a lecturer on literature, aesthetics and theatre at the Faculty of Arts at Istanbul University and the Journalism Institute in 1957, started to write anecdotes and jokes for the ‘Milliyet’ newspaper between the years of 1974 and 1986. He took part in the establishment of The Turkish Theatre Writers Association in 1966. In 1967, the author established Turkey’s first Cabaret, ‘The Ostrich Cabaret Theatre’, together with Metin Akpınar, Zeki Alasya and Ahmet Gülhan. Leaving this cabaret on the grounds that it had deviated from its intellectual theatre style, Taner established ‘Our Theatre’ with Münir Özkul in 1969 followed by The ‘Tambourine Cabaret’ with Ahmet Gülhan in 1979. He went to Germany in 1980 to lecture on theatre and wrote for the ‘Die Zeit’ and ‘Merian’ newspapers. Haldun Taner lost his life after a heart attack in Istanbul on May 7, 1986. From 1987 onwards, the ‘Haldun Taner Short Story Award’ has been given in memory of the author.
Haldun Taner the Artist
Haldun Taner started his literature journey by writing plays for radio using pseudonyms like Haldun Hasırcıoğlu, Haldun Yağcıoğlu and Can Enişte. Despite writing anecdotes, jokes, memoirs and travel pieces, Haldun Taner was known especially with his short stories and theatre plays.
The author, whose first story ‘Töhmet’ was published in the magazine ‘Yedigün’ on August 4, 1946, was able to reach out to a large number of readers in such a short period of time with his following works published in the magazines ‘Varlık’, ‘Yücel’ and ‘Ülkü’. Taner, who was awarded first place in an international story writing competition organized by the ‘New York Herald Tribune’ newspaper in 1953 for his piece ‘Şişhane’ye Yağmur Yağıyordu’ (It Was Raining in Şişhane), also won the ‘Sait Faik Short Story Gift’ Award in 1955 for his story book ‘On Ikiye Bir Var’ (It is One to Twelve).
The author, whose initial works were strongly influenced by authors such as Hüseyin Rahmi Gürpınar, Memduh Şevket Esendal and Fahri Celal Göktulga, created his stories of the lives of urban people with a touch of subtle irony and criticism. In these stories which were published between 1946 and 1954 – also due to the fact that he was diagnosed with tuberculosis during these years – a sense of pessimism is evident while this mood clearly becomes much more rare in his stories after 1954.
The Second Era of HIS StoryTELLING
In the second period of his storytelling carieer, Haldun Taner writes about ‘the individual’ from a universal point of view, while continuing to blend it with criticism and satire. Masterfully using modern narrative techniques, Taner made use of everything irony had to offer. During a period in which existentialism was developing in Turkish literature, Taner refused to adopt this movement and instead wrote stories that exalted the individual human, life and nature with an affectionate perspective and tone, without forgetting to criticise with a subtle irony. As the author was read by a wide audience, he made sure to use a simple and comprehensive language.
During his life, Haldun Taner published eight story books; ‘Yaşasın Demokrasi’ (Long Live Democracy) (1949), ‘Tuş’ (Button) (1951), ‘Şişhane’ye Yağmur Yağıyordu’ (It was Raining in Şişhane) (1954), ‘Ayışığında Çalışkur’ (‘Caliskur’ under the Moonlight’) (1954), ‘On İkiye Bir Var’ (It is One to Twelve) (1954), ‘Konçinalar‘ (1967), ‘Sancho’nun Sabah Yürüyüşü’ (Sancho’s Morning Walk) (1969), ‘Yalıda Sabah’ (Morning at the Waterside Mansion) (1983). All of Taner’s stories were put together in four volumes by Bilgi Publishing House in 1983 in four tomes, ‘Kızıl Saçlı Amazon’ (The Red-Haired Amazon), ‘Şişhane’ye Yağmur Yağıyordu’ (Raining in Şişhane), ‘On İkiye Bir Var’ (It is One to Twelve) ve ‘Yalıda Sabah’ (Morning at the Waterside Mansion).
Playwright and ‘KEŞANLI ALİ DESTANI’
Besides being a story writer, Haldun Taner as a playwright ought to be stressed as well. He was a playwright who broadened the horizons of our theatre with his plays. Taner published ten plays which illustrated the social panorama of the time while criticising the problems of society that occurred through a realist and ironic approach. ‘Keşanlı Ali Destanı’ (1964) has a very special place amongst his works in which he blended elements from both our traditional and modern theatre cultures.
‘Keşanlı Ali Destanı’, which was first staged on March 31, 1964, was a musical play with a big crew that explored the social-economic clashes of the 1960s in Turkey and the urban life. This play is considered the first epic play in Turkish literature. With this play, Haldun Taner artfully synthesises traditional Turkish theatre with Bertold Brect’s epic theatre.
‘Keşanlı Ali Destanı’, which has been published numerous times up until today, has become a real ‘phenomenon’ after being staged in Turkish theatres. Staged thousands of time in Turkey and abroad, the play has been translated into many languages and has been adapted into a movie and television series.
Besides ‘Keşanlı Ali Destanı’, the author has many other plays including: ‘Günün Adamı’ (Man of the Day) (1953), ‘Sersem Kocanın Kurnaz Karısı’ (The Cunning Wife of the Silly Husband) (1971, 1972 Turkish Linguistic Society Award Winner), ‘Gözlerimi Kaparım Vazifemi Yaparım’ (I Shall Turn a Blind Eye and Do my Job) (1979), ‘Fazilet Eczanesi’ (The Virtue Pharmacy) (1982), ‘Ayışığında Şamata’ (The Racket Under the Moonlight) (1987), ‘Vatan Kurtaran Şaban’ (Şaban, the Country Saving Hero) (1989)…
With his memoir, ‘Ölürse Ten Ölür, Canlar Ölesi Değil‘ (1979) and travel piece, ‘Düşsem Yollara Yollara’ (1979), Haldun Taner has also given Turkish Literature many anecdotes and jokes. ‘Devekuşuna Mektuplar’ (Letters to the Ostrich) (1960), ‘Hak Dost Diye Başlayalım Söze’ (Let Us Begin with True Friend) (1978), ‘Yaz Boz Tahtası’ (Scratch Pad) (1982) and ‘Berlin Mektupları’ (Berlin Letters) (1984) are a few samples for these styles of writing. Haldun Taner is acknowledged as a cornerstone of Turkish Literature with his stories depicting the social problems of society using a simple and ironic language. Producing many pieces, with ‘Keşanlı Ali Destanı’ being one of the most important ones, during his 71 years, Haldun Taner is known to be one of the pioneers of Turkish theatre together with his other works in the field of theather production as well his plays.