Early literature was comprised primarily of oral performance, in which poems were recited, sometimes with musical accompaniment. Traces of this art form are present in the türkü (modern Turkish folk song).
Although modern Turkish literature has adopted Western constructs such as the novel and the essay, it often draws from its pre-Ottoman origins. The Sufi poetry of Celeddin-i-Rumi and Yunus Emre survived the Ottoman centuries relatively unscathed, as did The Book, of Dede Korkut, a collection of 12 legends, recounting the travels and trials of the noble Oğuz Turks, the ancestors of modern Turks. This epic provides the modern reader with a good introduction to an important genre in Ottoman literature. Many such epics were rediscovered during the 19th century. With this renewed interest in folk literature came a propagation of the tales of Nasrettin Hoca, an amiable, anti-authoritarian, religious man whose parables and fables are known by all Turkish schoolchildren.
Satire has historically been an important element in Turkish literature. A prominent modem Turkish poet, Namık Kemal, is famous for his satire of the Ottoman Empire during its final years. The critical poetry of Nazım Hikmet brought him both literary fame and exile, a common fate for writers with politically contentious views. A fervent republican and free speech advocate, Aziz Nesin is the provocative
Alevi writer whose writings sparked the Sivas incident in 1993. One of the better known Turkish writers is Yaşar Kemal, author of Memed, My Haivk. Thrice nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, his work has been critical of Turkish society and government, not without recourse: the government recently charged Kemal with anti-Turkish activities. Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s best-selling author and one of the few Turkish writers to have received international acclaim, explores the concept of identity through magic realism. His major novels are The White Castle, The New Life, and The Black Book.