Halide Nusret Zorlutuna: Mother of female writers

HAKAN ARSLANBENZER
ISTANBUL
Published
Halide Nusret Zorlutuna: Mother of female writers

Some women throughout the history of Turkish literature have not only influenced the women of their time, but also future generations. Halide Nusret Zorlutuna, born during the Ottoman Empire and having lived through the founding of the Republic of Turkey, was the embodiment of modern femininity as a teacher and female writer

Turkish writers born at the start of the 20th century came at a time of dramatic political shifts in Turkey. With the founding of the Turkish republic in 1923, these writers grew up with the influence of the Ottoman-era from their parents, while being obliged to behave as citizens of a nation-state. This caused confusion in their minds and became the essence of the bitter ironies in their writing.

Moreover, these writers were also torn between writing for the sake of unique artistic creation and fulfilling their national duty as writers.

Turkish writers from this era include many prominent names such as Faruk Nafız Çamlıbel, Necip Fazıl Kısakürek and Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar. They were all faced with the difficult task of establishing their individual identities as writers: spiritualist or individualist, bohemian artists or "poets of the nation," like their predecessors Mehmet Akif and Mehmet Emin.

Among this double-burdened generation, a humble and calm female poet also gained attention among the writers' canon: Halide Nusret Zorlutuna. Just like her peers, she also has three names, "Halide," "Nusret" which was her father's name and "Zorlutuna," the surname she received after the Code of Surnames was enacted in 1934. She was a poet, a fiction writer and a public servant of the changing national culture.

Early life and teenage years of the poet

Halide Nusret Zorlutuna was born in 1901 in Istanbul. Her father was a journalist named Mehmet Selim who belonged to a notable family from Erzurum, an eastern province of Turkey. Mehmet Selim later changed his name to Avnullah Kazımi. He was the leader of a political party in Meşrutiyet, a parliamentary monarchy period of Turkish history, and an opponent of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the ruling party until the end of World War I.

Under the Committee of Union and Progress, the government was cruel to its opponents and punished Avnullah Kazımi for being a naysayer with imprisonment and exile. As a result, Halide Nusret rarely saw her father.

After many hard years, Avnullah Kazımi chose to resign from his political activities and was appointed as the governor of Kirkuk, which indeed was another governmental effort to exile its opponents.

Halide Nusret received a private education in Kirkuk, where she learned Arabic and Persian. She would go on to write about her years in Kirkuk in her autobiographical novel, "Bir Devrin Romanı" (Novel of an Era).

Halide turned back to Istanbul with her family as World War I broke out. She attended the Erenköy Girls' School, where she began writing romantic poems.

A quarrel with a famous male poet

Zorlutuna had two friends at the Erenköy Girls' School, who were cousins of the famous poet, Faruk Nafiz Çamlıbel. Çamlıbel, then a young poet himself, wrote a sarcastic poem about female poets in his cousin's notebook. The trio read Çamlıbel's poetic mockery and decided to write a counter-poem in response to the famous poet. This literary quarrel brought great fame to Halide Nusret in later years, albeit in the shape of a rumor.

Halide Nusret mentions her quarrel with Çamlıbel in her memoir saying, "Indeed, I met and made friends with many male poets who were my age, including Orhan Seyfi and Nazım Hikmet. However, there always was a cold mood between me and Faruk Nafiz."

Was Zorlutuna a feminist? No, not at all. Yet, she sought to establish her individual character and charisma as a female writer. She was good at writing small heroic poems. Moreover, her writing style was not one of femininity. The first poems she wrote reflected a conscientious and nationalist persona. She did not want to meet the cliché expectations – such as writing frivolous poems about romance – placed on female poets of her time.

Halide Nusret's early poems were influenced by folkloric style and the nationalist point of view of the poems by Mehmet Emin Yurdakul and Rıza Tevfik Bölükbaşı. However, Nusret was more accurate in using appropriate vocabulary to convey an exact feeling and wrote more lyrical poetry than her masters.

The occupation of Istanbul and the poeam "Go, Spring!"

After World War I and occupation of Istanbul and İzmir, Halide Nusret wrote one of her best poems, though she was only 18: "Git Bahar" (Go, Spring!). She used the enthusiasm and romance sentiments of the spring season to convey feelings of depression regarding the occupation. The poem's narrator refuses the coming of the spring, telling it to go away because it's not time to laugh and drink, but to cry and pray. There is no overt sign of the political situation, but people knew it already.

Zorlutuna enrolled in the literature department at Istanbul University. Unfortunately, she had to work for money; thus, she began to work as a high school teacher after quitting her university education. Luckily, she was a very hard-working person and took classes in the history department while working as a teacher in Istanbul. Moreover, she learned English on her own.

Zorlutuna worked as a teacher of Turkish literature in high schools all across Turkey. She never complained about moving from one place to another. On the contrary, she loved to be a teacher and work for her nation.

Poet, novelist, civil society volunteer

Zorlutuna had two identities: She was a nationalist poet and a teacher. However, she also contributed to the founding and supporting of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) inTurkey, especially those that support women. She also wrote various novels and plays and published some volumes of short stories.

In 1975, which was announced by the United Nations as the "Year of Women," the Association for Exploration of the Social Life of Women gave Zorlutuna the title of "Ümmül-Muharrirat" (Mother of Female Writers).

Halide Nusret was married to General Aziz Vecihi Zorlutuna. She was the mother of Emine Işınsu and aunt of Pınar Kür, both of whom are famous female novelists in Turkey.

Zorlutuna died on June 10, 1984 in Istanbul.

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