Turkish literature spans in many continents and regions for about twelve centuries. According to Chinese sources Turkish literature began in the 2nd century BC but we don't have any written samples survived from that period. The earliest known writings in a Turkic language are the Orhun (Orkhon) Inscriptions written in cuneiforms on two large monuments, dated 8th century AD, discovered in 1889 in Northern Mongolia where the Turks originally come from. They were made to honor the two Turkish brother rulers; Kul Tigin (prince) and Bilge Khagan (emperor), and are full of information about the Turks' culture, social life and art.
Other early Turkish writings are 11th-century Turkish-Arabic dictionary of "Divanu Lugati Turk" written by Mahmud Kashgari and an Islamic principles book "Kutadgu Bilig" written by Yusuf Has Hacib; 16th-century manuscripts of an earlier heroic epic of the "Kitab-i Dede Korkut"; and 13th century mystical Sufi poetry. All of these various forms of literature evolved into Ottoman literature starting from 13th century on.
Turkish literature can be studied under three main categories:
- Pre-Islamic Turkish literature
- Islamic period Turkish literature
- Turkish literature under the influence of the West
During the Ottoman Empire the literature was divided into Divan (court) Poetry which was following certain strict rules by intellectuals, and Folk Poetry which consists of folk songs, folk tales, proverbs, riddles and village performance shows. Even the sultans wrote poems, it was a respectable work. Persian forms influenced the Ottoman poets starting from mid 16th century until mid 19th century when westernization started with the influence of French poetry.
Turkey has some of the most esteemed writers from the Ottoman and Republican periods. Some of their works of literature were influenced by political events or the circumstances of the period they lived in. These writers and poets enriched the Turkish culture with emotional poetry and fictional novels using their unique styles of writing. Maybe they are not yet as famous as their counterparts in the West, or it was like that until recently. But with translations of their work into various languages today it is possible to explore these Turkish authors and poets and their exquisite way of writing. Yasar Kemal was one of Turkey's leading writers who had been a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature for his novel "Ince Memed". Meanwhile Orhan Pamuk was awarded with this prize in 2006 with his novel "Museum of Innocence".
A list of early and contemporary notable and the most influential poets and writers from Turkey:
- Rumi, Fuzuli, Evliya Celebi, Ibn-i Sina, Piri Reis
- Yunus Emre, Nesimi, Kaygusuz Abdal, Ismail Dede Efendi, Haci Bayram Veli, Pir Sultan Abdal, Karacaoglan, Asik Omer, Dertli, Dadaloglu, Erzurumlu Emrah, Bayburtlu Zihni, Rusati, Summani, Asik Veysel
- Namik Kemal, Sinasi, Ahmet Mithat, Ziya Pasha, Mahmut Ekrem, Abdulhak Hamit, Samipashazade Sezai
- Recaizade Mahmut Ekrem, Tevfik Fikret, Cenab Sahabeddin, Halit Ziya Usakligil, Mehmet Rauf, Faruk Nafiz Camlibel, Sait Faik Abasiyanik, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, Cahit Sitki Taranci
- Ahmed Hasim, Emin Bulent Serdaroglu, Hamdullah Suphi Tanriover, Fuad Koprulu, Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoglu
- Omer Seyfettin, Mehmet Akif Ersoy, Resat Nuri Guntekin, Halide Edip Adivar
- Ziya Osman Saba, Yasar Nabi Nayir, Nazim Hikmet, Orhan Veli Kanik, Oktay Rifat, Cahit Kulebi, Huseyin Rahmi Gurpinar, Peyami Safa, Kemal Tahir, Yasar Kemal, Aziz Nesin, Can Yucel, Necati Cumali, Selim Ileri, Fakir Baykurt, Orhan Pamuk, Atilla Ilhan, Elif Safak, Ozdemir Asaf, Cemal Sureya, Ayse Kulin