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Yaşar Kemal was born as Kemal Sadık Gökçeli in 1926 in the Hemite village of Kadirli, Osmaniye, where his family, originally from the village of Ernis (present-day Ünseli) near Lake Van, had settled after a long period of immigration caused by the Russian occupation during World War I. The year of his birth is recognized as 1923 in some biographies.  

After having left secondary school in his final year, he worked as a farmhand scribe, chief farmhand, substitute teacher, library officer, truck driver, and paddy inspector. In the early 1940s, he came into contact with leftist artists and writers such as Pertev Naili Boratav, Abidin Dino, and Arif Dino; he was imprisoned for political reasons for the first time when he was 17 years old. In 1943, Kemal published his first book Ağıtlar ("Ballads"), a compilation of folkloric themes. After completing his military service, he traveled to İstanbul in 1946 and worked as a gas control inspector at the French Gas Company. In 1948, he returned to Kadirli and worked for some time as a paddy inspector and later as letter-writer for illiterate citizens. He was arrested in 1950 for allegedly propagating Communism and served time at the Kozan Penitentiary. After his release in 1951, he went back to İstanbul and worked at Cumhuriyet newspaper between 1951 and 1963 as a short feature and interview writer under the penname Yaşar Kemal. Meanwhile, he published his first book of short stories Sarı Sıcak (Yellow Heat) in 1952 and İnce Memed (Memed, My Hawk), which has been translated into more than forty languages, in 1955. In 1962, he joined the Worker's Party in which he served as member of the executive board and member of the central executive board. He was prosecuted a number of times due to his writings and political activities. He was among the cofounders of the weekly political magazine Ant in 1967.  He participated in the creation of the Writers' Trade Union of Turkey in 1973 and served as its first chairman in 1974-75. He was also the first president of the PEN Writer's Association founded in 1988. Due to an article he published in Der Spiegel in 1995, he was tried at the State Security Court of İstanbul and was acquitted. The same year he was sentenced to prison for 1 year and 8 months for an article he published in Index on Censorship, but his sentence was postponed.

With his amazing imagination, grasp of the inner depths of the human soul, and lyrical narrative, Yaşar Kemal became one of the leading name not only of Turkish literature, but of world literature as well. Translated into more than forty languages, Yaşar Kemal is the recipient of many awards in Turkey and more than twenty international awards including Prix mondial Cino del Duca, Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur de France, Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres of the French Ministry of Culture, Grand Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de France, Premi Internacional Cataluña, Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, as well as seven honorary doctorates—five in Turkey and two abroad. The last award Kemal received was the Bjørnson Prize given by the Norwegian Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression (Bjørnson Academy) on November 9, 2013. Yaşar Kemal died in İstanbul on February 28, 2015.

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