In this year’s PEN International elections, which took place during the annual conference: PEN’S Centennial Congress 2021, author Burhan Sönmez was elected President of Pen International
Burhan Sönmez is a Kurdish prize-winning novelist from Turkey. He is the President of PEN International, elected at the Centennial Congress in 2021. Sönmez is the author of five novels. His first novel, North (Kuzey), was published in 2009 in Turkey. His second novel, Sins and Innocents (Masumlar), was published in 2011. His third novel, Istanbul Istanbul, was published in 2015. Labyrinth, his fourth novel, got published in 2018. His last novel is Stone and Shadow, published in 2021. He received “Disturbing the Peace” award given by Vaclav Havel Library Foundation in New York (2017).
He’s awarded the EBRD Literature Prize in London (2018) for his novel Istanbul Istanbul. Sins and Innocents has received the Sedat Simavi Literature Prize, a most prestigious literature award in Turkey. His novels are being published in more than forty countries such as by Gallimard (France), Other Press (USA), Random House (Germany), Nottetempo (Italy).
Burhan Sönmez is a dual Turkish/British national. He was born in Turkey. He grew up speaking Turkish and Kurdish, then later moved to Istanbul where he worked for a time as a lawyer. He was member of Human Rights Society (IHD) and a founder of TAKSAV (Foundation for Social Research, Culture and Art). He was among founders of daily BirGün, an opposition newspaper. He was seriously injured following an assault by police in 1996 in Turkey and received treatment in Britain for a long period of time (with the support of the Freedom from Torture.) Even though he was interested in poetry and won awards in two national poetry competitions in Turkey, he turned his hand to writing novels. His interest in writing, storytelling and modern literature is rooted in the traditional stories and legends he was brought up with. His unique experience of growing up in a remote village with no electricity, and having a talented storyteller for a mother, has provided perspective, inspiration and material for his writing.
He has written for various newspapers and magazines like The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, La Repubblica. He translated the poetry book of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake into Turkish.
He was a member of judging panel for 2014 Cevdet Kudret Literature Prize and for 2020 Geneva International Film Festival. He lectured in Literature and Novel at the METU. He lives between Cambridge and Istanbul.