"Few places on Earth have given literature the importance it has attained in Central Asia, where mighty and meek have for centuries composed, recited, listened to or read, and lived with the poetry which remained their constant companion."
-- Professor Edward Allworth, Columbia University
Allworth was one of the leading authorities on Central Asia and one of his great passions was Central Asian literature. So, when he penned the above quote in his book Central Asia: A Century Of Russian Rule (the 1967 edition, it's been updated a couple of times since then), his assessment carried significant weight.
His words still ring true, as the writers, poets, and bards of the region remain prominent today. In fact, anyone passing through any of the major cities and towns of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan would become familiar with the names of local literary greats, great and small.
During the time I was Allworth's student, I did not share his interest in Central Asian literature, which in hindsight I realize was a huge mistake.
The Central Eurasian Studies Society conference in Seattle in October 2017 featured a panel devoted to, and honoring, Allworth. Some of his former students presented papers.
I was one of them and, as a tribute to Allworth, I decided to do mine on Central Asia's writers and how they are remembered today. This piece essentially counts as my latest and/or last homework assignment for Allworth.
I make no claim to being an authority on this subject, and the few writers highlighted barely scratch the surface -- there are great number of worthy writers, poets, and bards. But it would be a mammoth work to compile information on even half of them.
I did have some fantastic help, though, and I acknowledge here those who were kind enough to share with me their extensive knowledge:
-- Begmyrat Bayryyev, MA in Media, Culture and Society from the Polish Academy of Sciences' Institute of Philosophy and Sociology;
-- Amanmurat Agha Bugayev, a member of Turkmenistan's Union of Writers from 1982 to 2001;
-- Hamid Ismailov, currently writer in residence at the BBC and formerly head of the Central Asian services at the BBC;
-- Tyntykbek Tchoroev, a Kyrgyz historian currently teaching at Kyrgyzstan's Jusup Balasagyn University;
-- And, of course, my colleagues in the Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, and Uzbek services at RFE/RL.
-- Bruce Pannier