This year Swedish writer Barbro Lindgren has for the first time become a winner of Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for her achievements in literature for children and youth. Founded by the Swedish government in 2002 to commemorate the “mother” of Karlsson and Pippi, the award has become became the world’s biggest and one of the most prestigious children’s literary awards. Its prize fund is five million Swedish kronor (about 750,000 dollars). This week in Stockholm 77-year-old Barbro Lindgren, an author of over 100 books (many of which she illustrated by herself) received the award from Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden.
On the eve the governmental organization Swedish Institute managed to agree about an interview with Barbro Lindgren. She does not especially like to communicate with journalists and is not a public person on the whole, therefore we, several journalists from different countries, were very lucky. We entered a picturesque hotel on the coast of Riddarfjarden Bay, where the writer is already waiting for us. Like many Swedes, Barbro Lindgren has a good command of English. She understands all questions, but prefers to answer in Swedish with an English translation. Her faithful friend, dog Mimi, which is apparently a prototype of many characters, sits near her.
“GRANDMOTHER I’VE ALWAYS DREAMED OF”
Gray-haired, tall, smiling and serious at the same time, the writer says first and foremost that she did not expect to receive this award. But she is very glad, in particular because the award is named after Astrid Lindgren, whom she used to know very well. In spite of the same surname, the writers are not related. Back in the 1960s Barbro Lindgren sent a manuscript of her first novelette to Astrid Lindgren who was working as an editor and received several recommendations from the classic: do not describe too many events on one page, limit yourself only to two or three main characters, do not introduce jokes that are meant for adults in a book for children. “I decided to listen to the advice – and this allowed my first book to be published and inspired me to continue writing. I consider this letter my only ‘university’ on writer’s mastery,” the author says.
“I knew from childhood that I would become a writer. Since I was five years old I was keeping a diary and continue to do so,” Barbro Lindgren says, “This helps me to memorize all the details and feelings at a specific moment of my life. I like to reread them and go back in time.” This habit has essentially influenced the creative work of the author: the critics note that the language and contemplations of children in Barbro Lindgren’s books are incredibly realistic, and the writer easily conveys psychology of very different characters. In her works humor is combined with seriousness. Lindgren’s books are deep and affect the readers, no matter how old they are. The author defines three types of characters: people, nature, and animals. They have been in the center of her writer’s exploration for almost 50 years: Lindgren’s first book Mattias’ Summer was published in 1965.
Currently Barbro Lindgren does not write much. “Because I have written so much – for children and adults, prose works and poetry, plays and articles,” she says, “I had a moment when several years ago I had a distinctive feeling that I had said everything. But, anyway, I take a notebook and a pen every day [the writer does not recognize printing machines or computers. – Author], and make notes. And some time later a book is published.” Barbro Lindgren invents little, rather documenting what surrounds her. “My characters are people I have met, even if they are not with us anymore, they will stay with us in books forever,” she says.
When asked by The Day how she manages to work so productively, the writer answers: “The most important thing for me is to feel free. I do not promise anything to myself, or to the publishers, I don’t have deadlines, I simply work – that’s all. My time is not occupied by mastering of new technique – computers or Smartphones – I don’t need them anymore. I don’t think I must write every day. Everything depends on whether I feel such need at a specific moment. I get very inspired by meetings with readers: it is pleasant to see that they love my creative work. After such events I feel that I am full of strength and energy to create.” I shake hands and smile to this wonderful woman, who at her 77 remains cheerful. Ms. Lindgren hurries to visit other meetings, later goes to get ready for the evening ceremony. One of the journalists says, “She is a grandmother I have always dreamed of.”
“INNOVATOR IN EVERYTHING”
The director of ALMA award Helen Sigeland and chairman of the jury Larry Lempert come up to us. Ms. Sigeland tells that this year 238 candidates from 68 countries of the world were contending for this prize. Not only writers are nominated, but as well illustrators, storytellers, organizations and people who promote reading. Twelve jurors actively work for a year to define the worthiest and this choice is never simple. Helen Sigeland insists that Ukrainians should nominate their candidates, too. Larry Lempert is the person who calls to congratulate the winner. “Barbro has long ago deserved this award,” he says, “In their decision the jurors wrote that she is an innovator in many spheres. Barbro Lindgren has again invented for us the short story in the genre of absurd prose, existential verse for children, and realistic literature for youth.”
Finally, the ceremony began. In the evening I was trying to get through the line of people to the Stockholm Concert Hall: the hall is crowded. The speeches concerning Lindgren’s victory take turns with artistic performances – performances of Swedish actors and musicians, films about the writers, video where children tell about their attitude to her. Edda Magnason, a popular Swedish singer and actress, who simply enchanted the audience with songs she wrote herself to the accompaniment of the piano, appeared on stage three times. Sweden’s Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn, our acquaintance Larry Lempert congratulates the winner, but everyone is waiting for greetings from another person. Finally the moment comes, and two favorites of Sweden are now standing on the stage at once: the Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Barbro Lindgren. Interestingly, the crown princess decided not to deliver a speech, but congratulated the writer personally, not in the microphone. At this moment the guests simultaneously rose to their feet and applauded for no less than ten minutes.
During her speech Barbro Lindgren thanked and recited her children’s poem: the audience laughed almost after every paragraph. Children’s writers must be able to tell jokes even if they write on serious topics – only then will the reader love them. Namely this feeling was in the air, love and respect to the writer: most people in the audience know her works from their childhood and now read them already to their children and grandchildren. It is only left to wish that our publishers, too, paid attention to this year’s winner of Astrid Lindgren Award and translations of her unique books were published in Ukraine at last.