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Anja Snellman

Born May 23, 1954, Helsinki

Bachelor of Arts 1977 (Finnish literature, English philology, applied psychology)
Studies in advanced Solution-Focused Therapy 2001–15, Helsinki Brief Therapy Institute
Master’s degree programme 2015–16 (Finnish Literature), thesis: Pentti Saarikoski and highly sensitive individuals

Author, journalist and therapist
Host of the HSTV talk show Arka paikka (‘A sensitive place’) 2014–
Active debater of social issues

Literary production

The J. H. Erkko Award (later the Helsingin Sanomat Literature Prize) for best debut novel 1981
Kiitos Kirjasta book award 1994
Lyytin päivän palkinto (award for the promotion of gender equality) 2000
Stadin Friidu (Helsinki cultural woman of the year) 2004
Pro Finlandia Medal of the Order of the Lion of Finland
Medal of the City of Helsinki 2008

Photo: Ulla-Maija Lähteenmäki
Written by Anja Snellman (Kaija Hartikainen ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

For the common good

I am at once do-gooder, a challenger, a magician and a dreamer, all in the same skin, there’s no denying it. I am a humanist, but not a toothless one. As a writer I have written about many taboos and social problems and societal themes that are difficult to articulate. The journalist in me questions, debates, roots around, ponders and wants to say things directly, without fear. The poet in me senses, whispers, longs and has a mad love for words. At the core of my being I am a wordsmith and a story teller.

In my debut work, Sonja O. Was Here, I already described a period of social upheaval, the shift from the over-politicised hegemony of the 1970s towards the green values, free media and economic boom of the 1980s. Throughout my books, my characters have pondered their own part, their own generation and their own influence within the various trends and currents of society.

I have written much on equality and becoming a woman, being a refugee, and social stratification, care of the elderly, mental illness, motherhood, prostitution and the sex trade, disability, violence, particularly domestic violence, dysfunctional families, child-rearing, the shadow-side of social media, and in my most recent novel, among other things, highly sensitive individuals. My subject matter ranges from social and political themes to psychology and sociology. Social undercurrents are also evident in my works of poetry along with experiments with language and form.

Photo: Ulla-Maija Lähteenmäki

As a novelist, I have had the habit of inventing with professions for my protagonists that interest me personally or are odd or contain hidden wisdom. From an osteologist to a wildlife veterinarian, from a figure-skater to a gynaecologist, from a cinema cleaner to a dentist, from a chemist to a beetle entomologist, from a class teacher to a taxidermist – and to understand each profession from the inside I have signed up at various places to do background work.

For Geography of Fear I spent almost a year under the wing of the forensic dental scientist Helena Ranta at the Department of Forensic Medicine, and I was at ‘work’ for a similar length of time at Korkeasaari Zoo when I wrote Safari Club. For Lauri of Arabia I studied with an osteologist, and when writing Mother and Dog I worked at the Department of Biochemistry in Viiki.

In addition to my work as an author and journalist, I have also worked for the common good in other ways. I have not felt the calling to join a political party, but I have worked actively, among others, on the board of the Finnish Committee for UNICEF, on the Finnish National Commission for UNESCO, in the Women’s Bank, the Women’s Line and for the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage, Tahdon (‘I do’), and I have supported various campaigns promoting mental health literacy and literacy among girls and children.

Oh yes, and of course I have been active for the past 10 years in the University of Helsinki Alumni Association, and I have long been a member of its board.

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