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Bo Carpelan

Bo Gustaf Bertelsson Carpelan
Born October 25, 1926, Helsinki. Died February 11, 2011, Espoo.

Master of Arts (Literature), 1948, Licentiate of Philosophy, 1956, Doctor of Philosophy, 1960, University of Helsinki
Library Diploma, School of Social Sciences, Tampere
Studies in France (1951), United States (1961), England (1962)

Honorary Arts Professor, 1980–1993
Study counsellor, 1950-59; section librarian 1960–64; Assistant librarian, 1964–80, Helsinki City Library
Literary reviewer, 1949–64, Huvudstadsbladet newspaper
Board Member, Finlands svenska författareförening (Society of Swedish writers in Finland), 1950–70
Finnish representative, Nordic Council of Ministers, 1965–71

Le Prix Européen de Littérature, 2007
Svenska Akademiens nordiska pris (Ruotsi) 1997
Finlandia Prize 1993, 2005
Suomen runoilijaliiton Vuoden runoilija (Finnish poetry association, poet of the year) 1993
National award for translation, 1986
Karl Emil Tollander prize 1983
Pro Finlandia (award for non-fiction), 1978
Nordic Council Literature Prize, 1977
Nuorisokirjallisuuden valtionpalkinto (’ Young writers’ national award’) 1969, 1989
Valtion kirjallisuuspalkinto (’National award for writing’) 1967, 1972, 1987, 1989

Photo: Schildts & Söderströms
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by John Calton

Library assistant to deputy head librarian

The son of an impecunious bank clerk, Bo Carpelan enrolled in the University of Helsinki to study literature in 1944. Even whilst he was studying he worked among books – first in the Academic Bookstore and then in the City Library in Rikhardinkatu street. He was to work among library books for some time.

Carpelan graduated in 1948. He had no inclination to pursue a research career. In order to improve his employment prospects however, he first wrote his licentiate thesis in 1956 and proceeded to defend his doctoral thesis in 1960 with a study of a living writer Gunnar Björling (‘Studier i Gunnar Björlings diktning 1922–1933’). The then rector of the University, Edwin Linkomies, was not at all happy about the topic, since Gunnar Björling was a living author. Linkomies informed Carpelan a week before the official defence of the thesis that the subject was not acceptable. For all that, the defence took place and the thesis was accepted.

With his background in literary studies, Carpelan was also a literary critic. He wrote reviews in the main Swedish-language Finnish broadsheet Huvudstadsbladet for fifteen years. During the first years he truly enjoyed the work of the critic, but in time he came to view it as a necessary evil. Carpelan began to be increasingly troubled by the fact that he had to able to justify his evaluations, to say why precisely he did or did not like some work. With children entering the picture however, the need to earn grew and Carpelan continued with his role as literary critic until 1964.

For Carpelan, the library environment was a proving ground and source of knowledge. He started out in 1946 as a humble library assistant in the library in Rikhardinkatu street. With the passage of the years he became the study counsellor and department librarian, until he was appointed deputy head librarian at the Helsinki City Library in 1964.

Carpelan gave up his work among books when he was named honorary arts professor in 1980. And it was only then that he felt he could commit himself fully to a writing career.

Bo Carpelan by his desk. Photo: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.​
Bo Carpelan by his desk. Photo: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.​


  • Matti Soutkari, ”Bo Carpelan. 1926–2011”, Svenskt översättarlexikon online. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Schildts & Söderströms, Bo Carpelan, Schildts & Söderström’s writer’s profile. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Bo Carpelan, Mitä olen oppinut: Bo Carpelan (’What I have learned’), Ylioppilaslehti online. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Pekka Tarkka, ’Bo Carpelan’, Helsingin Sanomat newspaper obituary. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Otava, Bo Carpelan, Otava publishing house writer’s profile. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Tytti Seessalo, ’Sinut tavoittaa tuuli, ja näet kirkkauden, valon’ (’You catch the wind, and see clear light’) Yliopisto-lehti online. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Johan Wrede, “Carpelan, Bo”, National Biography of Finland online. Accessed March 24, 2015.
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