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Elina Suomela-Härmä

Born 30 November 1946  Helsinki

Master of Arts, 1970, Licentiate of Philosophy, 1973 and Doctor of Philosophy, 1981 (University of Helsinki)

Acting Lecturer and acting Assistant in Romance Philology, 1972–81, University of Helsinki
Assistant, 1981–86, Docent, 1984–98; lecturer, 1987–92, Professor of Italian Philology, 1998–2014, University of Helsinki
Junior Researcher, Academy of Finland, 1985–87 and Researcher, 2006–07
Associate Professor and Professor of French, 1992–98, University of Tampere
Visiting Associate Professor of Finnish Language and Culture, 1988–91, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris III
Associate Professor of Medieval French Literature and Language, 1994–96, Université Paris Diderot

Publications, research projects and other academic activities

Research interests: Medieval French literature, contemporary Italian pragmatics and literature, Italian-French translation, esp. sixteenth century.

Awards and special achievements:
Chevalier des Palmes Académiques (‘French knight of the order of academic palms’)
Cavaliere dell’Ordine “Stella della Solidarietà italiana”  (‘knight of the order of the star of Italian solidarity’)
Chair, Suomen italianopettajien yhdistys (’Finnish association of Italian teachers’),1980–85
Chair, Helsinki Dante Alighieri Society, 1992–2008
Member, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, 2002-
Board Member, 2006–12 and Chair, 2011–12, Società Internazionale di Linguistica e Filologia italiana
Board Member, 2009-, Société des Anciens Textes français ('French medieval text society')

Written by Elina Suomela-Härmä
Translated by John Calton

The gorilla and the literary prize

For about a decade I have had the pleasant duty to serve on the prize-giving committee for a certain Italian literary award. Italy is the promised land for literary awards and all sorts of horse-trading and shenanigans go on to secure a worthy winner. In 1994 the town of Alassio, a delightful holiday destination in Liguria, came up with the idea of establishing a literary prize, whose distinguishing feature was, and still is, that the winner would be chosen by an international panel of judges, rather than a gaggle of local gossips. So it was that members of the jury were drawn up from the ranks of Italianists in various European universities, and who then sent their nominations to the secretary. And to nobody else. One year, one of the works under consideration was the novel of a certain author born in Liguria; the individual concerned held it to be entirely self-evident that by virtue of his background alone he couldn’t possibly not win. His work, in which marauding gorillas roamed the Ligurian woods leaping on unsuspecting women, didn’t really cut the mustard with me and consequently I gave it nul points. When the results of the competition were released, it transpired that if I had placed the gorillas even in third place it would have won the competition.

I was blissfully ignorant of this possibility until a couple of years had passed and I found myself reading the aforementioned gorilla fiction writer’s next novel. It featured a Ligurian writer who had had a literary prize snatched from under his nose. The cause of this miscarriage of justice was some dreadful harridan from Iceland (!), who couldn’t possible appreciate southern European sensuality. And in this way I too have made it into a work of fiction, albeit in a minor role, and heavily disguised as an Icelander.

Elina Suomela-Härmä at the Alassio Literary Award ceremony.​
Elina Suomela-Härmä at the Alassio Literary Award ceremony.​


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