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Kari Hotakainen

Kari Matti Hotakainen
Born January 9, Pori

Bachelor of arts 1980 (Finnish literature), University of Helsinki

Author 1995–
Copywriter 1986–1995, WSOY
Copywriter1985–1986, Mainonnantekijät
Journalist 1981–1985, STT

Savonia literary prize 1993, for the book Buster Keaton – elämä ja teot (‘Buster Keaton – life and work’)
Tobelius literary prize 2000, for the work Näytän hyvältä ilman paitaa (‘I look good without a shirt’)
Finlandia Prize 2002 for the novel Juoksuhaudantie (‘Trench road’)
Nordic Council Literature Prize 2004, for the novel Juoksuhaudantie (‘Trench road’)
Nordic Drama Prize for the play Punahukka (‘Lupus’)
Prix Courrier International for best translated work of fiction 2011,for the novel Ihmisen osa (The Human Part)
Pro Finandia Medal 2013

Photo: Laura Malmivaara, Siltala
Written by Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta
Translated by Matthew Billington

My best memories from the University of Helsinki

At the University of Helsinki Faculty of Arts, there were intellectually stimulating teachers and professors. They were admired and their teaching was thirstily absorbed. In a few cases, I wondered, horror struck, if I too would turn out like them. For others I thought, “if only I could be like that.”

One real gem was Pentti Lyly, lecturer in Finnish Literature. He was from the generation that appreciated careful dressing. If the weather was even a little damp, then Lyly would wear galoshes. I still remember how his galoshes made a swishing, slapping sound. He would take them off in a dignified way in front of the lecture hall, glance at us students and then look out of the large windows of the Main Building, adopting a thoughtful expression, before he would tell us that the theme of the day was the special characteristics of Otto Maninen’s lyrical verse. This sounds like a sketch, but to me it was all incredibly interesting. That aristocratic people could really exist who had time to learn about such matters and wanted to share their knowledge with us students.

Another significant person was Kai Laitinen, professor of Finnish literature. He was garrulous and always good tempered. For at least 20 years, whenever he saw me, he persisted in saying, “Dear me Kari, come and finish your studies. You are a talented boy.” To him I was always a boy, although the last time he reminded me I was probably 45 already. For me the most significant of Laitinen’s remarks was nevertheless when he said, “On the other hand, it is very fetching the way that you have found your place on the other side of literature, I mean as a writer.”

When I won the Finlandia Prize, my literature teacher Ritva Haavikko, for her part, was kind enough to say, “that’s certainly enough of a master’s thesis Kari.” She absolved me, in my irresponsibility, of the sin of not finishing my studies.

University really opened up the world to a country lad like me, and my student days gave rise to life-long friendships. Our crowd included the likes of Jari Tervo, Kimmo Oksanen, Paula Rintamaa, Jukka Mauno, Hilkka Oksama and Touko Siltala. A special place for us was the smoking room at the back of the Main Building cafe. We would sit there loftily discussing what we would become. We wrote poems and concocted novels, but none of us were really any good. Pauli Pentti, who later made his name as a film producer, fuelled our self-confidence. Once he shared his idea of how to really launch a career in writing. We were naturally all ears. In Pentti’s opinion, the most important thing in writing was that when you sent your manuscript to a publisher the flysheet should have not only the writer’s name and the name of the work but also the printing location. Then the publisher wouldn’t even need to add the printing information to the already perfect work.

The café in the Main Building of the University of Helsinki. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro.


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