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Sirpa Kähkönen

Sirpa Helena Kähkönen
Born September 15, 1964 Kuopio

Studies in literature, University of Tampere, and comparative literature and history (Swedish language) 1984–89, University of Helsinki

Freelance writer 1996–
Otava publishing house 1991–96
University of Helsinki history project 1988–90
Helsinki University Library 1987–88

Publications, awards and special achievements:

Novels: Kuu taskussa (‘Moon in your pocket’) 1991, Lukittu lähde (‘Closed source’) 1994, Mustat morsiamet (‘Black brides’) 1998, Rautayöt (‘Iron nights’) 2002, Jään ja tulen kevät (‘Springs of ice and fire’) 2004, Lakanasiivet (‘Linen wings’) 2007, Neidonkenkä (‘Calypso’) 2009, Hietakehto (‘Sand cradle’) 2012, Graniittimies (‘Granite man’)2014

Nonfiction: Valoa ja varjoa (‘Light and shadow’)(with Jaana Iso-Markun) 2007, Vihan ja rakkauden liekit (‘The flames of hate and love’) 2010, Kuopion taivaan alla (‘Under the Kuopio sky’) 2011

Plays: Tilkkuenkelit (‘Patchwork angels’) 2008, Helene S. – rakkaudella (‘Helene S. – with love’) 2014, Palava kaupunki (‘Burning city’) 2015.

Numerous translations into Finnish. Columnist for several newspapers and periodicals.

Pro Finlandia Medal 2015

Kiitos Kirjasta literary prize 2008

Savonia literary prize 1999

State Award for Children's and Youth literature 1992

Nominated for the Finlandia Prize 2007, 2014, and the Finlandia Prize for Nonfiction 2010.

Photo: Otava
Written by Sirpa Kähkönen (Kaija Hartikainen ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

Author and Social Commentator

I am a Latinist from the Kuopio Classical School, a humanist, and the daughter of a poor working class family. My grandfather was a political prisoner in 1930s Finland, and he raised me firmly to believe that learning, reading and intellectual pursuits are the loftiest goals a person can have. He wrote me a poem in which he hoped that if I put my talents to use, I would one day place upon my head the laurel wreath customarily given to new Masters at University of Helsinki conferment ceremonies.

I could recognise my uncle Pekka dressed up as Santa Claus from his boots. Photo from the home archive of Sirpa Kähkönen.

I spent my childhood and adolescence in completely different circumstances from most of my fellow students. The road to university was long, and I was alone with my questions in the academic world. I had a ready supply of intellectual passion, and the life of a free intellectual beckoned when my interests did not seem to line up with any existing discipline.

As an author, I work with topics drawn from contemporary history. Historical studies is a familiar field, and I make use of its methods when doing background research for my novels, plays and non-fiction. Studying history has been particularly beneficial to me in developing my toolset as a writer. I regularly work in libraries and archives with both original sources and research papers. A vision of the past is created when you are familiar, down to the smallest detail, with the time and place you are writing about. Of course it is not necessary to include all this information when writing fiction, nor to lord your research and findings over your audience. Fiction is built on a foundation of knowledge that remains in the background and makes the story feel believable.

I have published historical novels since 1998. I have systematically given a platform for voices and fates that have traditionally been left in the margins of national storytelling. My work is connected with the microhistorical research tradition and the 21st century movement known as New Military History. I have wanted to write about societal themes and make visible the role women, children and elderly people play in society.

My readership has been steadily growing over the years. I have contributed much to this development with my own legwork, travelling around Finland and speaking about my books. This kind of relationship based on meetings between readers and authors is very powerful and is not formed in an instant. Authors travel in the darkness of wintry Finland, come in from the cold into well-lit halls, speak to their audience and then head home. Over the years I have become familiar with closed travel centres and stations, nocturnal highways, and snowy railway platforms.

The most important recent addition to my work has been reading events organised together with musicians and actors. Music is an essential part of my life, a kindred art and a road to places where words cannot take you.

I am the President of the Board of Finnish PEN, an association of writers promoting freedom of expression. Volunteering provides a welcome balance to the solitude of writing. It also feels proper to use the fame I have achieved in Finland to promote a cause important to me.

When I became a free intellectual, my dream was to be able to research and write. I have been able to do both, as well as to meet people who are interested in my thoughts and ideas. My dreams have come true. And in some sense the dreams of my grandfather, or at least so I have told myself, a university dropout, because it is not only an academic but also a poet, poeta laureatus, who can wear a laurel wreath on her head.

An afternoon at Järvikylä Manor reading the novel Graniittimies (‘Granite man’) and listening to classical music. Photo by Emilia Palonen.
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