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Tuomas Anhava

Born June 6, 1927, Helsinki. Died January 22, 2001,  Helsinki.

Master of Arts 1947, University of Helsinki

Poet, translator and literary critic
Publishing editor, WSOY publishing, 1948-52
Publishing editor, Otava publishing, 1954-59
Division editor, Tammi publishing, 1959-61
Editor-in-chief, Parnasso magazine, 1966-79
Literary critic, Uusi Kuvalehti magazine, 1952, Suomalainen Suomi periodical, 1953-56, and Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, 1957-58

Honorary Arts Professor, 1970-75

Member of various organisations in the book world, including board member of the Finnish Writers’ Union and the Finnish Association of Translators, and board member of the copyright association, Kopiosto.

Awards and honours
Finnish State Prize for Literature, 1955
Pro Finlandia Prize for literature, 1968
Finnish State award for translation, 1969 & 1973
Aleksis Kivi Prize (lifetime achievement in Finnish literature), 1976
Honorary Professor, 1977
Honorary Member, Svenska Litteratursällskapet-Swedish Literary Society, 1983
Eino Leino Prize (for Finnish poetry and literary research), 1989
(Finnish) Translator’s award, Alfred Kordelin Foundation, 1990

Photo: Otava
Written by Tero Juutilainen
Translated by John Calton

The Publishing Man

Tuomas Anhava graduated from the University of Helsinki in 1947 with a Master’s degree in his pocket. At that stage he had given serious consideration to life as an academic, but ultimately decided against it. He found work with the publisher WSOY in 1948, which sealed the direction his career was to take. However his stay at WSOY was not too long: after a few years he moved to the ‘rival’ Finnish publisher Otava and then later to Tammi, with much the same job description.

As he gained in experience, Anhava also began to give statements on new manuscripts. He worked in collaboration with writers, offering critical comments and advice to a number of up-and-coming authors, such as Veijo Meri, Paavo Haavikko, Pentti Saarikoski and Hannu Salama.

Anhava was later to be on the receiving end of criticism himself, since some people held that he was moulding the works under consideration too much according to his own particular style. Anhava's side of the story however was that the writers claimed to have been given a great deal of valuable advice in editing their work for the better. Needless to say, Anhava’s editorial work was largely hidden from the general public.

But as a prolific and acerbic critic, there’s little doubt that Tuomas Anhava was in the public eye. He has been described as extremely demanding and precise, as well as a man who did not hesitate to grasp the editorial nettle. He set the bar very high, which was evident in his polished critiques and carefully honed sentence structure. Nor was his critical writing lacking in polemic. He had a tendency to surrender himself to long written arguments, themselves a rallying cry for the New.

Besides his work as a critic, Anhava wrote poetry, which he published, and in so doing got to know the other side of writing. His first collection, simply entitled Runoja (‘Poems’), was published in 1953. And a couple of years later a second collection, Runoja 1953 (‘Poems 1953’) came out. He strove to break away from traditional lyric forms, aiming for a peculiarly English combination of thought and feeling.

Anhava was also interested in Japanese and Chinese poetry, as was particularly evident in his third collection published under the title 36 runoa. It was very well received. Indeed it has been hailed as one of the seminal poetic works of the decade; the bold stride of Finnish modern lyric. It was a style he had been after with his first collection, but the third witnessed a refinement that was to continue with a fourth.

Anhava also found time to devote himself to translating and proved his worth as a translator of verse. He was especially keen to translate “‘difficult’, i.e. linguistically and conceptually demanding works”. This meant works ranging from that of the Swedish-Finnish stylist Bo Carpelan to the high priest of modernism, Ezra Pound. Anhava made no attempt to translate whole collections, but concentrated instead on the quality of the final translation.

His dedication to literature was rewarded in 1970 with the honorary title of professor, the first such taitelijaprofessuuri to be awarded to a proponent of the verbal arts.

Tuomas Anhava (right) and Pekka Laaksonen. Photo: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.​
Tuomas Anhava (right) and Pekka Laaksonen. Photo: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.​

References (in Finnish):

Citations from Kalevi Kalemaa, Anhava, Tuomas.

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