Photo: Stefan Tell
Barbro Lindgren’s speech at the Award ceremony yesterday:
First of all, I would like to say thank you very much for the lovely award, which is especially fun to receive because it was established in memory of Astrid Lindgren! I am also very happy to have heard from so many people saying that they are happy for me, because it must be fairly common for people to get cross when someone else gets an award, and feel like it’s unfair. Standing here and looking out at everyone who is here now, I almost feel like a matchmaking service, because I’ve written about so many of you, and you in turn have friends and family who have read the books – not to mention everyone who has illustrated the books and dramatized them, or worked on them in other ways.
It is a marvelous feeling to know that everyone here is connected in some way, to me and to each other.
Of course Astrid is a big part of why I finally became a writer. It’s true that I started writing very early on, but even I could see then that my writing wasn’t very good. So I started to paint and draw more instead. I got good at that a little faster, so after secondary school I went to Konstfack to study art. After I graduated from Konstfack, though, I couldn’t help feeling it was a bit of a shame that nothing had ever come of my writing. So I wrote a few chapters about my childhood, although I changed the main character to a little boy. I couldn’t bring myself to write a whole book; I thought there was no point, since it might just get turned down anyway. I sent what I had written to Astrid. At that time she ran the children’s division at the publishing house of Rabén & Sjögren. I knew that, because many years earlier I had sent them a few little stories, one of which bore a suspicious resemblance to Bambi. Those got returned, of course, with some encouraging words from Astrid. She wrote that all authors have their first manuscripts refused, and it was no reason to get discouraged! And indeed I didn’t. I thought just getting a letter was fantastic. And this letter was from Astrid, and it had wax seals! That letter is not the one I want to talk about, though. I want to talk about the letter I got after I wrote those few chapters about my childhood. Astrid wrote back to me with a long reply, in which she went into great detail about how you actually write a book. One thing she said was that I shouldn’t have so many main characters. Two or three was plenty.
“Also, don’t have so awfully many things happen! Take out the jokes that are only funny to grownups and take out that heartily uninteresting Klas-Herman! Then write 7 or 8 finished small stories and send everything to me.”
And for the first time in my life I pulled myself together and did what she said. So you might say that her letter became my university. I sat that summer in the Haga Park in Stockholm and wrote. I was expecting my first baby and I had plenty of free time. If it was a boy, we thought we would name him Mathias, so I named my main character Mathias too. Astrid accepted what I had written and she asked if I wanted to illustrate the book too. I did. And I drew Mathias the way I hoped he would look–like his father–assuming he turned out to be a boy, that is. And then when he came out, he looked just the way I had drawn him! That was my first book, Mattias’ summer, and after it was published, I worked with one brilliant artist after another, and a large part of this award belongs to them, especially since some of the books hardly have any words at all…Besides Eva Eriksson, whom I worked with the most, there were Olof Landström, Charlotte Ramel, Anna-Clara Tidholm, Madeleine Pyk, Pija Lindenbaum, Magnus Bard, Cecilia Torudd, Anna Höglund, my sister Katti Olausson Säll, Dan Johnsson, Fibben Hald, Sven Nordqvist, Gunna Grähs, Eva Lindström and Camilla Engman. Thank you all for wanting to work with me!
Everyone at the publishing house kept on encouraging me. When Astrid left, Marianne Eriksson took over – she had gotten quite a thorough training by that point and was already an expert on children’s books! Eventually we started the publishing firm of Eriksson & Lindgren together, though if truth be told, Marianne did all the work.
This business of the money is nice, too! Although Astrid would have thought it was far too much for one person – and indeed it is! Anyone might think so, even if you’re not from Småland like she was, where everyone is so thrifty! But Astrid knows me – she knows I’ll share it. That’s the most fun thing you can do with money, you know.
Pippi Longstocking was published when I was in elementary school. All my schoolmates were captivated by it. They talked about it all the time. But I thought the title was so ridiculous that I decided not to read it! So I didn’t read it until I was a grownup, and I was surprised at how good it was!
Since we have a real princess here with us today, I have to tell you that when I was a child, I collected royal people. I clipped them out of the papers and pasted them into a notebook. My very best ones, of course, were the family at the Haga Palace – all the little princesses, and their brother, Victoria’s father, Carl Gustaf. He was such a cutie! But I thought Princess Sibylla was the most beautiful of all and I collected her pictures the most, especially when she wore her black veil after Gustaf Adolf died. When Gustaf V turned 92, I decided to call on him and give him a present: a portrait and a poem. I talked my friend Birgitta into coming with me, and we rode our bicycles out to Drottningholm.
Chamberlain Bengtsson greeted us at the palace. I recognized him from the press coverage of the royal family, and I handed my present over to him. The King himself was resting, unfortunately, and couldn’t receive guests, but we did get to see the door to the room where he was lying down. Just the idea that there was a king behind that door was such a heady thought! What I do sometimes regret is that I don’t have that portrait of the King anymore.
I had copied a picture in Vecko-Journalen, the weekly magazine, where he was sitting bent over his writing desk. And I believe that in my picture he must have looked exactly like a little monkey, because when my grandmother caught a glimpse of it before it went into the envelope, she went into a fit of laughter, and she couldn’t explain what was so funny. I, however, thought it was a striking likeness.
Before we left Drottningholm, a press photographer came up and wanted to take our picture, so I had to hand the envelope to Bengtsson again. Then we biked home. The poem went like this:
Night is edging toward day
the sun is on the rise.
The birds are trilling
We’ll hear the steady beat
of footsteps soon.
Day is drawing near.
The sledge strikes true
the farmer sows new.
Today the King
will be 92!
I thought I would finish my little speech by telling you about a time I visited Astrid. It was on her name day, November 27, 1997. She was talking about the days when her children were still small. Lasse was probably about eight years old and Karin was still tiny. Astrid was carrying her through the apartment on Vulcanusgatan where they lived at the time.
“My little Karin,” she said.
Then she remembered Lasse, who was in the bathroom with the door half open. She put Karin in her bed, went back, opened the door to the bathroom a little and said:
“My little Lasse.”
“He lit up. He said, ‘I heard what you said, and I thought, why doesn’t she call me her little Lasse?’ And then he kissed me on the hand and said, ‘You are so good.’”
Which is exactly what she was.