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Astrid Lindgren

Astrid Lindgren was the best known and most successful Swedish writer of the 20th century. The U will honor the creator of Pippi Longstocking at a conference on Wednesday, November 14.

Astrid at 100

U conference will honor the creator of Pippi Longstocking

By Kelly O'Brien and Christopher James

November 9, 2007

Troublemaker. Free spirit. Outlier. She's the most popular girl to come out of Sweden since Greta Garbo. We're talking, of course, about Pippi Longstocking. The girl with the red braids and lost-at-sea father was the creation of Astrid Lindgren, the best known and most successful Swedish writer of the 20th century. On the centennial of Lindgren's birth, the University Libraries and Department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch are sponsoring "A Woman for All Seasons: Astrid Lindgren at 100," a conference on November 14 that will look at her work from scholarly and artistic perspectives. The conference is free and open to the public.

The University of Minnesota is the perfect place for a conference on Astrid Lindgren. It's not just the Minnesota-Scandinavian connection, although that doesn't hurt, it's also that the University Libraries' Children's Literature Research Collections (CLRC) house original material from thousands of children's authors, including Lindgren.

Through her work, she raised the general status of children's literature throughout the world. In fact, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, at about $700,000, is the world's largest prize for children's and youth literature.

One example from the Lindgren collection is a handwritten manuscript that the author herself donated to the CLRC. The manuscript--early notes on what would become Lindgren's book Ronia, the Robber's Daughter--is in Swedish and in shorthand. "Astrid Lindgren's early job was as a secretary, so she put her secretarial skills to work with her own creative writing, " says CLRC curator Karen Hoyle. "This manuscript is a glimpse of how she worked. It's her first thinking about the book."

Lindgren's contribution to children's literature in general cannot be overstated. Through her work, she raised the general status of children's literature throughout the world. In fact, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, at about $700,000, is the world's largest prize for children's and youth literature.

Like her creator, Pippi Longstocking has enjoyed enduring popularity, with movies, dolls, and tickets to theatrical adaptations continuing to sell. But the source of Pippi's popularity is, surprisingly, the subject of academic discussion. Reflecting on a conference in Sweden earlier this year, Swedish children's literature scholar Maria Nikolajeva argues that Pippi Longstocking's popularity has more to do with film adaptations than with people actually reading her books. "Even most Swedes today only know Pippi from movies," she says.

Poul Houe, a professor of Scandinavian studies in the Department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch, says that despite the scholarly discussions, Pippi's legacy endures for historical and timeless reasons. "She was a mischievous rebel and an equally endearing and irritating anarchist at a time when subdued children were the societal ideal and norm," he explains. "She was empowering to watch for children (and adults) who were sitting timidly on the sidelines but were at least not prevented from enjoying this powerful girl acting out their wildest dreams."

Wednesday's conference will include sessions for Pippi and Astrid Lindgren's adult fans of all kinds, with sessions on the art in Lindgren's work and adapting Lindgren's work to the stage at the Children's Theatre Company. Tiina Nunnally, translator of the latest edition of Pippi Longstocking, will also speak and sign copies of her book. For more information or to register, go to the conference Web site.