Eesti pagulaskirjanduse keskus ja perifeeria / The centre and periphery of Estonian exile literature
Keywords:Estonian literature, exile literature, Estonian SSR, literary field, literary canon
This article focuses on how and why the centre and periphery of Estonian exile literature were formed. The centre developed in Sweden with the founding of the Estonian Writers’ Union Abroad in 1945 in Stockholm, and the Estonian Writers’ Cooperative in 1951 in Lund. Exile literature with the most enduring artistic merit was published in this Lund-Stockholm axis. The Writers’ Cooperative was a well-managed publishing house that took into account readers’ requests. Almost all significant writers in exile issued their works through the Cooperative. Writers whose works were rejected by the Cooperative formed the pheriphery of exile literature. The boundary between the two was not rigid, with movement from one grouping to the other, although the centre remained united. In 1957, writers of the younger generation on the periphery founded the literary magazine Mana, which devoted a great deal of space to literature published in the homeland, unlike the centre. This relationship with homeland literature differentiated the centre from the periphery. The writers of the centre did not visit the occupied homeland or publicly recognize the works of writers from Soviet Estonia. For them, it was vital to maintain control over the purity and viability of exile literature. Exile publishing flourished in the 1940s and 1950s, as homesickness and limited fluency in local languages increased interest in books written in Estonian. Later, this interest inevitably and steadily decreased. The younger generation of exiles often read in the language of the country where they had settled. It was possible to send only a very few books to the homeland. Leading writers-in-exile Bernard Kangro, Karl Ristikivi, Valev Uibopuu, Kalju Lepik, Ilmar Talve and others did their utmost to publish and distribute their works because they regarded literature as the foundation of national identity. It was necessary to protect this identity, and any competition with homeland literature would have destroyed their unified field of literature and drawn away current and potential readers. Similarly, the peripheral authors needed a rallying point, and adopted the more innovative literature being issued in Soviet Estonia. On their side, homeland Estonians maintained throughout the Soviet occupation a steady interest in Estonian literature from abroad, despite difficulties in obtaining it. The symbolic meeting of exile and homeland literatures took place in Helsinki in May 1989 when the Writers Union of the Estonian SSR initiated a meeting of Estonian writers from the homeland and abroad. Societal changes in the 1990s drove literature as a whole from the centre to the periphery, and consequently a great deal of the literature written both in exile and in Soviet Estonia faded into obscurity.