Sunday, October 29, 2017

How I Came to Write Black Fox

The University of Wisconsin Press publishes many fine books and encourages authors to write about their own projects on publication date. Here's the link to mine about Black Fox: A Life of Emilie Demant Hatt, which came out earlier this month, along with the text below.


It was more than idle curiosity to begin with, but not much more.

Up in the far north of Norway, on a lamp-lit day in December, 2001, the Norwegian writer Laila Stien told me the story of Emilie Demant Hatt and Johan Turi. Or at least the little that was known then of their story:

In the early twentieth century, a Danish woman artist had visited Lapland and encountered a Sami wolf-hunter, by chance, on a train. Later she inspired and helped this man write a book—Muitalus sámiid birra (An Account of the Sami)––now considered the first classic work of Sami literature. 

I immediately had questions, but for a long time, few answers. Who was this woman, Emilie Demant Hatt? How did she end up in Lapland, or Sápmi, as the region is now called? What kind of artist was she? And what was her relationship with Johan Turi? 

I read her engaging travel narrative in Danish, With the Lapps in the High Mountains, from 1913, and Turi’s equally marvelous book in its 1931 English translation, Turi’s Book of Lapland. And I included what I knew about the pair in my own travel narrative, The Palace of the Snow Queen: Winter Travels in Lapland. Each time I went to Scandinavia I made time to do more investigation. I visited the museum in Skive, Denmark that owned some of Demant Hatt’s artworks, and the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, which held a collection of fifty Expressionist canvases of Sápmi, all painted when she was in her sixties and seventies. The Nordic Museum archives also possessed many of her papers, including intimate letters from Turi, and her field journals from the ethnographic trips she made to Scandinavia in 1907-1916. In Copenhagen I visited the Ethnographic Collection at the National Museum, and pored through eight boxes of letters, sketchbooks, and photo albums. But not until 2008, after the Danish State Archives had put records of their holdings online, did I realize how much more there was: several dozen boxes of material by and about Demant Hatt were available. I’d suspected the woman was something of a packrat, and now I knew that for certain. 

By the time I realized the extent of Demant Hatt’s archives, it was too late for me to feel properly frightened or inadequate. I was enthralled. Each challenge—deciphering her handwriting in letters and journals, learning all I could about Sami history, and culture, meeting scholars in many fields, walking the same streets Demant Hatt had walked––led me further. I translated her book With the Lapps and wrote an introduction. Then, because I was deeply fascinated with another of her relationships, an adolescent romance with the composer Carl Nielsen, I wrote a novel, Fossil Island, and a sequel, The Former World. Eventually I felt I knew enough to begin a full-length biography, a project that would lead me deeper into the same questions I began with years ago––Who was this woman, Emilie Demant Hatt? How did she end up in Sápmi?––but which grew increasingly complex:

Who was Johan Turi, as a writer and artist? How did Demant Hatt represent him and promote him as an indigenous author? Was their work together ethnographic collaboration or something else? How was Demant Hatt affected by the racial biology movement, much of it directed against the Sami, in Scandinavia? How did her year in the United States with her husband Gudmund Hatt, in 1914-15, and their contacts with Franz Boas and other Americanists shape her ethnographic thinking? Why is her pioneering fieldwork among Sami women and children and her folktale collecting so little acknowledged? What was the impact of Sápmi on her visual art and how were her Expressionist paintings and graphic work received in Scandinavia? 

Every life has its mysteries and one of the roles of the biographer is to dig them out through the careful reading of letters and the charting of personal connections with other historical figures. But even more important in writing a person’s life, especially a life that is both significant and neglected, is a biographical approach that looks at the context of the subject. Demant Hatt, born in 1873 in a rural village in Denmark, traveled widely in her lifetime, not only to Northern Scandinavia, but to Greenland and the Caribbean. She was a self-identified New Woman, one of the generation of women artists allowed to study at the Royal Academy of Art, who took advantage of changing times to travel alone, far off the beaten path, and to marry a much younger man. She lived through two World Wars, including the occupation of Denmark by Germany. Her historical time period, particularly as it relates to changes in Sápmi, is a crucial aspect of her life. She came to know Sami nomadic herders during a time of transition, and she bears important witness to the injustices the Sami suffered from their neighbors and respective states and to their efforts to claim agency over their lives. 

Demant Hatt didn’t live outside her era and some of her attitudes may strike us now as patronizing. She was both insider and outsider in Sápmi. Her friendship with Johan Turi was both loving and conflicted. Yet it’s also possible to understand how unwaveringly admiring and actively supportive she was of the Sami. In lively, insightful narratives, in fieldwork notes, in folktale collection, and in her paintings, she’s left an important record of a nomadic people and a northern world that continues to educate and enchant.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Upcoming October talks about Emilie Demant Hatt and Johan Turi as artists

In connection with the publication of Black Fox, the biography of Emilie Demant Hatt, in October, I'll be doing two slideshows and talks in the Pacific Northwest:

Seattle: Nordic Heritage Museum, Wednesday, Oct 18, 7 p.m.
Nordic Heritage Museum
3014 Northwest 67th Street
Seattle, WA 98117
Port Townsend: PT library, Tuesday, October 24, 7 p.m.
1220 Lawrence St
 Port Townsend, WA 98368

"In the early twentieth century, the Danish artist Emilie Demant Hatt and Johan Turi, a Swedish Sami hunter and would-be writer and artist, formed an unlikely bond. She edited and translated his classic work, An Account of the Sami, which included his drawings. He introduced her to the world of nomadic reindeer herders. Back in Denmark, Demant Hatt wrote her own narrative, With the Lapps in the High Mountains. Author Barbara Sjoholm has been studying the lives of Demant Hatt and Turi for many years and presents a talk and slide show about their mutual influence and how Sápmi is reflected in their writings and artwork."

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Black Fox: A Life of Emilie Demant Hatt, Artist and Ethnographer

In October 2017 the University of Wisconsin Press will publish my biography of Emilie Demant Hatt. Here's a preview of the cover and some ordering information:

In 1904 a young Danish woman met a Sami wolf hunter on a train in Sweden. This chance encounter transformed the lives of artist Emilie Demant and the hunter, Johan Turi. In 1907–8 Demant went to live with Sami families in their tents and on migrations, later writing a lively account of her experiences. She collaborated with Turi on his book about his people. On her own and later with her husband Gudmund Hatt, she roamed on foot through Sami regions as an ethnographer and folklorist. As an artist, she created many striking paintings with Sami motifs. Her exceptional life and relationships come alive in this first English-language biography.

“A fascinating story of a talented woman's unconventional career at the outset of the twentieth century. Through Sjoholm's meticulous archival investigation, Emilie Demant Hatt emerges as a woman of tremendous energy, insight, and vision, unafraid to cross the various academic, artistic, and cultural barriers of her time.”
—Thomas A. DuBois, translator of Johan Turi's An Account of the Sámi

“Emilie Demant Hatt's contributions to Sami ethnography deserve wide recognition, and this biography provides an absorbing account of her achievements as an ethnographer as well as an artist.”
—Trude Fonneland, author of Contemporary Shamanisms in Norway

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

New Museum of Failure in Sweden

Coming up in June, the world's first Museum of Failure is set to open in the Swedish city of Helsingborg. Focusing on innovations that didn't quite make it as saleable products (Bic for Her),
and on ideas that were before or behind their time (Google Glass), the museum has 51 objects so far, says its founder, Samuel West, with more arriving every day.

These "floppar" are meant to be funny, horrifying, and instructive. Apparently we learn from our mistakes.

Though in the case of this board game below, it seems that failure was only a spur to hugher and greater failures to come:

Trump: The Game. Photo: Björn Lindgren
For more on the Museum of Failure that "showcases flop products."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sami Parliament Persuades Norwegian Pension Fund to Divest from DAPL

In an act of international solidarity between indigenous peoples, the Sami parliament in Norway has persuaded the country’s second largest pension fund to withdraw its money from companies linked to a controversial oil project backed by Donald Trump.

The project to build the 1,900 km Dakota Access oil pipeline across six US states has prompted massive protests from Native American activists at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

This week, after lobbying by the Sami parliament, Norway’s local authority pension fund KLP announced it would sell off shares worth $58m in companies building the pipeline.

Vibeke Larsen, president of the Sami parliament, said the pension fund announced the move when she arrived at a meeting in Oslo to discuss Dakota Access. “We feel a strong solidarity with other indigenous people in other parts of the world, so we are doing our part in Norway by putting pressure on the pension funds,” she told the Guardian.

 Read the full article by Rachel Fixsen  in the Guardian.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Clearing Out translation wins prize from American-Scandinavian Foundation

Helene Uri, author of Clearing Out

I'm pleased to announce that the American-Scandinavian Foundation in New York  recently awarded me the Nadia Christensen Prize for my translation of Clearing Out [Rydde ut] by Norwegian author Helene Uri.

I previously wrote about Helene Uri and this particular novel in a blog post on Lapponia in 2014. I loved the novel so much that I asked the Norwegian publishers about translating it, then pursued publication in the U.S. Although publication hasn't happened yet, I did receive a 2016 NEA translation fellowship to help with the work. I'm delighted that the ASF prize will also bring attention to the novel.

The ASF also gave the Leif and Inger Sjöberg Award, recognizing distinguished effort by a translator who has not previously published a literary translation, to Kara Billey Thordarson, from Red Deer, Alberta, for her translation of Stormviðvörun by Icelandic author Kristín Svava Tómasdóttir.

Excerpts of both translations will appear in the Spring issue of Scandinavian Review, the journal published by The American-Scandinavian Foundation. Another excerpt from Clearing Out was published in 2016 by Two Lines, the translation review.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Sami National Day

Today, February 6, is national Sami day, celebrated in the Nordic countries, as it is around the world, wherever Sami people and their friends and allies live.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, it has been celebrated for several years at the Scandinavian Cultural Center at Pacific Lutheran University outside Tacoma. The festivities for today are now re-scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 2:30 because of snow and school closings.

2017 holds special resonance. A hundred years ago, in Trondheim, the first pan-Sami congress took place. This 1917 congress was largely conceived and organized by Elsa Laula Renberg, who gave the opening address. There were others who played a role organizing and publicizing the event, including Daniel Mortenson, a reindeer herder and editor from Røros, Norway;  the Norwegian journalist Ellen Lie, who managed press coverage; and Anna Erika Löfwander Jarwson, who opened up her hotel in Trondheim for Sami guests and who took care of many of the arrangements for food and drink.

Herders and their families came from all over Norway and Sweden. They debated a number of issues, including schooling for their children, herding rights, conflicts with settlers, and the use of “Sami” instead of “Lapp.”

Today in Trondheim, the festivities were attended by Sweden’s Culture Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke and by Norway’s King Harald and Prime Minister Erna Solberg will also attend. Solberg was quoted as saying, "Previously, we have apologized on behalf of the Norwegian people for the Norwegianizing policy that was led for not only decades, but in fact hundreds of years, where we tried to remove the Sami’s cultural expression."

Saturday, February 4, 2017

ALTA and other translation organizations stand up for cross-cultural exchange

A Joint Statement on the Executive Order
Restricting Immigrant and Refugee Entry into the US

Dear ALTA colleagues and friends,
We the undersigned wish to affirm that freedom of expression and unfettered exchange of ideas are among the core tenets of our society as much as they are indispensable means of cross-cultural understanding and peaceful co-existence. Writers, translators and interpreters would be vulnerable to the far-reaching consequences of the travel ban; these professionals are crucial to the advancement of cross-cultural cooperation, and their efforts would be harmed by the corrosive effects of distrust and exclusion. If national security is our priority, we should recognize that we are safer with the knowledge translators provide about the culture, values, and humanity of other countries. At a time in history when people feel so divided, we believe that our stories—and the people who make it possible to hear them told—are critical to sustaining our coexistence. We voice our support for the refugees fleeing wars—for whom the U.S. has always been a place of refuge, and whose spirit of creativity and innovation has made our cultural and artistic life all the richer and infinitely more diverse. Turning away today's refugees may amount to turning down immeasurable human potential. We therefore urge the President to rescind the travel ban immediately.

American Literary Translators Association
Center for the Art of Translation
PEN America Translation Committee & Subcommittee on Freedom of Expression
Red T
Words Without Borders