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Arja Uusitalo (1951-)


I have arrived.
Mountains around me and noises from the chicken house
there is an old lady lying on a sofa in the yard.
It's morning. I could stay in this town.

(from Meren syli, 1992)

Arja Uusitalo was born July 10 in 1951 in the after war capital of Finland, Helsinki. Both her parents were young university students, Liisa and Matti Uusitalo. Her mother Liisa worked as a schoolteacher and her father Matti worked as researcher and published the Folia Forestalia yearly statistics of Finnish forest industry. She spent a lot of time with her maternal grandparents in the quiet countryside in Huittinen when her parents studied at the university. Being for years the only child in the family she spent a lot of time alone and was close to nature which she studied with a keen eye.

In 1957 she moved with her parents to Tapiola Garden City close to the capital Helsinki where she attended kindergarten for a year. Arja Uusitalo asked her mother to write down her poems and was relieved when she attended primary school so that she could write her poems herself. Arja was devastated when her mother and maternal grandparents all died in a short span of time in her teens and she was thrown into a state of mourning and serious contemplating life that lasted for years. When she finished school and got her baccalaureat she went to Geneva, Switzerland and spent half a year working for the World Council of Churches in the gardens, in the kitchen and with manual work. This is where she met people from all over the world and came to appreciate the diversity of humankind which she celebrates in her poems. She enjoyed the possibility to read extensively and talk to people from all over the world about things that interested her. The library in the Chateau Bossey was in good use for her. She always kept reading and writing even if her production consists of rather few items.

Fate. A Bouquet of stargazer lilies.
We are each others fate.
We laugh aloud.
We don't have anything against it.

(from Meren syli)

Uusitalo travelled in Europe and spent a summer in the furthermost part of Lapland, Utsjoki working at a restaurant as a waitress. She moved to Sweden and attended the University of Stockholm without taking an exam. There she studied social anthropology, pedagogy, Finnish language and economic history. She went to Poppius Journalist School so she could work as journalist. Uusitalo published poems and other texts in Swedish and Finnish magazines and worked on the Swedish Radio, University of Stockholm, on a daily paper and had a lot of different shorter jobs to be able to do what she always most enjoyed doing: writing poems. She published first in Swedish and then went over to publishing in her mother tongue, Finnish. The Finnish Television made a documentary film about her in 1992.

She got prize for her libretto which was composed by Oliver Kohlenberg and played in Kärsämäki in July 2000 at the seminar of Self-biography in Europe. She also won a competition at the university of Stockholm on the theme Sweden and the future Europe. She wrote a poem on the theme about how Sweden´s participation in EU would affect everyday life in the country.

Uusitalo has been reading her poetry and lectured at various universities and libraries and wanted to hear her texts being read aloud so she wrote a monologue Dear Mother which was given twice at the Finnish Bookstore in Stockholm and another monologue directly written for an actress, Minni Remes, that was delivered in Europe´s smallest theatre, Teater Dur & Moll. For a few years she was editor-in-chief for Liekki, a Finnish cultural magazine and later she worked for four years as journalist writing about cultural matters in a weekly Viikkoviesti, later in a Finnish daily Ruotsin Sanomat.

The Finnish Television made a documentary film after Uusitalo´s book Meren syli, which was published in Finland in 1992. The autobiographical work, which has a strong feminist theme, is illustrated with photographs taken by Tuija Lindström.

Uusitalo finds it hard to decide if she should count living in Sweden as a blessing or the worst mistake she ever made in her life. It could be both. Several of Uusitalo's poems deal with feelings of displacement and being between cultures. In a poem from the collection Pyysit miniatyyriä (1992) she has said: "Misleadingly we resemble each other, / misleadingly our memories resemble / our life." Uusitalo writes both in her mother tongue Finnish and in Swedish, both of which are official languages in Finland.

Uusitalo has two sons and is living in Stockholm with the theatre director Fadil Jaf and their son. She has one sister, Leena, and one brother, Kari.

We all on our journey.
Hurrying to our destination.
Dreaming of return.
The lost.
In our suitcases dreams,
a collection of nightmares.

(from Meren syli)
For further reading: 122 ruotsinsuomalaista kynäniekkaa, ed. by Anneli Tikkanen-Ròzsa (1995); 'Miten minä sen opin', by Marja-Riitta Vainikkala, in Kaleva, 19.11. 1993; '"Jag är textens nattliga moder": Arja Uusitalo - poet', by Anita Sällberg, in Horisont 40 (1993) - For further information (in Finnish): Tukholma.NET/Arja's blog

Selected works:

  • Medan nattens leoparder, 1984
  • Och klappar kaoset om ryggen, 1986
  • with others: Kotimaani oli Suomi: ruotsinsuomalainen runoantologia, 1986 (ed. by Hilja Mörsäri & Marja-Liisa Pynnönen)
  • with others: Makalösa mödrar, 1987 (ed. by Hilja-Katarina Wallin)
  • Puutarhallinen lohdutusta eksyneille, 1987
  • Syrjäytetyt minät, 1988
  • photographer: Prins Hatt, by Ninne Olsson, 1991
  • Pyysit miniatyyriä, 1992
  • Meren syli, 1992 (photographs by Tuija Lindström)
  • with others: Den nya landet: 44 författare, 12 bildkonstnärer, 1998
  • Turvapaikka, 2000 (opera libretto, composed by Oliver Kohlenberg)
  • Come-back, 2000
  • Tukholmalainen Blogikirja, 2006
  • Äkillinen oivallus, 2008
  • Tukholmalaisnovelleja, 2008

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