2021 Nordic Council Literature Prize

By Madeleine Dunderlin of the Nordic Culture Point special library

The months of February and March can often be a bit dull and grey. It’s still a little too dark and cold to call it spring, and by this point I’ve grown tired of winter. During a pandemic, it’s also especially hard to muster energy and motivation. But when you work with Nordic literature, this time of year has a little extra excitement because the nominations for the Nordic Council Literature Prize are announced! And I’m especially grateful for that this year.

There are some big names among this year’s nominees. Vigdis Hjorth is nominated for the second time, this year for the novel Er mor død, which follows the same path as the mega-hit Arv och miljö, namely the right to have your own story. There are a few other international bestsellers (but perhaps not so well known between Nordic neighbours), including Andri Snær Magnason from Iceland, nominated for their science novel on the climate, Um tímann og vatnið, Pajtim Statovci from Finland with their ruthless but linguistically wonderful Bolla, which has been awarded the Finlandia Prize, and Asta Olivia Nordenhof from Denmark with the first of a planned septology on the fire on board the Scandinavian Star, Penge på lommen. Niviaq Korneliussen from Greenland struck it big with HOMO sapienne, which was nominated for the 2015 Nordic Council Literature Prize, and is now nominated for Naasuliardarpi, which deals with suicide among young Greenlanders.


Also from Finland, Heidi von Wrigth is nominated for her prosaic Autofiktiv dikt, in which memories and anecdotes are skilfully served to the reader, while Sebastian Johans from Åland is nominated for his lavishly illustrated novel Broarna, about Ålandic migrants to America around the turn of the 19th century. Anyone who’s familiar with the field of literature for young people may remember the debut novel of Johanna Lykke Holm from Sweden, Natten som föregick denna dag. She’s now nominated for her book for adults, Strega, a work that has as much physicality and sensuality as its predecessor. The second Swedish nomination, and the only collection of short stories in the mix, is Andrzej Tichý for the work Renheten, which forces the reader to look at the issue of dirt and purity in relation to humanity and socio-realism. This is the third (!) nomination for Tichý, who is a big name to be reckoned with in Nordic contemporary literature.


Inga Ravna Eira has also been nominated previously. This year she is nominated for the poetry collection Gáhttára Iđit, with text in Northern Sami, Norwegian, and English. The collection touches on climate change and Sami experiences of living in harmony with nature. Mit smykkeskskrin by Ursula Andkjær Olsen from Denmark is perhaps the hardest to summarise. As the adjudication committee writes: “In a rather breathtaking way, Mit smykkeskrin contains absolutely everything and makes us think and feel something about everything in the world.” I don’t think it’s possible to put it any more concisely. In Eg Skrivi á vátt pappír, Lív Maria Róadóttir Jæger from the Faroe Islands writes about the relationship between one’s own thinking and everyone else’s, and, just like Finland’s von Wright, challenges the form of poetry. Norway’s Lars Amund Vaage is nominated for Det uferdige huset, in which he combines genres in his distinctive style. And last but not least, we have the second Icelandic nomination: Aðferðir til að lifa af by Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir. This is a polyphonic and sensitive work about the longing for context and about survival methods, which is also reflected in the work’s title in Swedish.


Nordic Culture Point has worked for a long time to promote the Nordic Council’s two literature prizes. Last year we produced streamed discussions with the nominated authors of the Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize, and this year, together with the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic House in Reykjavik, the Nordic House in the Faroe Islands, the Nordic Institute in Greenland, and the Nordic Institute in Åland, we will produce streamed discussions with the nominated authors of the Nordic Council Literature Prize.


The discussions are free to view and will be streamed live on Facebook, Vimeo, and YouTube every Wednesday between 14 April and 26 May. You can find out more about the nominees and the prize at norden.org, and eventually you’ll be able to borrow all the nominated works from the Nordic Culture Point library. You are also warmly encouraged to join our streams, and hopefully get some inspiration and some spring feeling!