14 November 1907 – 28 January 2002
Life – a fantastic story
Astrid Anna Emilia Ericsson was born on November 14, 1907, at Näs farm in Vimmerby in Småland in the south of Sweden. Her dad was a farmer and Astrid grew up with big brother Gunnar and younger sisters Stina and Ingegerd. In those days, parents in the country rarely had time to play with their children, which meant that children had a great deal of freedom. Remembering her own happy childhood, Astrid Lindgren has famously said: “children need to be much loved, but slightly neglected.”
From Vimmerby in Småland to Vasastan in Stockholm
The many years of play and freedom came to an abrupt end when Astrid became pregnant by the editor-in-chief of the Vimmerby newspaper at the age of eighteen. He wanted to get married, but she did not. To avoid gossip about the scandal, Astrid moved to Stockholm and went to secretarial school. But being a single parent was almost impossible at the time. When her son Lars was born, Astrid was forced to send him to live in a foster home in Denmark until she had got her life in order.
The move to Karlsson on the Roof’s neighbourhood
When Astrid was 23 years old, she had found the man she did want to marry. His name was Sture Lindgren and he was her boss at the Royal Automobile Club. In the spring of 1931 Astrid Ericsson became Mrs Astrid Lindgren and could finally bring home her beloved son Lars, who was four years old at the time. The family moved into a small two-room apartment on Vulcanusgatan near Vasaparken, in the neighbourhood that is the setting for Karlsson on the Roof. Three years later Astrid and Sture Lindgren had a daughter, Karin. Astrid was a stay-at-home mother for many years.
The 37 year-old debutante
Astrid made her debut as an author at the age of 37. The background to her debut book has become a legend in its own right: Astrid often told her children stories, inventing fairy tales and sagas that her daughter always wanted to hear more of. One day when Karin was 7 years old and ill with pneumonia, she said to her mother: “Tell me about Pippi Longstocking”. And so her mother did. Such a remarkable name demanded a remarkable girl to go with it, Astrid said, and the story soon gained a remarkable house and a remarkable horse as well.
No to Pippi
Astrid sent a copy of Pippi Longstocking to the Bonniers publishing house, but it was rejected. The people at Bonniers thought Pippi was too over the top. But by this time, Astrid had discovered how much fun writing was. When Rabén & Sjögren announced a competition for the best book for young people a year later, she wrote a new book and sent it in. “Britt-Marie lättar sitt hjärta”, written in the form of letters from Britt-Marie about her life, won second prize and Astrid later said that she had “probably never been as happy as the night the publishers rang!”
One book a year
The year after, in 1945, the same publisher ran a prize competition for children’s books. Astrid sent in her Pippi Longstocking manuscript and won first prize. In the years between 1944 and 1974, Astrid Lindgren published at least one, often two, and sometimes three books a year. She continued to write until 1992 when she put down her pen at the age of 85.
Criticism and commitment
Astrid Lindgren garnered deep respect and admiration across the world. She has received countless prizes and awards. Both for her books, and for her commitment – to animal welfare, among other causes. Astrid fought for cows, chickens and pigs to be able to live out in the open like they did when she was little. In her 70s she also participated in public debate and many people in Sweden still remember her piece on the Swedish taxation system, entitled “Pomperipossa in Monismania” in the newspaper Expressen in 1976.
So simple that even a child can understand it
Astrid’s stories show us that the space between joy and sorrow is small and that you have to have one to be able to feel the other. Her stories also have a unique ability to stay with us, even into adulthood. Astrid Lindgren’s stories grapple with universal themes that everyone can relate to, like thoughts about life and death, friendship and loneliness, happiness and sadness. Perhaps the secret to her success as a storyteller is best illustrated through her own words in her book about her parents: “There is no shame in writing simply, it doesn’t have to be banal or the poorer for it. Poets often tell us about life and death and love, all the deepest human emotions, but with such simple words that even a child can understand them. Have you thought about that?”