3 poetry collections
Anja Snellman, one of the leading names in contemporary Northern European fiction, celebrated her 35th anniversary as an author in 2016. She burst onto the literary scene with a first work that remains the highest-selling debut novel in the history of Finnish literature. She lives and writes in Finland, Crete, and India.
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Anja Snellman describes herself as a realist, dreamer, challenger, and creator—a restless nomad who likes change and variety.
She graduated from the University of Helsinki in the late seventies with a bachelor of arts in Finnish literature, English philology, and applied psychology. She has also studied screenwriting in Los Angeles and has worked as a journalist since early in her career. In 2015, she graduated as a therapist, and she earned a master’s degree in Finnish literature in 2017. She is currently studying toward a PhD.
“An author listens and asks. A therapist asks and listens. A journalist asks, listens, and questions,” says Snellman.
She considers herself fortunate to have reached a point in her life where she can enjoy inspiring synergies: literature can have the same effect as therapy, and a good therapeutic dialogue can resemble literary art.
In her work as a writer, her love for language is combined with her sensitivity to emerging trends, unspoken truths, and undercurrents that are about to surface in society—these she often describes with almost eerie premonition.
In her books, the personal and the universal, the fictive and the documentary intertwine in stories that capture the essence of our existence, the beauty and pain of life with compassion and uncompromising accuracy.
“As an author, I feel I have often written about social issues and themes that people have sensed strongly around them but have not perhaps been able to pinpoint or put into words,” says Snellman.
“The journalist in me questions, claims, investigates, ponders, and wants to be fearlessly frank. The poet in me senses, whispers, suffers from an undefined longing, and is madly in love with words. However, my innermost identity is that of a storyteller.”
Anja Snellman originally intended to become a poet. A colleague persuaded her to give prose a try, after having seen a piece of her fiction at a summer camp for young writers. It took her seven years to complete her first novel, Sonia O. Was Here, and she almost gave up in the process, but her publisher kept encouraging her—and gently warning her, for he had an inkling of what was to come.
The author was surprised and shocked by the overwhelming response: cited as the “boldest book ever written by a Finnish woman,” her debut became the highest-selling first novel in the history of Finnish literature, and she became a household name overnight.
What role did literature play in your childhood and youth?
I learned to read at the age of four, and I was determined to read every single book in our neighborhood library. My parents were avid readers as well. I have kept journals since the age of eight. At around that time, I already knew that I wanted to become a writer, an artist.
How and why did you become a writer?
I am a highly sensitive person, so a certain sense of otherness and a strong intuition and sensitivity to experiences are inherent in me. My father was an alcoholic, and the psychodynamics of my childhood family were somewhat turbulent. Reading and writing were my escapes.
How would you describe your career as an author?
I see myself as a literary artist: prose writer, poet, and dramatist. Writing is a way of life for me. As an author, I am experimental, a restless nomad who changes styles, themes, genres, and publishers to avoid getting stuck and becoming stagnant. I write in Finland, Crete, and India.
What is your greatest achievement as an author?
That I still immensely enjoy writing, after 35 years, 23 novels, 3 poetry collections, plays, screenplays, essays, columns, and scientific articles.
What are your hopes for the future as an author?
A continued passion for words, writing, and reading.
You also work as a journalist and a therapist. How do your other professions affect your work as an author?
Fundamentally, authors and therapists are listeners, experts of the human mind. As a journalist, I study people in the context of society, and often my journalistic work is also related to the human mind, and well-being and culture.
What inspired you to write Continents?
I wanted to write a more delicate, perhaps even beautiful book about divorce. Once I had come up with the idea of each stage of a relationship being its own continent, the book engrossed me in an intense process, and I wrote it over a relatively short period of time. Its first reader was my ex-husband.
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