Literary scholar Tiina Kirss will be the recipient of the cultural and literary award named after beloved Estonian writer Henrik Visnapuu. The award was re-established by the Estonian American National Council (EANC/ERKÜ) in 2020.
The award will be formally presented by EANC (ERKÜ) and its Estonian partners the Estonian Writers’ Union and the municipal government of Luunja (Henrik Visnapuu’s home in Estonia) at a special event held at the Estonian Writers House, Harju tn. 1, Tallinn, on February 2, 2024, at 6 p.m. (11 a.m. Eastern time). The event will be in-person, live-streamed, and also available for later viewing.
Tiina Kirss grew up in the USA and obtained her doctorate at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Since the restoration of Estonian independence, she has dedicated herself to researching, teaching, and introducing Estonian literature and heritage in Estonia and abroad. She has been a professor of Estonian literature and cultural theory at Toronto, Tallinn and Tartu Universities and currently works as a senior researcher at the Estonian Museum of Literature.
The main areas of Kirss’s varied research work focus on Estonian and comparative literary and cultural history, as well as the study of Estonian biographies. She has published research on the works of Jaan Kross, Marie Under, Aino Kallas, August Kitzberg, Friedebert Tuglas, Viivi Luige, Ene Mihkelson, and others; the literature and cultural history of Estonian women; the writings of refugees; and the correspondence of several literary and culturally significant individuals (Under-Ivask, Ploompuu-Hubel, Stay-Course-Stay). A representative selection of her approach has been published in the book “Sõel. Approaches to Literature, Literary Criticism and Opinion” (2018), which was nominated for the annual National Literature Award in the category of Essay Writing. She has edited collections in English to introduce Estonian literature abroad: “Haunted Narratives: Life Writing in the Age of Trauma” (2013); “Across Borders: Literatures in Dialogue” (2018) and the special issue of the international Journal of Baltic Studies, “Perspectives on Women in the Baltics.” She has also been a strong literary theorist and introduced feminist and post-colonial literary theory in Estonia.
Tiina Kirss has made important contributions to the study of Estonian biographies. She has published research articles on the topic and organized the publication of biographies in both Estonian and English: “My life and love: biographies of Estonian people” I-II (2018–2019); “Nests of Migratory Birds. Biographies of Estonians Abroad” (2006); Anthology of Estonian Biographies (2019); “She Who Remembers Survives” (2004); “Estonian Life Stories”, 2009.
Tiina Kirss is an inspiring teacher. A number of Estonian literary scholars including Leena Kurvet-Käosaar, Mirjam Hinrikus, Eneken Laanes, Aija Sakova, Maarja Hollo, Marge Käsper, Mele Pesti, art scholar Liisa Kaljula and artist Fideelia-Signe Roots have defended their doctoral theses under her supervision. She is a valued influencer and presenter in the subject areas of literature and heritage. Tiina Kirss is one of Estonia’s most prominent literary scholars and cultural researchers. Her activities have contributed to the research and integration of global and domestic Estonian culture. She fully deserves the Visnapuu award for her voluminous and diverse life’s work.
As summarized by jury member Jürgen Rooste: “Tiina Kirss’s work has volume, magnificence, and impact.”
A total of seven candidates from the USA, Sweden and Estonia were nominated for the Visnapuu award in the 2023 competition. There were candidates from the fields of fiction, theatre, film and cultural arts.
The award is presented by EANC (ERKÜ) and its Estonian partners: the Estonian Writers’ Union and the municipal government of Luunja (Henrik Visnapuu’s home in Estonia). This year the award financed by EANC is 3,000 US dollars. The unique objet d’art related to the award is commissioned from a separate Estonian artist on each occasion and is funded by Luunja municipality.
The jury consisted of literary scholar and writer Epp Annus (representative of the Estonian American National Council in the United States), poet Jürgen Rooste (representative of the Estonian Writers’ Union) and Luunja High School Director Toomas Liivamägi (representative of Luunja).
In 2022, the writer Elin Toona was awarded the EANC Visnapuu award. The objet d’art was created by Leonhard Lapin, his last work.
History of the prize named Visnapuu
The Henrik Visnapuu Literary Award was established in the USA in 1952 and was awarded regularly through 2007, at which point the tradition ceased due to the passing of the award’s founders.
ERKÜ/EANC restored the Visnapuu Award in 2020, renaming it as the EANC Henrik Visnapuu Literature and Culture Award and welcoming the Estonian Writers Union and the Luunja Municipal Government as partners. A laureate will be named on Jan 2, the anniversary of Visnapuu´s birth, every other year. The field of eligible cultural genres has been expanded.
The award is given to work related to Estonia, in Estonian or another language, in the domain of prose, poetry, memoir or Estonian-related research. The award is open to works published abroad or in Estonia, however the preferred focus is global to advance international awareness of Estonian culture and history.
The Estonian American National Council (EANC/ERKÜ) is a nationally elected representative organization of American Estonians, founded in the USA in 1952, whose purpose is to represent the interests of American Estonians and to preserve, foster and promote the Estonian language and culture (website: www.estosite.org)
Henrik Visnapuu was born on January 2, 1890 in Helme parish. He fled from the Soviet occupation in 1944, first escaping to Germany and later emigrating to the United States in 1949. He died on April 3, 1951 in Long Island, New York at age 61.
In June 2018, the poet’s ashes were buried in the soil of his homeland in the Tallinn Forest Cemetery next to his wife Hilda Visnapuu, or Ingi, who had been waiting for his return for over 70 years.
Henrik Visnapuu was one of the more prolific and versatile of Estonian writers. He penned over 30 works, including more than 20 collections of poetry, memoirs, plays, romantic verse, prose, and essays. As a high-level state official, he was instrumental in significantly shaping the cultural policies of the Republic of Estonia in the late 1930s, as well as during the war and occupation years of 1940-1944.
Henrik Visnapuu has played an important role in Estonian cultural history as one of the central members of the literary group Siuru, and is known as a classic creator of Estonian love and patriotic poetry. In exile, he played an important role as the founder of the World Estonian Literary Society and as a poet whose work continues to be adapted even today. Visnapuu was also the author of the first comprehensive Estonian poetry textbook and the editor of the magazine Varamu. He was also involved in the creation of the Estonian Writers’ Cooperative.