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2016 Man Booker International Q&A: Aki Ollikainen

By Eric M. B. Becker

Aki Ollikainen and his translators Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah were longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for White Hunger. Ollikainen's second book, Musta satu (Black Tale), was published in 2015. He was born in 1973 in Äänekoski, Central Finland. Ollikainen studied social policy at the University of Jyväskylä and worked for ten years as a journalist for a local newspaper in Lapland. Today he lives in southern Finland. 


Words Without Borders (WWB): Tell us about how you became a writer. Was it a vocation, an accident? How has your relationship to writing changed over time? Have your goals and objectives changed throughout the years?​

Aki Ollikainen (AO): I wanted to become a writer since I was a teenager. So I think it was some kind of a vocation. I really don’t know why writing was so important to me. I’ve always been very keen on almost all kinds of literature. I wrote mostly poetry until the age of thirty, and I think that (writing poems) still has an influence on my writing, although I now write mostly prose.

WWB: How do you see your writing within the larger context of your country's/language's literary tradition? What influences/writers/groups of writers there do you draw on, or what literary currents does your work disavow?​

AO: After just two published books, I find it very hard to place myself in the Finnish literary tradition. Ten years ago I sent my first handwritten manuscript of a novel to one publisher. They sent me an answer that I’d done a very good job in imitating my obvious favorite writers. Next I should find my own voice, they said. So since then, I’ve tried to find my own way to write, and I think I found my voice when I was writing Whiter Hunger. So I don’t want to think so much about today’s literary currents but to improve my own literary voice. Of course, I get influences from different sources.

WWB: What's your favorite book from a literary tradition other than your own and how has it influenced your writing?​

AO: Russian writer Mihail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita was a huge experience when I read it as a teenager. (By the way, the Finnish title of that book was Satan arrives in Moscow, so of course a book with that kind of a title tickled a teenager.) That book was a very visual experience, and I have wanted to write strong images also in my own texts.

Read WWB's MBIP Interview with Aki Ollikainen's translators Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah

More interviews with 2016 Man Booker International Prize-nominated writers and translators

Published Apr 6, 2016   Copyright 2016 Eric M. B. Becker

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