Women writers on Karen Blixen.
A discussion about Karen Blixen at Scandinavia House in New York with celebrated authors Judith Thurman and Suzanne Brogger.
It was a full house when Danish author Suzanne Brøgger and American writer Judith Thurman (you may have read her pieces in The New Yorker) joined forces at Scandinavia House’s literary series "Northern Influences: Americans Look at Great Nordic Writers" to talk about their common interest in Danish author Karen Blixen (also known as Isak Dinesen), who is famous for her book “Out of Africa.”
Blixen was born in Rungsted, Denmark in 1885, and spent many years living in Kenya, where she had a coffee farm. She wrote primarily in English, and while was loved in the U.S., she was never much appreciated in her native country, where she was considered much too exotic and un-Danish.
“Somebody gave me Blixen’s books when I was 20 or 21 and in a dark period of my life,” said Thurman. “Her writings gave me enormous comfort and courage. Courage to confront failure and uncertainty.”
Thurman went on a quest to learn more about the author (to the point of learning Danish), and thus got to know Brøgger, who is a famous and prominent Danish writer. Brøgger and Thurman discussed Blixen’s interest in individuation, the process of becoming one’s true self.
“Blixen was a spokeswoman for true joie de vivre,” said Brøgger. “She had a wonderful sense of humor, a humor of a divine perspective in all situations.”
Today Karen Blixen is not much read—instead people read more about her life. Thurman’s biography “Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller” has become a popular book.
“Over the years Suzanne and I have met at a number of exotic places in the world to discuss Blixen,” Thurman said. “I, who find writing a painful and difficult act, am always amazed at Brøgger’s ease. It’s just as with Blixen, who used to say: ‘Throw your heart over the hurdle and your horse will follow.’”
Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, has described it "a mistake" that Blixen was not awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature during the 1930s.
Our earlier interview for Nordic Reach with Suzanne Brøgger: A Danish Scheherazade
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