(The following is a post by Taru Spiegel, Reference Specialist, European Division.)
Building on the 19th-century nationalist flowering of literature in the various Baltic languages, authors in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania created a significant body of writing during the first period of Baltic independence, between World War I and World War II—1918 to 1940. During the turmoil of World War II and the Soviet occupation, many Baltic authors went into exile or were silenced forever, while some continued publishing remaining where they were. Authors of the following works personified the extraordinary levels of literary experimentation—ranging from romanticism to realism—that took place at that time. In fact, individual authors tried different literary styles during their lifetimes. Creative book illustrations in a variety of art forms often accompanied these works. The Library of Congress has a representative collection of books by these authors, often in later editions, and some in translation.
The Impressionist art in Roht’s (1891-1950) book of short stories is by the founder of Estonia’s avant-garde movement, Ado Vabbe (1892-1961), whose illustrations here show the influence of Cubo-Futurism, a fusion of Cubism and Futurism, both art styles moving away from representational art, trying our abstract forms that characterized youth, technology, and speed.
A prominent member of the Neo-Romantic group that sought meaning outside naturalism and materialism, Henrik Visnapuu (1890-1951) fled Estonia in the chaos of World War II, first to Germany, in 1944, and from there to the United States.
An important Estonian literary figure and poet, Gustav Suits (1883-1956) led the cosmopolitan and Neo-Romantic Young Estonia (Noor-Eesti) movement. He fled Estonia in 1944 and settled in Sweden becoming yet another diaspora Estonian.
August Gailit (1891-1960) was a leading journalist and author. Like Suits, he died in exile in Sweden.
Jānis Rainis (born Jānis Pliekšāns, 1865-1929), whose works which stress social justice and national freedom, are considered Latvian classics, was also a public figure and politician.
Aspazija, (pen name of Elza Rozenberga Pliekšāne, 1865-1943), married to Jānis Rainis, was an author and activist in her own right.
Janis Jaunsudrabiṇš (1877-1962) is best remembered for his lyrical descriptions of Latvian country life. He died in exile in Germany.
The bigraphy honors Edvarts Virza’s (1883-1940) fellow Latvian nationalist, Col. Oskars Kolpaks (1882-1919), who died while fighting for an independent Latvia. Virza’s poetry stresses the themes of patriotism and the beauty of nature.
Mykolas Biržiška (1882-1962) was one of the signers of the Lithuanian declaration of independence. A fervent patriot, he held academic positions in literature, both in Lithuania and Germany, where he fled in 1944. He eventually moved to the United States, continuing his research on Lithuanian folk music and dance.
Vincas Krėvė-Mickevičius (also known as Vincas Krėvė, 1882-1954), novelist, dramatist, poet, and philologist, is considered one of the greatest Lithuanian authors. A professor of Slavic languages and literatures at Kaunas and Vilnius universities, Krėvė later, while in exile, held a professorship at the University of Pennsylvania.
Juozas Tumas, (pen name Vaižgantas, 1869-1933), Roman Catholic priest, journalist, and author, played an important role in standardizing Lithuanian orthography. As a Lithuanian nationalist, he occasionally provoked the ire of the non-Lithuanian authorities, but ended his days as the rector of the beautiful Vytautas Magnus Church in Kaunas.
Vincas Mykolaitis (1893-1967), known by his pen name Putinas, played an active role in Lithuanian literary circles and taught at the University of Vilnius. Most famous for writing about his crisis of faith during which he questioned his earlier religious beliefs. As a priest, he found this very painful and renounced his calling in the 1930s.
The interwar years were heady times for Baltic authors, whose legacy of experimentation and perseverance—despite many travails—are surely an inspiration for contemporary writers in this vibrant part of Europe.