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« Tuna 4 / 2018

Global Ivar Ivask and Estonia

We discuss the problems of a writer’s ethnic identity and the role of his language, together with the role of the literary networks between the East and West after WWII. New archival sources allow us to claim that communication with compatriots in exile strongly influenced cultural processes in the homeland.

Ivar Ivask (1927–1992) was an Estonian poet and literary scholar, and the editor-in-chief of the journal Books Abroad / World Literature Today (University of Oklahoma, USA). His personal archive, now at the Estonian Cultural History Archives of the Estonian Literary Museum, offers rich material for studying the above-mentioned problems.

Ivask was born in an Estonian-Latvian-German multilingual family in Riga; he studied German at the University of Marburg; in 1949 he emigrated to the USA and settled down in Nordfield, Minnesota. We outline Ivask’s social network of 523 people: the largest correspondences are with the Spanish poet J. Guillén (330 letters), the Estonian poet M. Under (246 letters) and the Lithuanian writer H. Radauskas (155 letters). In 1957, influenced by his friend, the Austrian writer H. von Doderer, Ivask started keeping diaries, 57 volumes of which are now at the Cultural Archives. These incredibly beautiful and deep ego-documents reflect 35 years of Ivask’s life and creative work. We focus on his first diary Tagebücher (1957–1963) and investigate why he switched from German to his father’s native language, Estonian, in his diaries.

We also publish source material on the Ivask family’s 400-year-long genealogy in Estonia.