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“To persist despite the times, to sing despite the times…”: Excerpts from the Correspondence between Bernard Kangro and Salme Ekbaum

Both Bernard Kangro (1910–1994) and Salme Ekbaum (1912–1995) fled Estonia to seek refuge in Sweden in the autumn of 1944. Kangro stayed in Lund, whereas Ekbaum and her husband moved on to Canada in 1949, and settled down in Toronto. Both for Kangro and Ekbaum the exile years were creatively productive and their works enjoyed a wide readership. Ekbaum published her first novels at the Orto Publishing House managed by Andres Laur, yet started n 1955 publishing her works under the auspices of the Estonian Writers’ Cooperative managed by Kangro. One of the motives to change the publishing house was her good relationship with Kangro. Kangro and Ekbaum are known to have met only once, at the congress of the PEN-club in the Estonian House in Stockholm, on May 26, 1978. The forty-two-year-long correspondence between these two writers, physically so distant, testifies to their spiritual closeness and long-term friendship. The correspondence was initiated by Kangro, who on May 20, 1950, wrote to Ekbaum, who had just become a member of the Estonian Writers’ Union Abroad, with a request to contribute to a brand-new journal Tulimuld (Fire-Earth). We do not know what Ekbaum answered to him, as her first surviving letter to him dates back to June 1956.  Ekbaum’s letters to Kangro – forty-two in all – are preserved in the Estonian Cultural History Archives at the Estonian Literary Museum. Salme Ekbaum’s personal collection in the archive of the Museum of Estonians Abroad in Toronto stores sixty-nine Kangro’s letters. Kangro’s first letter to Ekbaum dates from the spring of 1950 and the last one from December 1992. His letters speak about the birth and evolution of Estonian literary life in exile, providing a detailed and colourful overview of the establishment and operation of the two central institutions in diaspora Estonians’ literary life – the journal Tulimuld and the Estonian Writers’ Cooperative. This makes these letters significant cultural-historical documents, which help to understand individuals’ role and meaning in the existence and persistence of diaspora Estonians’ literary life. Yet, Kangro and Ekbaum’s correspondence is also an intimate document revealing the dynamics of the relationship between these two writers, which is also reflected in the changes in the addressing style in time. Ekbaum in her letters to Kangro discusses the latter’s works, yet her letters also include more intimate contemplations and emotional confessions about the dark sides of life in exile. One of these confessions was initiated by writer Rudolf Sirge’s visit to Toronto in September 1964.