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Finlandia Literature Prize Controversy

The nominees for this year’s Finlandia Literature Prize have been announced amidst controversy, as it emerges that one of the six nominees is not a Finnish citizen, as required by prize rules.

Finlandia-ehdokaskirjat.
Vuoden 2010 Finlandia-palkintoehdokkaat. Image: Tiina Jutila / YLE

The prestigious 30,000 euro literature prize is awarded annually by the Finnish Book Foundation. According to the Foundation’s own rules, the prize is given in recognition of an outstanding novel by a Finnish citizen.

Controversy ensued as the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat noted that one of the candidates, 29-year-old author Alexandra Salmela, is not in fact a Finnish citizen. She was born and raised in Bratislava, then part of Czechoslovakia and now capital of Slovakia.

Salmela studied dramaturgy at Bratislava's theatre academy before deciding to study Finnish. She has studied the language for eight years and lived here for four. She is married to a Finn and lives with her children in Tampere. Salmela's debut novel, 27 Eli kuolema tekee taiteilijan ( 27 Or Death Makes an Artist), is set in Prague. Helsingin Sanomat hailed it as the first true Finnish-language adult novel by an immigrant.

In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the Finnish Book Foundation affirmed that Salmela would be allowed to compete for the prize anyway. The Foundation does not normally check on Finlandia nominees’ citizenship. As it considers Salmela’s inclusion as its own mistake, the author will not be disqualified.

This year’s prize jury includes Master of Philosophy Marianne Bargum, Finnish language researcher and non-fiction author Lari Kotilainen and communications consultant Kirsi Piha. The winner will be chosen by YLE culture editor Minna Joenniemi. The prize, which has been awarded since 1984, will be given on December 2.

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