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Humanist poet and Renaissance man Claes Andersson dies aged 82

During his lifetime, Andersson worked as a writer, psychiatrist, musician and politician - all with a humanist approach.

Claes Andersson joulukuussa 2017.
Claes Andersson in December 2017. Image: Antti Haanpää / Yle

Finnish writer, psychiatrist, jazz musician and politician Claes Andersson has died at the age of 82, following a long illness, his family confirmed to news service STT on Wednesday.

Andersson was one of the country's Swedish-speaking minority's best-known figures in Finland and more than anyone else of his generation personified the socially-engaged literature that developed during the 1960s.

His humanistic and societal ideas and ideals could be found in all of his works of poetry, novels, plays and cabarets.

Andersson was born in Helsinki in 1937 and early on in life took to hobbies like music and sport. Apart from literature, his life's biggest interests were jazz and football, both of which he pursued from a young age.

As a sportsman, Andersson won a silver medal in the badminton national championships in 1956 and played for Helsinki football club HIFK until he departed the city to work at a mental health clinic.

Story continues after photo.

Kirjailija ja psykiatrian erikoislääkäri Claes Andersson soittaa jazzravintola Groovyssa pianoa 26. tammikuuta 1980.
Writer and psychiatrist Claes Andersson plays the piano at Helsinki's Groovy jazz club, 26 January, 1980. Image: Juha Jormanainen / Lehtikuva

In 1962 Andersson became a psychiatrist and his interest in people, particularly those on the fringes of society, were clearly found in his writing. That same year, he published his first collection of poems, Ventil, in his mother tongue, Swedish.

Since his poetry debut, Andersson went on to publish a total of 24 poetry collections before his death. He wrote a total of eight books of prose and around 20 scripts for the stage and radio theatre. Many of his books were translated into Finnish and some of his work has been translated into English, German and Spanish, as well as other languages.

During the 60s and 70s Andersson worked as a psychiatrist at various hospitals across southern Finland.

He began his political career in the left wing of the political spectrum at the end of the 1950s during his clinical studies at a Helsinki hospital. Andersson said that he wanted to understand how societal demands could be so varied for different groups of people.

In 1967 he helped found the November movement, which aimed to improve the lives of society's vulnerable population.

After several years as the acting chair of the Society of Swedish Authors in Finland, and a decade of work as an independent author, Andersson was elected to parliament in 1987 as a candidate for the Finnish People's Democratic League (SKDL) party, which was at one time one of the largest leftist parties in capitalist Europe.

In 1990 he became the chair of the newly-established Left Alliance party and during 1995-1998 he acted as the country's minister of education and culture. He resigned from his MP post in the autumn of 2008, citing health reasons.

In his later life, Andersson became better known as a jazz pianist and performed regularly at jazz clubs and other events for years.

Andersson also received many accolades for his written work, including the Finnish State Literature Award for poetry four times, the Finlandia Prize for literature, the Swedish Academy's Finland prize and nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize, among many other awards of recognition.

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