Estonian literary scholar Tiina Kirss wins award from expat organisation

The Estonian American National Council has selected literary scholar Tiina Kirss as the recipient of the council’s 2024 Henrik Visnapuu Literary and Culture Award, a prize named after an Estonian author.

The award was formally presented by the council and its Estonian partners the Estonian Writers’ Union and the local government of Luunja (Henrik Visnapuu’s home parish in Estonia) at a special event held on 2 February 2024.  

Tiina Kirss grew up in the US and received her PhD from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Since the restoration of Estonian independence, she has devoted herself to researching, teaching and presenting Estonian literature and heritage in Estonia and abroad.

She has been a professor of Estonian literature and cultural theory at the Universities of Toronto, Tallinn and Tartu, and currently works as a senior researcher at the Estonian Literature Museum.

The main areas of Kirss’s varied research are Estonian and comparative literary and cultural history and the study of Estonian biographies. She has published research on the works of Jaan Kross, Marie Under, Aino Kallas, August Kitzberg, Friedebert Tuglas, Viivi Luige, Ene Mihkelson and others; the literary and cultural history of Estonian women; the writings of refugees; and the correspondence of several literary and cultural figures.

A USD3,000 prize

A representative selection of her approach has been published in the book “Sõel. Approaches to Literature, Literary Criticism and Opinion” (2018), which was nominated for the annual National Literature Award in the category of essay writing.

A total of seven candidates from the US, Sweden and Estonia were nominated for the Visnapuu Award in the 2024 competition. There were nominees in the fields of fiction, theatre, film and cultural arts.

This year, the award, funded by the Estonian American National Council, is worth USD3,000.

Henrik Visnapuu. Photo by Under and Tuglas Literature Centre.

The Henrik Visnapuu Literary Award was established in the US in 1952 and was awarded regularly until 2007, when the tradition was discontinued due to the death of the award’s founders.

The Estonian American National Council reinstated the Visnapuu Award in 2020, renamed it the Henrik Visnapuu Literature and Culture Award, and welcomed the Estonian Writers’ Union and Luunja local government as partners.

One of the more prolific Estonian writers

The prize is awarded to works related to Estonia, in Estonian or another language, in the fields of prose, poetry, memoirs or research related to Estonia. The prize is open to works published abroad or in Estonia, but the preferred focus is global, in order to promote international awareness of Estonian culture and history.

Henrik Visnapuu was one of Estonia’s most prolific and versatile writers. He wrote over 30 works, including more than 20 collections of poetry, memoirs, plays, romantic verse, prose and essays. As a high-ranking state official, he was instrumental in shaping the cultural policy of the Republic of Estonia in the late 1930s and during the war and occupation years of 1940-1944.

Henrik Visnapuu’s farmhouse in Luunja, Estonia.

He was born on 2 January 1890 in the parish of Helme. He fled the Soviet occupation in 1944, first to Germany and then to the US in 1949. He died on 3 April 1951 in Long Island, New York, at the age of 61.

The Estonian American National Council is a nationally elected representative organisation of American Estonians, founded in the USA in 1952, whose purpose is to represent the interests of American Estonians and to preserve, foster and promote the Estonian language and culture.

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