Ingrid Sjöstrand was a writer of prose, poetry, and a playwright for both children and a mature readership. She was also a polemist on societal issues and she engaged in the peace- and environmental movements.
Ingrid Sjöstrand was born in Rödön congregation in Jämtland county in 1922. Her parents were Anna Persson, a nurse, and John Flemström, a construction engineer. They had met when they were both working on the Suorva dam construction in the early 1920s. Her parents were not yet married when Ingrid Sjöstrand was born and thus she spent her first few months living with a foster family. Shortly before her first birthday her parents did marry and they were able to collect her to come and live with them in Luleå. After a few years spent in Hudiksvall the family moved to Stockholm where a second daughter, named Margit, was born in 1929. Ingrid Sjöstrand has portrayed her parents’ story in her autobiographical account, Dom stora. Bioman, published in 2003. She also referred to her childhood – marked both by her father’s alcoholism and her mother’s ill health – in her fictional writings in several novels, such as the 1983 Det är nu and Isranunkel, from 1993.
After completing her public school education at Kungsholmen Ingrid Sjöstrand then attended Statens normalskola för flickor and Stockholms högre allmänna läroverk. She gained her school-leaving certificate in 1942 and then moved to Uppsala in order to begin university studies. There she gained her Bachelor’s degree in Nordic languages and literary history with poetics and pedagogical studies in 1948. During her student years she met her future husband, Georg Bilius. The couple married in 1947 and their son Esbjörn was born in 1949. They divorced a few years later. Ingrid Sjöstrand continued her studies at Stockholm college (now Stockholm university), where one of her subjects was history. She gained a Master of Philosophy in 1950 and a Master of Arts in 1952. After her studies she spent some time working as a high school teacher, where her subjects were Swedish and history. During the 1950s she married for a second time. Her new husband was Lars Olof Sjöstrand, who had a music degree. They had two children, Malte and Kari.
Ingrid Sjöstrand has described the life she led whilst her youngest children were small as that of a housewife but nevertheless she also wrote reviews, radio reviews, and polemical articles for various publications including the Arbetaren and Dagens Nyheter newspapers. For a 15-year span from 1950 onwards she also produced a weekly causerie-style column for the Idun journal, under the byline of “jeppa”.
Ingrid Sjöstrand’s early polemical activities concerned children’s home environments and she was in the vanguard of proponents of the emerging anti-authoritarian approaches to child-rearing in Sweden after the end of the Second World War. Her engagement on behalf of children and their life views took centre place in a series of “småbarnskvartar” (15-minute young children’s shows) on the radio. In 1966 Bonnier publishing house refashioned some of these shows as a children’s book called Jag heter Muff. Ingrid Sjöstrand considered her 1968 book entitled Kalle Vrånglebäck to be her actual literary debut, however. This book, on 6-year-old Kalle, a sensitive and outward-looking boy, was an immediate hit and its realistic and unconventional portrayal of everyday life and the problems children face generated general discussion. The sequel, called Loppas liv. Om Kalle Vrånglebäcks lillasyster, was released the following year and it won Litteraturfrämjandet’s stipend. A third book in the series, Kalle och Loppa. En bok om att bli syskon was published in 1970, followed two years later by Världen är full av vänner. Kalle och Loppa hittar några. Much later, in 2002, Kalle Vrånglebäck och Stålfia was released. These books have been translated into a range of languages and several were aired as radio serials and as children’s TV-programmes during the 1970s. Further, Ingrid Sjöstrand’s 1978 book Liten är fin. Sagan om draken som inte kunde sluta växa, an allegorical tale based on a timely ecological theme, was adapted as a children’s TV-series in 1980.
In 1968 Ingrid Sjöstrand made her debut as a playwright with the release of her play Blått och skärt, which she had written in collaboration with Siv Widerberg for Västeråsensembelns barnteater (children’s theatre). Plays then remained an important element of her written work and she wrote a total of twenty plays both for children and for mature audiences. These were performed at various places including Dramaten, Fickteatern, Narren and other theatres throughout Scandinavia. Several of her plays were also aired on radio and TV.
In 1969 Ingrid Sjöstrand published her first poetry collection for children. She coined the term “fundror” (perhaps a blend of funderingar and frågor, ponderings and questions), one of the many newly formed so-called “teleskopord” (portmanteaux) which characterise her literary expression. These short, unrhymed poems about life’s smaller and greater questions can be found in the following collections: the 1969 Angår det dej kanske, Vanjopp. Nya fundror för alla som kan läsa, published in 1970, En dag i vilda världen, from 1971, and Natten svänger sin stjärnehatt – svipp!, released in 1994. During the 1970s Ingrid Sjöstrand went from school to school in Sweden, giving readings and writing “fundror” with the children. On the occasion of her 90th birthday in 2012 she gave an interview to the Uppsala Nya Tidning newspaper in which she revealed that she felt her most important contribution had been releasing children from “enforced rhymes”.
Her concern for children’s home environments led to harsh criticism of the modern “kategorisamhället” (lit. ‘category society’) which sees children and adults isolated within their homes, losing their sense of worth and community. As an alternative to these “sorthem”(lit. ‘sorting homes’) Ingrid Sjöstrand worked out a model for a collective lifestyle which she termed “samhem” (lit. ‘co-home’). In 1973 she launched this model in a polemical work entitled Samhem. En bok om mänsklig miljö i mänsklig skala, and she campaigned on behalf of this idea both in Sweden and further afield throughout the 1970s.
Ingrid Sjöstrand published her debut novel for adults, Kända nästet, in 1969. This book, and the ensuing novels Familjen C from 1973, Blommande sköna dalar released in 1974, and Början, published in 1977, were also contributions to the public discussion on the need to find a new way of living together. During the 1970s Ingrid Sjöstrand also developed her own literary form in her written prose: external events and a unifying narrative voice is missing and the text is entirely comprised of the various characters’ internal monologues. It is the subjective and realistic portrayal of women’s experiences of puberty, sex, childbirth, menopause and aging, in particular, that has no equivalent in Swedish literary tradition. The themes of her work predated the wave of so-called women’s literature and confessional literature which expanded notably during the second half of the 1970s.
In Ingrid Sjöstrand’s novels from the 1980s and the 1990s she moved away from contemporary portrayals of life and internal monologues. Her trilogy known as the “Törnrosa” (Sleeping Beauty) series which comprises the 1985 Törnrosa. Feernas tid, Törnrosa. Prinsarnas tid, published in 1988, and Törnrosa. I konungens land, released in 1990, depict the lives of 18 girls who attend a girls’ school in Stockholm, from their schooldays in the 1930s until early old age in the 1980s. These novels also portray the changes modern Swedish society experienced during the 1990s, presented from these women’s point of view. An important theme in the trilogy is the extent to which these women’s lives are constricted by the patriarchal society they inhabit and how their senses of self have been stunted by traditional deprecatory and shame-inducing child-rearing methods.
Ingrid Sjöstrand released her first poetry aimed at a mature readership in 1969 in an anthology compiled by Jarl and Sonja Åkesson. Both of her two earliest poetry collections for adults, the 1970 Nattbok and En tropisk orm på Karlaplan (befjädrad 4 m lång). Ur psykonautens småbildsarkiv, published in 1973, comprise surrealist dream poetry. The concentrated, rhythmic and accessible form of poetry which then became her poetic trademark emerged in her 1976 collection entitled Humlan vingad. Sångbok för brummare.
During the 1970s Ingrid Sjöstrand became increasingly interested in the women’s-, peace- and environmental movements. She was particularly involved in the campaign against nuclear war and nuclear weapons. One of the groups she joined was “Konspiration”, which Birgitta Hambraeus – a Centre party parliamentarian – called to meet at her office in parliament to deliberate on the impact of nuclear power on people and the environment. Ingrid Sjöstrand was also one of the instigators of the Kvinnokamp för fred, 1979 organisation (later known as Kvinnor för fred, Women for Peace). She remained very active in that organisation throughout the 1980s, participating in pan-Nordic peace marches from Stockholm to Moscow and to Minsk in 1982 and the New York to Washington march in 1983, both of which gained mass-media attention.
This heavy political activism also found expression in her poetry. Ingrid Sjöstrand’s poetry collection Det blåser en sol, published in 1979, gained her a wider mature readership. The collection is subtitled “systror” (a play on the word for sisters) and many of the poems concern women’s experiences and their political potential. Several are themed on environmental threats and serve as a call to arms. The same can be said of the poems in Hopp heter motstånd. Sångbok för motståndare, which was published in 1982 and set to music by Carl-Axel and Monica Dominique, and those in Världen i vitögat. Dikter om i dag, from 1987. These political poems were often used within the peace- and the environmental movements. Several of them have also found a new resonance with subsequent generations, in particular the compact and rhetorically effective poem “Elda under din vrede” out of Det blåser en sol.
During the 1980s and the 1990s Ingrid Sjöstrand also published a handful of poetry collections which looked at the themes of childhood, relationships, dreams, nature, abandonment and aging. In her final poetry collection, Planet till salu. Blå. Obehagliga dikter, published in 2014, she once again returned to the threats faced by the environment and humanity and the tendency to look away.
During Ingrid Sjöstrand’s fifty years of active writing she published nearly forty books, both of prose and poetry, some aimed at children, others at an adult readership, around twenty plays, one polemical book, innumerable poems, causerie-style articles, essays, and articles within anthologies, in journals and for the daily press. She often used innovative literary forms to portray people’s inner lives and external living conditions within modern Swedish society. As a poet Ingrid Sjöstrand gave artistic expression to human tendencies and challenges in a time characterised by environmental damage, rearmament, and oppression, whilst also using succinct and subtly lyrical language to investigate what it meant to be human and what makes life worth living.
Ingrid Sjöstrand died in Uppsala 2020. Her remains lie at the memorial garden at Berthåga cemetery in Uppsala.