Aina Villanger

- Norway -

Aina Villanger (1979) grew up in the town of Skien (about 55 k inhabitants) before embarking on studies at the University of Oslo and The Academy of Creative Writing in Bergen. Her debut as an author was with the critically acclaimed long poem Langsang (Long song) in 2012. Her second book, Baugeids bok (Book of Baugeid) was published in 2017 and was nominated for The Adolescent’s critic's prize. Since then, she has published the poems Nattnød (Night need) (2019) and Onkel Arne og månen (Uncle Arne and the moon) (2021), and has also translated Unica Zurn's Witch texts into Norwegian. Villanger has been awarded Tanum’s Women’s stipend and the Stig Sæterbakken Memorial Prize. Villanger is also a scriptwriter, engages in creative collectives performing multimedia stage- or video-pieces – both as a performer and a writer, and is one of the initiators of the so called "ritualistic writing collective", a web-based art space and podcast and zine Blomster & bureau/ Flower & bureau. Villanger is currently based in the peninsula of Nesodden, a 20-minute boat ride from Oslo.

"Through language we can be the other," said Aina Villanger when interviewed by The House of Literature in Oslo in August 2021. This award-winning [1] author also says she is still asking herself the question: why write literature? How to use this language, with is endless opportunities?


Whether it be so-called prose, so-called libretti, script writing or poetry; all of Villanger’s works have the openness of the poem. There might be a historical-biographical backdrop, like her books based on the history of Baugeid [2], the head of a monastery, or the history of her uncle [3]. However distant in space, time or sex the objects of her storytelling may be, Villanger writes with the greatest empathy, compassion and imagination. When encountering the white gaps in her source material, Villanger not only applies fantasy and new understanding and knowledge, she takes the leaps of transcendence, thus managing almost impossible linguistic maneuverers of describing bodily sensations and experiences.


Villanger is not only a transcendental author, but also a cross-disciplinary artist whose various expressions include her own body. She has partaken in an artist collective (The Lilithists), engaging in ritualistic practices such as confirmations. For the long-performance Eden, Oslo – A confirmation she embarked on six-month preparation time, before the day of «confirmation»; a larger cross-disciplinary stage art piece. Villanger wrote the libretto, which includes sentences like this is no test/ no tale/ no awakening? politics not a speech/ this is combing and stepping/ the hastening of a hook, the swinging of a rose/ work and masturbation [4].


Villanger’s practice moves seamlessly and naturally between literary disciplines, such as poetry, prose and script writing, including libretti. Her somewhat laidback and fearless way of approaching genres makes me think of the Norwegian cult tradition of authors known as the Profil generation. The Profil generation were early avantgarde authors affiliated with to the journal Profil (1966-); they did not consider the limitations of genres, as provided by the systems of libraries and booksellers. They did not write poetry or prose, they wrote text.


Another feature of the Profil generation (which included authors such as Jan Erik Vold, Paal-Helge Haugen, Cecilie Løveid) was cultural radicalism. One might call Villanger too a cultural radical, as she, like the above-mentioned 60's avant-gardists, writes texts that can be read as being in opposition to inherited social norms, criticising bourgeois sexual morality. Her texts also display an openness towards cultural and spiritual impulses other than the traditional Norwegian and Western ones, and take an interest in the arts that exceeds books. And even though the texts she writes are not always labelled poetry, they are always open works that the reader or the listener never know fully where to place.


Villanger transcends within her texts as well. The debut Long song has a form that underscores its story, and it is a piece of pure and consistent lyrical text. The next piece was labelled prose, and was called Baugeids bok/ The book of Baugeid. It is not very controversial to claim that the novel is more suited than the poem to be a research laboratory in terms of linguistics and formal explorations. The book of Baugeid substantiates this assertion. This relatively short novel (178 pages) contains a great range of genres – even disciplines – of text. Within it there are recipes as well as poetry; short prose as well as fiction and non-fiction.


As diverse and rich as The book of Baugeid is, as consistent and tight-woven is Villanger’s following book. Nattnød/ Night need is a raw and unromanticising tale of pregnancy, birth and maternity. Formally, it relates to Villanger’s debut, Long song. Night need is a kind of long song, featuring the Villangeresque way of writing one poem in one outbreath. While The book of Baugeid is characterized by its sharp breaks and sudden changes, this collection is stylistically stringent. The form is clean, yet growing organically from a starting point, with variations over the chosen theme.


Two years later, Villanger published Onkel Arne og månen/ Uncle Arne and the moon (2021). In this book, the life ofVillanger’s uncle Arne forms the backdrop. The historical-biographical person Arne committed suicide ten years before Villanger was born. Like Baugeid’s book, Arne’s book challenges genres in a brave and curious way. As a critic put it when the book was selected as one of the best books of the year, it is equal parts documentary, lyrical text, questions and modest guesses.


Whatever subject matter and whatever genre is chosen, Villanger’s works are characterized by a high command of language and the historical material. At a time when all authors are using creative writing as a means of exploring, Villanger offers something tremendously more interesting: In spite of her way of doing "modest guessing", Villanger is beyond exploring. She conveys great knowledge and linguistic maturity: she knows exactly what she is doing:


The formal and stylistic qualities of Villangers poetry have awarded her numerous prizes and nominations for "book of the year" and similar. Though in a time of war and terror, and a time when killings more often than not are carried out using high technology, it is also worth pointing to its possible political depth. The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas' writing comes to mind; it is harder to kill or hurt the man you have looked in the eye.


The empathic prose and poetry of Villanger look strangers in the eye, and provide an opportunity for the reader to get to know the other. That is no less than an achievement.


[1] Tanums Kvinnestipend (2018), Stig Sæterbakkens Minnepris (2019)

[2] Baugeids bok/ Book of Baugeid, Oktober forlag 2017

[3] Onkel Arne og månen/Uncle Arne and the moon, Oktober forlag 2021

[4] My translation into English. The original:


dette er ingen prøve
det er ikke en fortelling
ikke vekkelse? politikk ikke en tale
dette er kamming og trapping
krokbragd og rosebragd
arbeid og onani