Astrid Lindgren was immensely productive during the 1950s and 60s. She wrote at least one book a year, she travelled the world to talk about her books, gave lots of interviews and wrote thousands of letters - both to her friends and replying to readers.
On top of this she each week contributed to the popular radio show ‘Twenty Questions’ and recorded her own books for the Swedish National Radio. And alongside all of this she was responsible for the successful publication of children’s books at Rabén & Sjögren.
Her job entailed such things as meeting authors and illustrators, editing manuscripts, writing letters of refusal, and deciding on the publishing company’s foreign publications, as well as inviting authors for dinner at her house and attending events at bookshops to market the books they published. She made good use of her many talents: she was able to write synopses for the back of the books, advertising copy for catalogues, type quickly and faultlessly, and she was a fast reader.
The publication of children’s fiction went well, was profitable and the number of titles increased steadily. Having more or less free hands to do what she wanted Astrid was made responsible for taking on new authors and selecting titles. She was able to observe a major part of Swedish children’s literature developing. For example Lennart Hellsing, Harry Kullman, Åke Holmberg, Viola Wahlstedt, Anna-Lisa Lundkvist, Edith Unnerstad and later Barbro Lindgren and Hans Peterson amongst others. Some authors, like Lennart Hellsing and Harry Kullman, were such excellent writers that the books were more or less perfect when they arrived with the publishers. Others often received a few tips and some advice on how to improve their texts. Astrid considered the introduction to a children’s book crucial, it had to pique your interest immediately and not demand too much of its young readers. She also considered it important to use words that children understood and were able to relate to. And finally, the book simply had to be good.
Astrid stayed with the publishers until 1970 and participated in the debate about children’s fiction and the market for children’s literature with articles and comments in various publications. She most definitely contributed to raising the status of children’s fiction. In 1958 she wrote ‘Why children need books’ for the magazine ‘Skolbiblioteket’ [the School Library], and described how important imagination is to us all and that “the child’s imagination needs books in order to live and breathe”.
Her absolute position, not one that was obvious to take at the time, was that children’s books had to be of the same quality as books for adults, and that they should be given the same financial conditions. Rabén & Sjögren’s great successes came on the back of all the fantastic children’s books they had published throughout the years, which is why Astrid was so annoyed when the publishers decided to create an award and awarded it to an adult fiction writer. She immediately demanded that they also created a children’s fiction prize, which they did. For Astrid’s sixtieth birthday in 1967 the Astrid Lindgren Prize was created and has been awarded every year since then. The first time the prize was awarded it was won by Åke Holmberg