Asta Willmann (from 1951 with the last name Linnolt, 19. IX 1916–3. XII 1984) was a prose writer, playwright and poet.
She was born in Tallinn and her father was a ship captain from Hiiumaa. She spent her school summer breaks on Hiiumaa as a child. The nature, farm life, dialect and feeling of kinship with the various types of locals of Hiiumaa make repeated appearances in her work later in life. From 1929-1934, she studied at Tallinn School of Business, later at the Drama Studio Theatre School. From 1937-1944, she worked as an actor and stage director at Endla Theatre in Pärnu. At the same time, she wrote poems as well.
In September 1944, Willmann escaped to Sweden. From 1950-1951, he studied at the philosophy department of Stockholm University and acted in the Estonian theater company in Stockholm. In 1951, she married and relocated to Vancouver, Canada, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in the University of British Columbia in history and political philosophy. From 1960, she lived in the US in the small town of Farmington, Connecticut. In 1963, she obtained her master’s degree from Yale University in drama and theatre production. Until she retired in 1971, she worked as the director of the drama department of the Hartford Conservatory in Connecticut. Willmann was the member of the Estonian and USA PEN clubs and of the Estonian Writers’ Union Abroad. For some time, she also served as the president of the Estonian PEN club.
Willmann’s works are characterized by an interest in dramatic depictions. She has claimed that while other Estonian writers prioritize nature, then she and other writers from Hiiumaa will always focus on humans and their passions. In Estonia, Willmann debuted under the pseudonym Johannes Madara with the youth play Ema jutustus (‘Mother’s Tale’, 1939). In exile, her debut work was the self-published poetry collection Ihuüksi (‘All Alone’, 1950). Older exile writers noted the influences of Marie Under’s effeminate sensual youth poetry in Willmann’s poems. The poetry collection also contains lush verse and ballads in Hiiumaa dialect.
Her prose debut was the voluminous story collection Lumm. Kaheksa tõestisündinud lugu (‘Attraction. Eight True Stories’, 1955), published in Toronto, which remarkably combines the mundane with the miraculous, the serious with the funny, and has a strong storytelling power.
Willmann’s main work is the five-part novel Peotäis tuhka, teine mulda (‘One Handful of Ash, the Other of Dirt’) published from 1961-1968. The pentalogy was awarded the Henrik Visnapuu Literature Prize in 1969. Critics found her novel sequence to be clearly influenced by the writings of Anton Hansen Tammsaare. The work has been described as the longest romance novel of Estonian literature, where love is depicted from the woman’s point of view.
Willmann also wrote Hundisõidul (‘At the Wolf Chase'), which is part-novel, part play. Her plays have been staged in Canada and USA: the drama Jumalate mõistatus (‘The Riddle of Gods’) that was inspired by ancient literature and written as her master thesis at Yale and the comedy Trummid peavad olema (‘There Have To Be Drums’) that was based on the farce Kosjaviinad (‘Suitors’ Liquor’) by Lydia Koidula.
Willmann has also written articles on modern theatre, but also essays on the works of her fellow contemporary writers and has penned memoirs.
L. P. (Translated by A. S.)
Books in Estonian
Peotäis tuhka, teine mulda. Üks pikk jutt rõõmust, armust ja lootusest. 1. kd. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1961. 308 lk.
Peotäis tuhka, teine mulda. Üks pikk jutt rõõmust, armust ja lootusest. 2. kd. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1961. 314 lk.
Peotäis tuhka, teine mulda. Üks pikk jutt rõõmust, armust ja lootusest. 3. kd. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1962. 304 lk.
Peotäis tuhka, teine mulda. Üks pikk jutt rõõmust, armust ja lootusest. 4. kd. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1966. 270 lk.
Peotäis tuhka, teine mulda. Üks pikk jutt rõõmust, armust ja lootusest. 5. kd. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1968. 280 lk.
Hundisõidul. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1975. 250 lk.
Lumm. Kaheksa tõestisündinud lugu. Toronto: Orto, 1955. 335 lk.
Patu vili: valik novelle ja luuletusi. Tallinn: SE&JS, 1994. 190 lk.
Ihuüksi. Stockholm: A. Willmann, 1950. 88 lk.
Jumalate mõistatus. Tallinn: M. Makko, 2001. 147 lk.
Kaks näidendit. Tallinn: M. Makko, 2001. 147 lk.
Post scriptum: valitud novellid, esseed, kirjad, mälestused. Tallinn: SE&JS, 1998. 382 lk.