A memory for life

To a schoolchild, meeting a Nobel Laureate and hearing about their work will mean a memory for life. Each year, students at the school Rinkebyskolan delve into the world of the Nobel Prize. Their interpretations of works by Nobel Laureates in Literature have both touched and impressed. Not least the Laureates themselves.

Nobel 2016. På biblioteket i Rinkeby har skolbarn från området samlats för att träffa Nobelpristagaren i kemi Jean-Pierre Sauvage. Sauvage fick i present ett porträtt av sig själv, ritat av eleven Denis Barova, 14, Rinkebyskolan.

At the library in Rinkeby schoolchildren from the area gathered to meet Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Jean-Pierre Sauvage. © Nobel Media/Photo: Alexander Mahmoud

In a future Nobel Center, schoolchildren will be able to meet Nobel Laureates, hear about their work and get acquainted with their lives and discoveries through various exhibitions.

In the multicultural suburb of Rinkeby in Stockholm, these types of gatherings have taken place since the late 1980s. Every year, a group of students delve into the Nobel Prize in general, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in particular.

The students have all had to come up with reasons as to why they want to take part. Preparations have been ongoing since August. The work includes interpreting the texts of this year’s Nobel Laureate in Literature, and illustrating them. The students also read previous Laureates’ works, explore other prize categories and learn about Alfred Nobel. It’s all compiled in a booklet which is handed to the Nobel Laureate in Literature during a heart-warming afternoon, when traditional celebrations of Saint Lucy, recitations and a tea party are also on the agenda.

“It’s fun to meet Nobel Laureates; you feel proud and special,” says student Emir Erdogan.

Students Najib Gulaan and Mariama Sawaneh know which Nobel Prize they would like to recieve. “Medicine. If I could figure out a cure for cancer, I would be the richest person in the world, and I would save so many lives,” says Mariama Sawaneh. “Peace,” says Najib Gulaan.

“It’s not very peaceful in my native Somalia, and I would like to put a stop to that. I just want to bring peace everywhere.”

Alexander Mahmoud

There are currently 15 students from Rinkebyskolan’s year eight who participate in the project. Photo:Alexander Mahmoud

AUTHOR GUNILLA LUNDGREN started the project in 1988 with cultural scientist Elly Berg.

“When we started, there was great ignorance about multilingualism. The children were considered ‘semi-lingual’. We wanted to highlight multilingualism as something positive. We wanted to show that Rinkeby wasn’t a poor suburb with just problems,” Lundgren says.

The bar was raised high from the start. The students were to prepare a booklet to hand over to that year’s Nobel Laureate in Literature. ”We wanted to show that these children can read texts by the Nobel Laureates in Literature,” Lundgren says.

Since then, the students of Rinkebyskolan have met no fewer than 21 Nobel Laureates in Literature. If the Laureate hasn’t been able to make it to Rinkeby in person, someone close to them has been present to receive the tributes.

”At the beginning of a project, I always ask the children if they think someone in Rinkeby could ever become a Nobel Laureate. This year, I used a questionnaire for this, and everyone answered ‘yes’. These children have clear goals and a great spirit of the future”, Lundgren says.

THE CHOICE TO WORK with Nobel Laureates has a lot to do with the prize’s international character. Gunilla Lundgren points out that Nobel Laureates, just like the children of Rinkeby, often speak several languages and have lived in various countries. The description also fits Alfred Nobel. The fact that he, in his will, made clear that the prize would not necessarily go to a Swede caused quite a stir when it was instituted. ”I tell the children that we should be very proud of the fact that little Sweden has an international award that anyone in the world who has done something for mankind can recieve,” Lundgren says.

Alexander Mahmoud

The group also visits sites linked to the Nobel Prize. “Many of the children have never been to the centre of Stockholm. This project takes them there,” says Gunilla Lundgren. Photo: Alexander Mahmoud

SHE BELIEVES THAT early familiarisation with literature in various forms is important. “I think you can understand both yourself and the world through literature. This year, we have, for example, read Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’. The students thought it was an incredibly good text. Some drew parallels to their parents, who have fled from somewhere.

It’s amazing that they can identify with an American rock poet. They often read aloud together, and after a discussion, the children write and illustrate. “When we worked with Tomas Tranströmer, the children had read three of his poems, and understood nothing. But there was a line that they fell for: ‘be proud of being human’. Based on that line, we could analyse the entire poem. With pen and paper in hand, you can analyse in a totally different way than if you simply plough through a text,” Lundgren says.

THE MEETINGS BETWEEN the children and the Laureates have often had great impact. Gunilla Lundgren particularly remembers when Hungarian-Jewish author Imre Kertész was visiting. The children had read “Fateless” which is partly set in a concentration camp. ”Over the years I have never had a Jewish child in Rinkeby. There are many refugee children who come from homes where there is great mistrust towards the US and Israel. When a boy told us that he recognised himself in the text because he is a Kurd, tears rolled down the cheeks of Imre Kertész.”

She has many more stories about how important these gatherings are, not least for the Laureates. Svetlana Alexievich thanked the children for opening their hearts to her stories, and Tomas Tranströmer sent through his wife a message that the students’ interpretations of his poems were some of the best he had ever heard.