Journalistic legend Søyland to get book
Journalistic legend Carl Søyland is about to get his due—in print
Legendary man of letters Carl Søyland wrote hundreds of articles for the Nordisk Tidende, where he worked from 1926 to 1963, and two books in the Norwegian language Langs landeveien (Along The Highway and Byway), 1929, and Skrift i sand (Written in the Sand), 1954. He also took his journalistic skills to the airwaves, presenting many radio broadcasts.
Much has been written by Søyland, but how much has been written about the man? Although he died almost four decades ago, the reach and depth of his life’s work has not been forgotten. Norwegian researcher Liv Marit Haakenstad has taken on the task of giving this giant his due. She has been working on a book that will fill in the facts and give flesh to this important Norwegian American.
First, a little about the man. He was born in Bergen, Norway, in 1894, yet raised in Flekkefjord, one of southern Norway’s most western towns. At the age of 25, he came to America and explored the country from coast to coast as a vagabond. I for one would love to know more about this part of Søyland’s life, which seems to be a mystery. His time traveling across America was pivotal to many important historical events. I wonder how it influenced his writing. So I am especially looking forward to reading about what Haakenstad has uncovered.
Seven years after his arrival in the U.S., Søyland settled in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where he began to work for the prestigious Norwegian newspaper Nordisk Tidende and did so for close to four decades. In 1940 he became the paper’s editor-in-chief and remained in that position for more than 20 years.
It was fortunate that he was the editor of the paper in 1940, the same year that Norway’s occupation began during World War II, because he wrote much about the war effort in Norway. From 1942, he broadcasted from the Office of War Information at Manhattan. This BBC broadcast gave Norwegian citizens living in occupied Norway (those who had hidden radios, anyway) a connection to the outside world and delivered news of current events free of Nazi propaganda. Also, “numerous letters and personal inquiries from Norwegians and those of Norwegian ancestry in America, about the war in Norway were received [by the paper]. These were the first eyewitness accounts from the war in Norway,” according to Haakenstad. So important were these broadcasts that in 1946 Søyland was decorated for his work.
Never resting on his laurels, Søyland stretched his journalistic chops. Historian Odd Lovoll mentioned that “In the autumn of 1941, the new editor of Nordisk Tidende of Brooklyn, Carl Søyland, traveled among his fellow Norwegian Americans to record the life stories and viewpoints of some of them,” which the following year would be presented as a series of interviews in his newspaper under the heading “Whom Do We Meet?” Although he officially retired from the paper in 1963, he continued working voluntarily for many years to follow.
His life’s work was recognized by two Norwegian Royals: Haakon VII awarded him with the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1950 “for advancing the cause and culture of Norway through his writings” and King Olav V in 1959 awarded him Norway’s highest honor, the Commander of the St. Olav medal.
The tenacious and detail-oriented Haakenstad, who is a dynamo in her own right, has taken on the challenge of documenting the life of Søyland. She spoke to me about her background and interest in history and writing, and of course her upcoming book documenting Søyland.
Victoria Hofmo: Liv Marit, could you please speak a little about where you grew up in Norway and what your childhood was like?
Liv Marit Haakenstad: I grew up at Biristrand, which is about nine miles from Lillehammer. I went to a very small school—about 60 students from grades one to six. Later I went to high school in Biri at age 13. There were about 150 students—50 in each grade, so that was quite a bit different. I was active in 4H and played handball. In the wintertime I would cross-country ski to school, and in the summertime I rode my bike.
My grandmother, Liv, was a teacher from Valdres but taught school in Biri. I used to do my homework at her place, but I was not allowed to do that when she was a substitute teacher in my class. Grandma taught school until the age 74 or 75. My grandma Marit lived in Valdres, and we spent every holiday there, except for the time she lived with us.
VH: When did your interest in history begin?
LMH: I had a headmaster in Biristrand who also was an excellent teacher in history. He died a few years ago at the age of 100. He was the one who got me interested in history.
VH: Tell us a little about your education.
LMH: I received a degree in music education from Hamar University-College and I taught music for several years. I also have training in history and genealogy. I am now working on my master’s thesis in non-fiction writing at University College of Southeast Norway (Tønsberg). The subject of my thesis is Carl Søyland, editor-in-chief of Nordisk Tidende, and especially his life in Brooklyn.
VH: You have parlayed your interest into lecturing, genealogical research, and writing. Can you tell us a little about your lectures?
LMH: I am often out speaking about the emigration to the U.S. and the transmigration through the UK. Many Norwegians went to Hull and Liverpool on their way to the U.S. ca. 1860-1915.
But I also give lectures on Norwegian genealogy. I often get difficult research questions from people who can’t find their family in Norway or the United States. Sometimes I can solve them, but sometimes there is not enough information to work with. With some of the questions I have had, I have been able to find information later because so many of the genealogy databases are growing. A lot of the time, I work for lawyers on estates in other countries that involve Norwegian heirs. At the moment I am also working as a researcher for Who Do You Think You Are? But it is writing that I am really interested in and want to do.
VH: You created the website www.norwegianancestry.com. What is its purpose? What future plans do you have for the site?
LMH: I have worked on a book on Norwegian genealogy for an English speaking audience, but I have had trouble getting funding for the translation. I created the website to generate interest in Norwegian genealogy, and I am trying to get more people interested.
VH: You have written several non-fiction books, including A Taste of Norwegian Ancestry and From Norway: A few emigrants from Nord-Trøndelag and Sør-Trøndelag. What was challenging about writing these?
LMH: The challenge is always to find the correct information. Especially with the internet. Information is copied and recopied all the time—and it seems to not matter to some people if the information is right or wrong. I use original sources to find vital records and use other sources to support the information I find. One of the challenges is that the immigrant sometimes used a different name or an Americanized version of the name.
VH: Your current project, a biography about the legendary Carl Søyland of Nordisk Tidende, is taking you in a different direction. How did the idea for this book begin?
LMH: Yes, my thesis is about Carl Søyland (1894-1978). It was Jørn-Kr. Jørgensen who asked me to do a biography on him before I started my studies in Vestfold. I thought it would be a great idea to use my master’s thesis and develop it further into a biography of Carl Søyland.
VJ: How has your research been going?
LMH: I started with mostly nothing, but today I have a large collection of excellent information about Søyland. I have begun writing the biography.
VH: What has been the most challenging part of writing this book so far?
LMH: You should write the truth, but you don’t always know what is the truth. Since Carl Søyland is no longer alive, I can’t ask him. But I am talking to people who knew him and reading as much as possible of the material that he has written. That helps so much.
VH: Can you describe Søyland in three sentences?
LMH: Søyland was one of the early founders of a boy scout troop in Norway in 1913. He wrote the melody to the scout’s prayer in Norway. He was very knowledgeable but he could also be harsh and sarcastic. He also had a heart of gold for those less fortunate because he had also been poor at one time, and he knew what that felt like.
VH: How was Søyland able to make Nordisk Tidende into such an important newspaper?
LMH: I think the time was right for this newspaper; he had an audience for this newspaper and provided the Norwegian Americans with information they wanted.
VH: Can you speak about a few things he did while editor that stand out for you?
LMH: He was involved in the Office of War Information. During WWII a weekly program was sent from Manhattan through the BBC to the illegal radios in Norway. He was also involved in the Norwegian Relief for Norway during and after the war—helping Norway get back on its feet. He also wrote two books: Langs landeveien (1929), and Skrift i sand (1954; Written in the Sand, translated by Rigmor K. Swensen in 2005).
VH: What were Søyland’s other interests?
LMH: Music. He was good at playing the organ and piano, but he was also involved in Intime Forum (1935-1945), where they had speeches and open discussions, as well as theater and song.
VH: You have a blog, www.carlsoyland.com. How can this be useful to the public?
LMH: I want it to be a place where people can find out about Nordisk Tidende and Brooklyn in Carl Søyland’s time there.
VH: How can the public be useful to you?
LMH: If somebody knew Carl Søyland, had pictures or stories about him, newspaper clippings, or anything from the California-Vikingen, which he was involved with for about a year (1924), I would be happy to hear from anyone who has information.
VH: When do you expect the book to be in print?
LMH: Hopefully in 2017 and that would be the Norwegian version. I would like to have it translated into English in the future.
If any readers can assist Liv Marit in her search for information about Søyland, I encourage you to do so (using the contact form at www.carlsoyland.com). The paper you are reading today has half of its roots in the paper Søyland dedicated much of his life to, the Nordisk Tidende.
This article originally appeared in the April 15, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.