Eugenie Soderberg Collection
By Barbara Lipman-Wulf, Ph.D, Assistant Professor, Department of German and Slavic Language, SUNY at Stony Brook. First published in Nordstjernan-Svea (Brooklyn, N.Y.), 110: 24 (June 17, 1982).
Some of the readers of Nordstjernan-Svea may remember the Swedish-American writer and journalist Eugenie Söderberg, who has also written for this paper. The writer passed away in 1973 and her papers were transferred to the Special Collections Department at State University of New York at Stony Brook Library, where I began sorting the material in Fall 1980.
The importance of the archives lies not only in Eugenie Söderberg's manuscripts, notes and diaries, written in Russian, German, French, Swedish and English, but also in her correspondence with noteworthy literary personalities, and, most impressive, her regular exchange of letters with her beloved sister, Anna Riwkin, Sweden's foremost photographer, who died two years before Eugenie Söderberg.
Several Swedish scholars have shown interest in and visited the Söderberg archives because of the writer's connection with important Scandinavian intellectuals, such as Hjalmar Söderberg, her former father-in-law, Fanny Falkner, Strindberg's last love, and a whole group of well-known Swedish writers, like Gunnar Ekelöf, Harry Martinson, Karin Boye, Ebbe Linde, who, with many others, participated as writers and editors in the avant-garde Swedish magazine, Spektrum, founded by Eugenie's brother, Joseph Riwkin, in the early thirties.
Eventually I hope to publish some of my findings, in order to portray Eugenie Söderberg's importance on different levels: 1) as a writer, deeply concerned with women's questions (as in her novels and short stories), 2) as journalist and correspondent for Scandinavian and Finnish newspapers, and 3) as a close collaborator with her sister, Anna. Both sisters worked together several times on documentary travelogues, depicting folklore and customs from countries like Hawaii and Israel and from the American Indians, whereby children played a major role. Their regular exchange of letters, sometimes on a daily basis, over a time span from the early forties to the early seventies, reveals a great deal of the historical, cultural and political events in both America and Europe.
The following short biography of Eugenie Söderberg illustrates her development as a writer in the context of a cosmopolitan and highly cultivated home milieu during her formative years.
Eugenie Söderberg was born in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1903, where her father, Alexander Riwkin, a Russian-Jewish immigrant, studied philosophy. In 1912, after a short return to the family's home town, Gomel in Russia, Alexander Riwkin established himself in Stockholm, Sweden, as an industrialist. The Riwkin home became a cultural center, attracting and stimulating both established and upcoming literary figures from Scandinavia and abroad. Father Riwkin, himself a philosopher, lecturer and writer of short stories in Russian and Yiddish, encouraged his oldest daughter, Eugenie, to follow in his footsteps. Joseph, a younger brother, also followed that path, acting, for a while, as a stimulating nucleus within a group of the most aspiring young writers of Sweden.
Eugenie became a creative writer and earned soon a living as editor, journalist and newspaper reporter. In 1930 she gained overnight fame with her first novel Studentfabriken (The Student Factory), translated into fourteen languages and also produced as a film. In 1928 she had married Mikael Söderberg, himself a promising young writer, and the son of Hjalmar Söderberg. Despite the early death of her husband in 1931, Eugenie upheld a warm relationship with her in-laws, especially with her father-in-law. She also remained close to her brother Joseph and her sister-in-law, Ester Riwkin, both writers. But her photographer sister Anna was to be her closest friend throughout her lifetime.
In 1940 Eugenie Söderberg came to the USA as a reporter for Scandinavian newspapers. In 1941 she married the well-known art dealer and Plato scholar, Hugo Perls, and eventually she became an American citizen. Eugenie Söderberg-Perls continued to write both journalistically, covering American theater, music and art, and creatively, Her latest book, Min Son är Min (My Son is Mine), appeared in 1965 and was well received.
The writer died in January 1973, at the age of sixty-nine. My personal friendship with Eugenie Söderberg and my growing interest in modern German and Swedish literature led to the decision to study the Söderberg papers. Their cross-cultural value, incorporating also the American cultural climate, make this project especially attractive.
Family and Relatives
Appendix I: Family and Relatives Arranged by Last Name (Master List)
Brick, Anna (Riwkin): sister, married to Daniel Brick
Alexander Riwkin: father