Backstory: Four Questions with Remi Skytterstad

Norwegian boarding school for Sami pupils

Backstory: Four Questions with Remi Skytterstad
Author of Soul Theft

What inspired you to write ‘Soul Theft’?

I am from Northern Norway (the very top), where this theft of culture and language happened. My grandparents were Samis, and while I identify as “Norwegian”, I’m both close to and feel a connection to the culture. For example, my daughter wears the Sami national dress “kofte” (gàkti) on celebratory day, which is hand-made the traditional way.

It is a theme that has a role in a lot of my work.

Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?

Despite it being so short, it has seen a lot of revisions. Especially the perspective has been experimented with as well. At first, I wasn’t comfortable taking a “us” and “we” voice, which I eventually realized was silly because there is a big chance I would be a Sami speaker if the Norwegianization didn’t happen.

There are several facts and details that didn’t make the final piece, because they didn’t fit in with the brevity I wanted, so I will save those for longer stories! Examples of this are how the Sami people were (and still are to some degree) covered in myths and misinformation. The Sami people were considered mentally handicapped by the general population long into the 1900s, and I once even heard a story from my teacher how they (people from the south) would ask him if he would show his tail, when he was in the military. To this day it is common, even for me with a North-Norway accent, that I get asked about things like “How many reindeer do you own?” or “Do you live in a lavvo?” in a mocking manner.

But the worst was done by the government, for example how the Norwegian government robbed graves to do research on Sami skulls, because they thought they could determine intelligence, and such (craniometry). Or how they—at gunpoint or other means of submission—stripped them naked to take pictures and measurements. There was even cases of forced sterilization.  There are a lot of similar gruesome deeds which is a black spot on Scandinavian history (Norway, Sweden, Finland), which didn’t properly end before 1950-70s.

How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?

This is a period in Norway everyone learns about in primary school. Probably especially where I am from. It has also been later been made into films (probably the most famous example The Kautokeino Rebellion, which I recommend watching), Sami poetry, and art in general.

Apart from the things I already knew, I have done a lot of research about this period, mostly towards a short I am working on. And when I was working on that, I got the inspiration for this micro poem/story.

What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?

My favourite part of the writing process is—which apparently is an unpopular opinion—the editing. A fitting simile would be using a pressure washer on a dirty weatherboard wall. Where you wash away all the filth, and what you’re left with is a beautiful painted wooden wall. That is how the editing process feels for me.

My least favourite part of writing is those moments where it feels like you’re squeezing water out of a dry cloth. I won’t call it writer’s block, but it’s those moments where the words must be forced out, instead of pouring out of you. I’m not saying the words you force is worse, it’s just a more pleasant process when you enter this state of “flow”.

Remi Skytterstad is from Norway where he studies educational science. He lives with his daughter who attends kindergarten. He is currently in recent issues of Barren Magazine, Tint Journal, and Lunate.  Find him on Twitter @Skytterstad.

Photograph of a post-war boarding school in Karasjok taken by Sverre Alex Børretzen (1921 – 1993) for Aktuell. (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NO)