Hello there, Stefan Casta and Lennart Eng!

After 12 years on the ALMA jury, author Stefan Casta and illustrator Lennart Eng are taking their leave this spring. How do they feel about it and what are their strongest memories of their years on the jury? Read our interview!

You have been on the ALMA jury for 12 years. How do you feel about leaving?

Stefan: A bit sad but okay. It’s important to have new jury members come in. A jury like this one is predicated on a finely balanced blend of continuity and innovation. But one aspect of leaving is unambiguously positive; I live rurally, in Skåne, and my years on the jury have entailed a lot of travel and nights away from home.

Lennart: Mixed feelings are inevitable when you’re leaving such an amazing job. ‘No, is it over already? How did twelve years go by so quickly?’ At the same time, it’s an incredibly time-consuming commitment at certain times of the year. Such a lot of interesting reading and delving into literary worlds that I, at least to some extent, would never have come into contact with. But it’s a good thing these are not lifetime appointments, that new members of the jury can provide fresh eyes and perspectives. It has been an immense privilege to be allowed to contribute!

What will you take away from your work on the jury?

Stefan: All the wonderful conversations about books that have taught me so much and all the amazing authorships I have become intimately familiar with.

Lennart: How much you can learn by uniting around a joint task and being in a position to maintain a dialogue together over long time. A dialogue where everyone, regardless of their views, really listens to one another. An important insight within that experience is also that pride needn’t stand in the way of changing your mind.

You have helped select twelve laureates. What is your strongest memory from your years on the jury?

Stefan: Maybe when Shaun Tan gave his lecture at Kulturhuset in Stockholm. He was fairly unknown to the wider audience. But the auditorium was full to the rafters and he was greeted like a rock star. I think that helped a lot of people feel the power that still lives in really good children’s literature.

Lennart: This is difficult; they’ve all been so different and meeting them in real life has given me so many wonderful moments; no, I’ll have to pass on this one.

What has been the most difficult or challenging thing about being on the ALMA jury?

Stefan: The hardest part, and to my mind the most important, is probably the genuinely international perspective. Looking beyond the western world and discovering the quality literature other parts of the world have to offer.

Lennart: I could answer that question from a couple of different perspectives. Working confidentially on a jury, outward secrecy is of central importance. That has an impact on all kinds of situations. I might be sitting on knowledge that I could contribute with in some other context, but am forced to act ignorant and say nothing. As far as the actual job of selecting a laureate, it’s obviously a tremendous challenge to weigh different genres and achievements against each other, to create tools for balancing a valuable reading promotion effort on the one hand and a convincing authorship or brilliant illustrator on the other.

What has been the most fun?

Stefan: The moment when after months of reading and discussion we’re finally about to hold a vote and suddenly realise we don’t need to, because we all agree on who the prize should go to.

Lennart: I’m going to have to be a bit dull here; personally, I think it’s the jury meetings themselves. But it’s also, naturally, amazing to see how ALMA’s work and the attention given to the recipients of the award spread like rings on water around the world.

When the jury has settled on a laureate, you call him or her to share the good news. Whose reaction do you remember best?

Stefan: When Guus Kuijer replied that he didn’t have time to talk to us because he had a dentist’s appointment! And of course all the times the laureate hasn’t picked up at all and we’ve had to play detectives, calling all kinds of people in their lives.

Lennart: Sonya Hartnett’s genuine and unfeigned surprise, scepticism and finally joy was a delight. She really thought Larry Lempert (chairman of the jury at the time) was pulling her leg, that it was some kind of practical joke. Sonya repeated that a number of times: “You are kidding me!” And then her incredible exhalation when it all sank in. “If you only new how much this means to me!” It was moving in a very special way.

Do you have a personal favourite among the laureates to date?

Stefan: I might have to say Sonya Hartnett, one of “my” first laureates. I still carry some of her young adult novels with me like a second skin.

Lennart: You can’t play favourites in a family. I feel the people who have been given the award and the people who have worked on it in various ways as part of the jury and the award office, are part of a kind of growing, happy family. At book fairs or other events when one or more of us take part, you can tell strong bonds have developed.

Do you think the genre is taken more seriously now than when the award was established fifteen years ago?

Stefan: I don’t think that world changes that quickly. But sometimes I like to think that this wonderful award can actually be one of those teeny, tiny details that in the long, long run contribute to making the world a better place for children. I think we have cause to feel proud that Sweden is ALMA’s home country. It was a very good initiative from the government at the time.

Lennart: It’s hard to say, that is, after all, a fairly short time. But in some places, the focus on the winner has entailed raised status and more visibility for the genre.


The new jury members replacing Stefan Casta and Lennart Eng are appointed by the board of the Swedish Arts Council and assume their roles on 1 July 2018. The jury consists of twelve members.