Herta Wirén was a journalist and an author. She belonged to the female writers of social realism who emerged during the 1970s.
Herta Wirén was the daughter of Fritz Larsson, a mason, and his wife Berta, née Nilsson, who was a baker. Herta Wirén had six siblings, although one of them died in infancy. Her father was active within the trade union movement and politically, and as such was the first chair of Gothenburg Arbetarekommun (workers’ collective). The family home was a very poor one as Herta Wirén’s father was unemployed from time to time and her mother suffered from poor health. Despite being scholastically gifted Herta Wirén was not allowed to continue her studies. Once she had completed public school she began to work as home help. In 1921 she married Carl Axel Wirén, a goldsmith. They had one child together, a daughter called Berit, who died young.
Herta Wirén was a convinced Social Democrat and was active within municipal politics in Malmö. Her main concerns were educational matters and in 1934 she was the first woman to be elected onto the Malmö educational board. From that position she was able to push through things such as free school meals for all children in Malmö.
For many years Herta Wirén was a freelance writer who submitted articles and short stories to Arbetet, Morgonbris, and Stockholms-Tidningen. She sought to make women’s lives and women’s histories visible in her writing. Although she had dreamt of becoming an author from a young age she turned 75 years old before she realised her dream. She released her first autobiographical novel, En bit bröd med Anna, in 1975. The story tells of a young girl growing up in a working class family at Möllevången at the start of the previous century. Although her home life is harmonious the family’s financial situation is unstable. The mother in the family suffers from ill health and this makes things worse. The young girl’s few moments of happiness include her first love affair and the celebrations held in conjunction with the Malmö Baltic exhibition in 1914.
Despite her significant age Herta Wirén produced another seven autobiographically-tinged novels. En bit bröd med Anna was followed by Dofta vildblomma röd published in 1977, the 1979 Räck mej din hand syster, and Göra något vackert from 1981. Her ensuing novels were more stand-alone in nature, including the 1982 Cirkus Klarinett, which tells of a family with four children in post-war Malmö, who realise their dreams of having a beautiful home. This book is also characterised by her feminist working-class views.
Herta Wirén herself has said that the reason for her late writing debut was down to opposition within her family – not just that of her parents but her husband too. For much of her life she had to be secretive about her writing, hiding her efforts in the tiled stove. It must also be said that when her work was first published her simple and straightforward written style generated a muted response. Her first two books were launched as youth novels. However, the 1970s book market favoured her work and Herta Wirén came to be one of several older working-class women who made their written debuts at that time. Some of her fellow writers included the likes of Maja Ekelöf, Anni Blomqvist, Linnea Fjällstedt, and Mary Andersson. What had previously been considered to be their handicap – namely their sex and their social position – suddenly became interesting features. They won acclaim as the forgotten heroines of history and of everyday life and they gained the support of the entire literary establishment. Their books form an important strand within Swedish working-class literature as they highlight the conditions working-class women endured during the 1900s, placing issues such as equal education and economic emancipation through self-employment at their cores.
Herta Wirén died in 1999. She is buried in the memorial garden at Hyllie Old Cemetery.