Margareta Ekarv was an author who portrayed modern rural life. She was also a pioneer within the sphere of holding exhibitions who worked with Riksutställningar (Swedish Exhibition Agency).
Margareta Ekarv grew up in a farming family in the countryside near Uppsala. She had four siblings. Her father was politically active and served, for instance, as chair of the municipal council and was a representative of the school board and in the local county council.
Margareta Ekarv was educated at Uppsala advanced general school and then trained to become an elementary school teacher, and subsequently a secondary school teacher. During the 1960s she attended writing courses at Biskops-Arnö, the further education college of the North. She then became a full-time author. She was introduced to poetry through Jordbrukarnas Föreningsblad, which contained many varieties of poems. She then began to read Lyrikvännen and for some time she corresponded with the editor Stig Carlson. She made her debut in 1966 with a poetry collection entitled Jag gul & blå. The following year she began to work with Riksutställingnar, where she remained for 20 years, often collaborating with photographers, poets, and artists.
Margareta Ekarv returned to public life in 1978 with a poetry collection entitled Katthjärtat in which she describes the cultural clash experienced when a child from the countryside enters the school system. One of the recurring themes of her literary output, which was mostly prose, is the isolation and impotence of the simple, small person. Her novels are often set in rural areas during the time of modern Sweden’s emergence. Her first novel, Leran, 1984, is set in the plains of Uppland at the turn of the 20th century. The two lead characters are a young couple who, in the course of the novel, meet and fall in love. At the start of the story Erik is a wee boy who is proud and happy to guide the horse-drawn plough in the autumn. A combination of the cold weather and a bully’s prank leave him deathly ill but his life is saved by the American preacher Charles Lee, and Erik himself discovers a skill for preaching. The tragedy of Maria, the main female character, is that she, her parents’ first child, was not born a boy. The external events surrounding these characters play a less important role. Margareta Ekarv’s focus lies in how the people of the countryside change after the American preacher arrives in their town. His presence serves as a catalyst, which leads several of the locals to experience a period of awakening out of the dull existence they are trapped in.
Ekarv’s ensuing novel, Tio öre vatten, similarly engages the reader in the story of a countryside loner who struggles to be understood by the world around him. His deliberate slowness is conjured up by the richly detailed imagery of the text depicting a long-gone rural lifestyle. Margareta Ekarv went a step further in portraying modern countryside life in her final novel Glaset, 2011, which is also set in the Uppland tracts. It is reminiscent of a beautiful landscape painting on which the paint slowly peels off to reveal the impotence and dashed dreams of the small child.
The novel Tinnar och gyllene torn, 1993, tells the tale of a contemporary author seeking to recreate the life of the self-taught artist Lim-Johan before a theatre performance. Lim-Johan frightened the locals through his alternative visions of reality and spent eight years in hospital. He dreamt of building a home with battlements and golden towers, which would twirl like windmills and allow the occupant to constantly change their perspective. The novel can be read as a meta-discussion of the difficulty Margareta Ekarv faced in performing her role, namely of telling the story of outsiders. It is also a meta-story in a very concrete fashion in the sense that it portrays how her play Nådasmulor came about. In 1991 Marika Nasiell directed a production of this play.
Plays form a significant part of Margareta Ekarv’s output. She spent a number of years working as somewhat of a house dramatist for Folkteatern Gävleborg. This collaboration began in the mid-1980s when she was approached by the dramatist Jan Mark, who asked her to write a play about the remarkable Hälsinge artist Lim-Johan. At this point Margareta Ekarv had already written Förstapriset, for Radioteatern, 1972, and Extraturen, for the stage, 1978. Both of these can be found in the anthology entitled Fem pjäser för amatörteaterbruk, 1978.
Margareta Ekarv was also commissioned to write Drömmarnas barn for Folkteatern in Gävleborg. This told the story of the prophet Erik Jansson who was active in Hälsingland towards the end of the 19th century and whose preaching precipitated a major emigration from Sweden to the USA. The play was performed with great success at Folkteatern from 1988 to 1989, in a production directed by Peter Oskarson, who later also directed a version for Radioteatern in 1996. Maragreta Ekarv wrote Ingen som jag – en fri fantasi kring storspelmannen From-Olle, 1996, which was staged by Peter Oskarson at Hälsingland Träteater. Margareta Ekarv’s plays rely heavily on surviving documents and oral accounts.
Margareta Ekarv became known beyond Swedish borders for her work with exhibitions. Her ambition was to teach exhibition directors to write vivid display texts. Her teaching included focusing on the simple and concrete, clearly laying out the subject matter, and using the present tense. “The Ekarv method”, as it became known internationally, has gained significant acclaim and the book on display texts, Smaka på orden, which she co-authored with Elisabet Olofsson and Björn Ed in 1991, has become somewhat of a classic in the field.
Margareta Ekarv was also interested in how to write for people who had reading difficulties. As part of this she created an easy-to-read version of Jan Fridegård’s novel Yxskaftet. She also wrote the guidance text “Läsa LL-böcker tillsammans”. In 1987 she published the LättLäst (easy-to-read) book Året på åkern, in collaboration with photographer Horst Tuuloskorpi, and the following year she co-authored the Skolöverstyrelsen (precursor to the Swedish National Agency for Education) report entitled Att bearbeta till lättläst för vuxna, together with the author Molly Johnson.
In 1984 Margareta Ekarv was awarded an author’s scholarship by Landsbygden and in 1986 she received the culture prize from Lantbrukarnas Riksförbund (LRF, the Federation of Swedish Farmers). In 2001 she was awarded the Martin Koch prize.
Margareta Ekarv died in 2014.