Literary Birthday: Isak Dinesen

Danish writer Isak Dinesen (born today in 1885) went by several names throughout her eventful life. Born Karen Christentze Dinesen, she became Baroness von Blixen-Finecke (aka Karen Blixen) after marrying royalty. Her family nickname was Tanne. According to biographer Judith Thurman, her “literary disciples” called her Pellegrina, Amiane, and Scheherazade. Dinsen started publishing short stories in 1907 under the pseudonym Osceola.

Her best-known books—Seven Gothic Tales (1934) and Out of Africa (1938), her memoir of running a coffee plantation in Kenya—were published under Isak Dinesen (she chose her first name because it meant “laughter” in Hebrew). This shifting cloaking of names fitted Dinesen, a theatrical personality whose travels and romances powered her twice-Nobel Prize-nominated writing. After winning the Nobel in 1954, Ernest Hemingway said “I would have been happy—happier—today if the prize had gone to that beautiful writer Isak Dinesen.”

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