Ole Edvart Rølvaag (1876–1931) author, educator
Ole Rølvaag became one of the premier chroniclers of the Norwegian immigrant experience in the United States. His masterpiece Giants in the Earth (1927) is often considered one of the best, most powerfully written novels about pioneer life in America.
Rølvaag was born into a fishing family on the island of Dønna, Norway. He immigrated to the United States in 1896, working on his uncle’s farm in Elk Point, South Dakota, to help pay for his education. After years of toil, he earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College in Minnesota in 1905, and after a year of study at the University of Oslo, he returned to join the faculty of St. Olaf College. There he taught Norwegian language and literature until his death. He became a U.S. citizen in 1908 and married Jenny Berdahl the same year. The harshness of Rølvaag’s own experience, from the years of hard work to the loss of two children, contributed to the tone of his novels, which emphasized the psychological uncertainty and loss experienced by Norwegian immigrants. Hoping to encourage second- and third-generation Norwegians to maintain their native culture, Rølvaag finally realized that it was an impossible dream. “Again and again,” he wrote, second-generation Norwegians “have had impressed on them: all that has grown on American earth is good, but all that can be called foreign is at best suspect.” Other important works include Letters from America (1912), On Forgotten Paths (1914), and Pure Gold (1930). The English translation The Book of Longing (1933) and Rølvaag’s last book, Their Father’s God (1931), were published posthumously.