Estonian Writers’ Union as a professional association of writers and literary critics was founded on October 8, 1922 at Tallinn Town Hall. The number of its members at the time was 33 and by 1940 the membership had increased by 20 more people. During the first independence period of Estonia the chairmanship of the creative union was held by Friedebert Tuglas, Eduard Hubel (Mait Metsanurk), Karl Ast (Rumor), Henrik Visnapuu and August Jakobson.
When Estonia had been incorporated into the Soviet Union, an organizing committee of the Estonian Soviet Writers’ Union (chairman August Jakobson) began to operate in October 1943. On October 8 and 9, 1943 a founding conference took place in Moscow, where the board, presidium and the chairman of the new union were elected. The Moscow-born association of Estonian writers was called Estonian Soviet Writers’ Union until 1958, later it became the Writers’ Union of the Estonian SSR. Since the founding conference it has been chaired by Johannes Vares-Barbarus, August Jakobson, Johannes Semper, Juhan Smuul, Paul Kuusberg and Vladimir Beekman.
During the 1941-1944 German occupation in Estonia the Union’s work was at first organised by a three-member board (chairman Albert Kivikas). In summer 1943, along with other political associations and unions, it was able to start regular work again. The meeting in Tartu on 12 December 1943 elected Gustav Suits as chairman of the Writers’ Union.
Estonian writers managing to escape to the free west in the war-autumn of 1944 succeeded in organizing their activities so quickly that Estonian Writers’ Union Abroad was founded as early as in 1945 in Stockholm. Until 1982 it was chaired by August Mälk, after that by Kalju Lepik and Enn Nõu.
Ideological isolation made it impossible to have official contacts between the two writers’ unions until 1989, when a so-called unofficial, but actually a high-level and extremely successful meeting of writers from both sides of the border took place in May in Helsinki. More honest and talented writers at home and abroad had succeeded in protecting and supporting their nation’s ideals of freedom and culture despite all the political and economical difficulties.
The professional association of writers in Estonia started to call itself Estonian Writers’ Union again in 1991. From 1995 until 2004 EWU was chaired by Mati Sirkel, after that it was chaired by Jan Kaus (2004-2007) and Karl Martin Sinijärv (2007-2016). Currently the chairman of EWU is Tiit Aleksejev (since April 2016).
In October 2000 Estonian Writers’ Union Abroad decided to dissolve itself and its former members were in corpore accepted as members of Estonian Writers’ Union. A section of EWU was founded in Stockholm (chaired by Karin Saarsen-Karlstedt) in addition to the section in Tartu (chaired by Janika Kronberg, Piret Bristol and currently by Berk Vaher).
In April 2017 EWU has a membership of 313 writers, literary translators, critics and researchers both in Estonia and worldwide.
From 1992 on Estonian Writers’ Union is the member of the European Writers’ Council.