Friedebert Tuglas was a writer, critic, literary expert, and translator. Tuglas' short stories are unsurpassed: they are impressionist, later neo-romantic, feature a definite composition and are akin to myth, are picture-like, and grotesque. An idiosyncratically realistic and romantic manner of depiction are foremost conjoined in his works. The high period of his short stories (about 1914–1925) is characterized by neo-romanticism. He has named Oscar Wilde, Nietzsche, Flaubert, and Poe among his role-models.
Born in 1886 in Ahja, Southern Estonia, he regarded the area's linguistic background as highly important his entire life: even his pen name "Tuglas" has a dialectal background, and is additionally a playful loan (compare to "Douglas"). Until 1923, his official name was Friedebert Mihkelson.
As a schoolboy, he released the children's story Siil (The Hedgehog, 1901); his first book was the short story Hingemaa (His Own Plot of Land, 1906). When he was in his final year of gymnasium, Tuglas took part in the 1905 revolution, as a result of which he ended up in the Toompea jail in Tallinn: there, his prose poem titled Meri (The Sea) was written. He made it into exile after being freed: eleven years as a political refugee in Finland, Paris, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and St. Petersburg, with shorter trips throughout all of Europe. His travel years in Europe provided Tuglas with erudition in the cultures and languages of several countries. He strongly influenced Estonian cultural life even from exile, being one of the leaders of the "Young Estonia" group. The group was united by a conviction of Estonia turning towards Europe: for example, towards French literature.
With the February Revolution in 1917, Tuglas' time in exile ended and the erection of literary life in Estonia began as it became a republic upon liberation from the Russian Empire. The literary group "Siuru"—of which Tuglas was a member after his return, along with Marie Under, August Gailit, and others—shook old convictions, created a new fashion of impressionist love poetry and symbolist short-story writing, and popularized literature among the public. The group's mottos were "Carpe diem!" and "May the joy of creation be our only moving force".
His first novel, Felix Ormusson (1915; the title is the name of a character, with whom the author loved to identify), was art-philosophical; in 1937, he published the autobiographical childhood novel Väike Illimar (Little Illimar).
Tuglas was continually and unreservedly interested by the perfection of the short-story genre. He was also an author of mini-genres, miniatures, and poems. He additionally set the foundations for artistic Estonian travelogue, in which impressions of the trip were interwoven with the lands' history and cultural life. On top of this, Tuglas thought up a writer named Arthur Valdes, for whom he wrote an obituary. The game was widely adopted: other writers and artists contributed to "Valdesiana", and the figure still has adventures in Estonian literature to this day.
In the Estonian republic, Tuglas became one of the leading figures of local cultural life: he founded and edited literary magazines, was one of the founders and chairman of the Estonian Writers' Union (1922), and was the founder and first editor of the Union's magazine, "Looming". In addition, he was a member of organizations promoting literary- and cultural life, and became an honorary member of PEN International in 1937.
Tuglas married in 1918: Elo Tuglas was his loyal companion and kindred thinker for the full length of the writer's life. Her diary from her years in Tartu as well the time they lived in Tallinn after the war has been published – it likewise demonstrates her literary talent, and has been translated to Finnish. The Tuglas family moved from Tartu to Tallinn in 1944. Their home was destroyed in World War II, and their attempt to escape to the West failed. The couple moved into the home of Marie Under and Artur Adson in Tallinn's Nõmme district – the house had been left empty when the two immigrated to Sweden.
Tuglas began actively restoring cultural life once again, but fell victim to Stalinist repression in the late 1940s: deprived of almost all of their rights, the Tuglas family lived as internal exiles in Nõmme. Even his works as a translator were kept out of the public eye: they were published anonymously. As a translator, Tuglas' heart belonged foremost to Finnish literature.
The writer's civil rights were restored in 1955. This was followed by the release of collected works and restoration of the literary classic's name. His contribution as a critic and a literary researcher are also invaluable. In 1970, he founded his own short-story award. The Friedebert Tuglas Short Story Award has been given every year since then to the authors of the two best published short stories, and is still highly prized today.
Friedebert Tuglas died in 1971, leaving his personal belongings to the Estonian Academy of Sciences for the establishment of a writer's museum and research center. The museum was opened in the writer's former home in 1976; since 1993, it has been the Under and Tuglas Literature Center.