In the intellectual centre of the Estonian diaspora, Iliste immersed himself in both interwar Estonian literature and exiled Estonian literature. He made a name for himself with radical articles in exiled Estonian newspapers and magazines such as Teataja and Vaba Eesti; he condemned Estonian exile literature and accused writers of dredging up and romanticizing the past instead of creating something new. In line with this polemic, in 1957 he co-founded, together with Ivar Grünthal, Ilmar Laaban and Alur Reinan, the cultural magazine Mana. A BA in history and political science from Uppsala in 1961 was followed by a MA from the Stockholm School of Education in 1964. During the 1960s he was on the board of several Swedish, exiled Estonian and international student organisations and was an editorial board member and editor of several journals. His work as a course leader at SIDA in the mid-1960s took him to countries such as India, Afghanistan, South Africa and Venezuela.
In 1970, the Baltic Institute in Stockholm was founded to increase knowledge of and promote cultural cooperation with the occupied Baltic states. Under Iliste's leadership from 1986 to 1996, the Baltic Institute organised literature and film festivals, theatre performances, concerts and art exhibitions. His earliest translations from Estonian into Swedish were not always of the highest quality and were usually done via Finnish. For a long time there was no stable platform for Estonian literature in Swedish translation until Iliste, together with his wife, Birgitta Göranson, created one. Once established in professional life, their collaboration soon expanded to include joint cultural work in her spare time. In 1975, they published a book each: Ivo's poetry collection Lergods, Birgitta's diary-based A Neighbourhood in Bogotá. In 1977-1980 they worked on local environmental work and peasant co-operation in South India for a local Emmaus organisation. At the same time, they completed their first joint translation assignment: the collection Estonian Short Stories, published in Tallinn in 1981, containing works by classic authors such as Eduard Vilde and Friedebert Tuglas. Although the family settled in the countryside just outside Lund, although Iliste's main professional base was in Stockholm.
The political situation in the Baltic States created new opportunities for translations from Estonian into Swedish from the early 1980s. From 1981 to 2002, the Iliste-Göranson couple published 18 titles, three of which were reprinted, and translated some twenty journal issues. They were particularly active during the years when Iliste worked at the Baltic Institute: four new translations were published in 1986 alone, followed by one or two new works per year. They devoted themselves mainly to the literature of contemporary writers who had emerged during the Soviet era, which was facilitated by the gradual opening of borders, enabling Estonian writers in exile to establish contacts with their colleagues and compatriots on the other side of the Baltic. The couple's most important translation work was undoubtedly to make Jaan Kross's prose available to Swedish readers. From the early 1980s, Kross would achieve international fame for his historical novels. The translators themselves have described their approach. First, Iliste would familiarize himself with the work linguistically and historically and deliver a rough translation, lined with question marks and comments. Göranson would then go through and rewrite the manuscript, fine-tuning the nuances, after which the translators would jointly compare the translation sentence by sentence with the original.
Another writer the couple worked on was Jaan Kaplinski, of whom they translated two collections of poetry, a correspondence (with Johannes Salminen) and an art book in 1982-1990. The translations by Kaplinski - one of Estonia's most notable contemporary writers and himself a translator of works such as Tomas Tranströmer into Estonian - constitute a legacy of great importance. In addition to these authors, Iliste and Göranson translated two collections of poetry by Viivi Luik and a series of plays by Merle Karusoo and Paul-Erik Rummo, among others. Poems by Ilmar Laaban, Andres Ehin, Enn Vetemaa and others have been published in journals such as Baltic Review or performed at poetry readings. Their last translation was the collection of poems Nådatid (2001) by Doris Kareva.
Ivo Iliste died on 1 December 2002 in Dalby, near Lund.
TextHistoriens förfärande skönhet (Translation of "Ajaloo ilu" from Estonian)Kulturen är... (Translation of "Kultuur on..." from Estonian)Endast på Viidumägi växer luktsporren... (Translation of "Viidumäel üksi kasvab..." from Estonian)