A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
In some programmes you can apply to become an intern at an organisation and earn course credits. As a literature student I wanted to be an intern at a literary institution in a foreign country and applied to the Icelandic Publishers Association. Why Iceland? you might say. Iceland is one of the most literary countries in the world and Reykjavík is a UNESCO City of Literature. In addition it is said that 1 in 10 Icelanders is a published writer. Despite being aware of this prior to moving to the island nation near the Arctic Circle the programme far exceeded my expectations.
Day 1 saw a UNESCO meeting. At the event I met Andri Snær Magnason whose works include Dreamland – A Self Help Manual for a Frightened Nation. Magnason and Björk joined forces to call for action to protect the Icelandic Highlands from businesses in their Náttúra campaign. The novel’s foreword is written by the singer and the documentary starts with her single Náttúra. In my master’s thesis I intend to analyse Icelandic literature by Magnason and Björk through the lens of ecocriticism.
Day 2 was the Icelandic Literary Prize which was broadcast live on RÚV (the national broadcasting corporation). The event is hosted by the Icelandic President with whom I exchanged a few words and the First Lady. Prior to his presidency he was nominated for a prize and his wife co-founded the Iceland Writers Retreat. After the acceptance speeches my supervisor introduced me to the winners as well as the country’s largest publisher Forlagið.
Outside Reykjavík and near the mountains is the Laxness museum. Laxness’ works were published by Forlagið and he won the Nobel Prize. I met the museum director who showed me photos and shared anecdotes about his personality as well as his publications. According to Ms Gestsdóttir Laxness went on walks along the river while writing ideas in a notebook. I saw the river outside her window and followed in Laxness’ footsteps. No Nobel Prize-winning ideas for me.
Shortly after the programme started I created an Instagram page for the Icelandic Publishers Association and wrote in English and Japanese. In addition I visited Icelandic Literary Prize winner Jonsdóttir’s workplace and interviewed her about her career. During the interview she showed me her drafts and her approaches to writing and illustrating children’s books. Similarly Eiriksdóttir accepted my request to interview her; the article was published by the Icelandic Publishers Association and I intend to write an article on Jonsdóttir as well.
Initially I approached Ms Loftsdóttir often for suggestions and instructions. Over the course of the programme she taught me Icelandic culture’s emphasis on creativity and independence. After a while I started to suggest projects. “We’ll see how things go” was a phrase she used regularly and encapsulates her flexibility. A few Icelanders I met cite the unpredictable weather as the reason they are like this.