Strangers in a Small Land: A Writers’ Collective in Iceland

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From The Reykjavik Grapevine: A collective of international writers in Iceland challenge concepts and constraints on Icelandic literature and publishing.

Members of the Ós Press collective. Image: ospressan.com

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

‘The Foreign Group’

AThe Reykjavík Grapevine, Björn Halldórsson, while saluting Iceland’s rich literary history, writes that publishing in Icelandic is “a risky business.”

With the language spoken by only some 350,000 people, Icelandic publishers must target as large a part of that language community as possible, meaning, writes Halldórsson, that some houses may be “unwilling or unable to take chances on new literary genres or cultural products.”

The nonprofit writing collective Ós Press is one response to this. “Challenging the status quo of the publishing industry in Iceland” is a key interest of the members of the collective, writes Halldórsson, the name of the group coming from the Icelandic word for a river delta: “the point at which several streams run together before entering the ocean.”

The writers of the group like to speak to the press as an ensemble, and so the board of directors is quoted, telling Halldórsson:

The next edition of the Ós Press Journal is expected in October.

“The subject of otherness in the industry is now out in the open, and being more widely discussed.”But in practice, this change doesn’t amount to much.

“There was a 2016 issue of Tímarit Máls og Menningar [Iceland’s second longest-running literary journal] that focused, in Icelandic, on foreign writing, and writing about foreign people and places, which featured Ós members Ewa Marcinek, Beatriz Portugal, and Angela Rawlings.

“It’s very difficult for a foreign-born author or one who does not write in Icelandic to find a space in the Icelandic publishing industry.”

Most of the founders were born outside of Iceland, and being known with Iceland as “the foreign group” can be frustrating.

The membership is quoted, saying, “In this day and age, it seems limiting to try [to] define Icelandic literature. Especially when there are so many authors trying new styles and bringing different influences into their writing.

“That said, it is a fascinating topic because there are so many variables and possible connotations. Does a story necessarily have to be written in Icelandic, or by an Icelander, to be considered Icelandic literature? Does it have to have an Icelandic setting or protagonist or an Icelandic theme, discourse and style? If an established Icelandic author wrote a poem that had nothing to do with Iceland and was not written in Icelandic, would it still be considered Icelandic literature?”

The next edition of their journal will be published online and will feature 28 authors, seven languages, and at least 37 individual pieces of writing including poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and screenplays.


You can read Björn Halldórsson’s complete article at The Reykjavik Grapevine here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.

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