Five Recipients of 2019 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award

Five Recipients of 2019 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award

This year is the fourth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Awards. This prestigious award is funded in its entirety by generous IWR alumni and friends. It gives its recipients full or partial funding to attend the next Retreat, which will take place April 3 to 7, 2019 in Reykjavik. The winners are chosen based on both merit and financial need, and submissions were reviewed by IWR alumni volunteers. We received over 600 applications from around the world and the quality of submissions was extremely high.

Three of our five recipients are individuals who had applied previously for an Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award. So if you applied and were not successful on this occasion, please consider applying again in future!

Full Award recipients:

Photo: Melissa Lukenbaugh

Dan Musgrave was raised by animals in rural Kansas. Currently, he is one of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship’s initial cohort of Literary Fellows. He is a writer and photographer whose work most commonly focuses on the intersections of the human and animal world and his work has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Sun, and Electric Literature. He is a registered member of the Osage Nation, and he holds an MFA from the University of Missouri- St Louis and an MA in Biological Anthropology from Iowa State University. For nearly seven years, he did linguistic, cognitive, and behavioral research with captive bonobos while they trained him in the art of being a better person. Dan can be found online at



Lola Opatayo holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature-in-English from the Obafemi Awolowo University, and an MA in Communications and Language Arts from the University of Ibadan. She works as an editor, blogger and teaches an online creative writing class- StoryCrafting. Lola has worked as a project manager with Writer’s Studio Africa. She blogs creative writing tips, news and resources at

Lola’s stories are centered on female reproductive, sexual and mental health issues. Her work has appeared in Obsidian. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

Carien Smith is a Johannesburg-based academic and award-winning writer in both English and Afrikaans. Carien grew up in the Eastern Cape, and is currently a contract lecturer and research associate at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Johannesburg, where she has just submitted her dissertation for a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, focusing on Value Theory and the Apocalypse. She has published multiple research articles in various accredited academic journals, and has contributed to a literary theory encyclopaedia. She plans on pursuing her PhD in Climate Change Ethics and Epistemology. Her research areas include Absurdity, Value Theory, the Apocalypse, Climate Change Ethics, Epistemic Injustice, and Ecocriticism.

Carien has been a finalist for the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award twice (2016, 2018), and is elated to be a recipient of this award for 2019. In 2015 she was longlisted (6 longlistees) for the PEN International New Voices Award. She has won the AdHoc Flash Fiction competition (a Bath Flash Fiction Award project) twice (2018, 2016). In 2015 she received an Afrikoon from the ATKV (Afrikaans Language and Culture Organisation) for her contribution to Afrikaans literature and the arts. In 2009 her play titled “Formalien” was longlisted for the Nagtegaal Prize (10 longlistees). She has published multiple creative fiction pieces in books (Op die spoor vanin 2017, Spreek die Woordin 2016, and Nuwe Stories 3in 2014), in newspapers, and other collaborations. Carien is also a professional member of PEN South Africa, and is currently working on finishing her debut short fiction collection, to be published by one of the top publishing houses in South Africa.

Partial Award recipients:

Lucy Grace lives in the UK and writes award winning short stories and flash fiction. In 2018 she won first prize in the Writers & Artists 2018 Yearbook Short Story award, was shortlisted in the Bridport, Fish and Reflex Awards, commended in the Brittle Star and longlisted in the international Alpine Fellowship 2018 Writing Prize. Most recently she was shortlisted for the scholarship place on the Curtis Brown novel writing course. Her work has been published in several anthologies. She is currently finishing her first novel.




Jonaki Ray was educated in India (IIT Kanpur) and the USA (UIUC), and after a brief stint as a software engineer, returned to her first love, writing. She is now a poet, editor, and writer based in New Delhi, India.

Honors for Jonaki’s writing include a 2018 Pushcart Prize nomination for fiction by Zoetic Press, and a nomination for the 2018 Forward Prize for the Best Single Poem by Oxford Brookes University Poetry Centre.  She is a finalist in the 2018 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize, and the winner of the 2017 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Contest, ESL. In 2016 she was longlisted in the Writers’ HQ International Fiction Contest and the RL Poetry Award, and shortlisted in the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Contest, ESL.

Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Southword JournalThe American Journal of PoetryRambutan Literary JournalLunch TicketThe Matador Review, ColdnoonIndian Literature (Sahitya Akademi), So to Speak Journal, while non-fiction essays and reviews have been published in The WireThe Times of IndiaThe Telegraph India, and Down to Earth, among others.

We’ll be profiling all the recipients in more detail in the coming weeks. We would again like to thank the alumni and friends of the Iceland Writers Retreat for their generous contributions to enable us to offer these awards, as well as to the dozens of volunteers who helped to review applications.

The other finalists for the prize were (in alphabetical order):

Lavender Arumugam (South Africa)
Amy Barrett (United Kingdom)
K Tempest Bradford (United States)
Virginia Castiglione (Argentina)
Linda Craig (United States)
Ivan Darias Alfonso (Austria)
Margot Douaihy (United States)
Inna Eizenberg (Israel)
Natalia Elfimova (Russia)
Elrena Evans (United States)
Antonio Manuel Fraga Allegue (Spain)
Sierra Skye Gemma (Canada)
Shafika Ghani (Singapore)
Abak Hussain (Bangladesh)
Cheryl Katz (United States)
Sara Mang (Canada)
Lori Ella Miller (United States)
Dennis Mugaa (Kenya)
Lara O’Brien (United States)
Juan de Dios Sánchez Jurado (United States)
Anindita Sengupta (United States)
Kerry Sunderland (New Zealand)
Charlotte Symons (United Kingdom)
Amrita Thakkar (India)
Laura Theis (United Kingdom)
Masha Vapnitchnaia (Turkey)
Michelle Walshe (Ireland)
Hani Yousuf (Pakistan)

An additional 23 people received “honorary mention” (these people have been informed via email).

Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award 2019: Scholarship applications now accepted!

Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award 2019: Scholarship applications now accepted!

The deadline for this award has now passed. We will announce the recipients on 3 December, 2018. 

Registration is now open for the Iceland Writers Retreat. In addition to general registration, which is currently open to all, we have scholarships slots available for those with financial need. The Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award offers talented writers in need of financial support an opportunity to attend the Iceland Writers Retreat in Reykjavík, Iceland in April, 2019.

Please read these guidelines and click on the link at the end of this article to apply.

Who can apply

Anyone who is aged 18 or over on April 3, 2019 is eligible to apply for an Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award (anyone is welcome to independently register and attend the event without a scholarship). The winning candidate(s) must demonstrate that s/he does not have the financial means to attend the conference without this award.* Candidates do not need to be professional writers, but should be serious about the craft and interested in developing their skills and contacts. Their writing interests must fit well with the faculty for the 2019 retreat (i.e. literary fiction, non-fiction, memoir).

Family members of the judges and those who have already attended the IWR are not eligible to apply.*

What does it cover?

Entrants can apply for either full or partial funding. Full funding covers all participation of a “complete package” in the Iceland Writers Retreat, as detailed on our website (including accommodation). The scholarship also includes round-trip flights to Iceland.

Partial funding covers the participant fee for the Standard Package only, and neither accommodation nor round trip flights.

Please ensure that you apply for the most suitable category for you, as if you apply for full funding you are very unlikely to be considered for a partial award. (Note that we usually have many more applications for full funding than partial funding.)

The award does not include airport transfers, travel insurance, travel visas (if applicable)**, other incidentals or meals not listed in the itinerary, or the Relax & Write extension.

How are the recipients chosen?

The recipients will be chosen based primarily on two factors: a) The potential s/he demonstrates (or has demonstrated) as a writer and b) his/her need for financial support to be able to attend. We will also evaluate based on the other questions in the application, though, so make sure to tell us about yourself and why you think you’d be the perfect match for the Iceland Writers Retreat. (Please don’t just tell us how you have always wanted to visit Iceland.)

The applicant should also be available for media interviews before and during the Retreat, and be able to explain how s/he would help to share their experience with others after the fact. This may include being asked to prepare a short report on their experience to be published on the IWR website.

Applications will be reviewed by a group of IWR alumni. The final decision on the award recipient will be made by the IWR Founding Directors.

Deadline for applications: Wednesday, 31 October, 2018. Midnight, PST. We will announce the recipients on 3 December, 2018. 

*If this financial stipulation does not apply to you, or if you have already attended the IWR, please consider entering our writing competition, which is open to all and will be advertised in November. We will provide details of this event on our website soon. 

**Please note that we are not responsible for issuing travel visas and cannot guarantee that one will be issued for you. However, we would provide all the required supporting letters and our past recipients who have required visas have had no problem being issued with one. 


General Tips for applying:

We receive hundreds of applications for the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award. To increase your chances of being selected, please follow the application instructions very carefully.

  • Incomplete applications will not be considered.
  • It is not possible to make changes to your application once it has been submitted; you will receive email confirmation that your application has been received.
  • Level of funding: We receive far more applications for full funding than partial funding, but you need to show that you are unable to afford even the cost of flights to Iceland and accommodation while in the country. Note that you are very unlikely to be considered for partial funding if you have applied for full funding.
  • Your background: We welcome applications from people of all backgrounds and with all levels of writing experience. However, we are more likely to rank applications highly from people who have not had the opportunity to attend many other writing retreats or to develop their writing in other ways. The quality of your writing is what is most important, whether you are just starting out, have been working for a while, or are at a mid- or post-career break. We encourage people of all ages (over 18) to apply.
  • Why do you want to attend? We all love Iceland. And we all love writing. If you are applying simply to get an opportunity to visit Iceland you are unlikely to be granted an award. Tell us why this particular event and this particular faculty have captured your interest. Show us that you have done some research about the Iceland Writers Retreat. Note especially that our workshops in 2019 focus primarily on literary fiction, non-fiction, and memoir. Your writing samples should also reflect this and should therefore be prose samples.
  • Writing samples: Note that the maximum length for each writing sample is 1000 words. We will not consider applications that have longer writing samples.
  • Why you need financial assistance: This is one of the most difficult yet important factors to consider for this award. Please be as honest as you can with us in explaining why this event is beyond your means without support. Your answer to the question about applying for additional funding is also important. We know that some countries offer support to writers who attend conferences, and we’d like to see if you have taken any initiative in terms of thinking broadly for ways in which you can attend.
  • How will you share your experience with others? We want many people to know about the Iceland Writers Retreat. How will you help us get the word out if you are awarded a scholarship? We know that social media is very popular. Do you have other, more original ideas too?
  • References: References should be by people who are familiar with your writing and are not family members. We give higher marks for references that have been written specifically for this event. Applications without appropriate references will not be considered. Please note that due to the number of applications we receive, we cannot accept references that have been sent separately.

About the Iceland Writers Retreat

Held for the first time in April 2014, the Iceland Writers Retreat is an event comprised of a series of small-group writing workshops and cultural tours designed to introduce participants to Iceland’s rich literary heritage. Faculty in 2019 include Emma Straub, Louis de Bernieres, Ivan Coyote, Priya Basil, and Chigozie Obioma. The Iceland Writers Retreat was named one of the world’s best writers’ retreats by the Sydney Morning Herald, and one of the top 10 “Events to travel for in 2014” by Four Seasons Magazine.

About the IWR Alumni Award

This is the fourth time the IWR Alumni Award has been granted. It is so named because it has been funded by former IWR participants. We are extremely grateful for their generosity.



Fatin Abbas with the other Alumni Award winners

Our 2018 Alumni Award Winners (All images in this post by Roman Gerasymenko)

Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Awards Open September 1st

Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Awards Open September 1st

Thanks to generosity of our alumni and friends, we will be offering Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Awards for the 2019 event — three full and two partial scholarships. Full funding covers all participation of a “complete package” in the Iceland Writers Retreat, as detailed on our website (including accommodation). The scholarship also includes round-trip flights to Iceland. Partial funding covers the participant fee for the Standard Package only, and neither accommodation nor round trip flights.

The recipients will be chosen based primarily on two factors: a) The potential they demonstrate (or has demonstrated) as a writer and b) Their need for financial support to be able to attend. We will also evaluate based on the other questions in the application, though, so make sure to tell us about yourself and why you think you’d be the perfect match for the Iceland Writers Retreat. (Please don’t just tell us how you have always wanted to visit Iceland.)

We will begin accepting applications and linking to the form to apply from 1 September. Full details on how to apply will be posted at that time. It will be free to submit an application, but follow the instructions carefully, as incomplete submissions will not be considered.

We are so pleased to be offering the IWR Alumni Award for the fourth time. We are extremely grateful for the generosity of our alumni and friends.


Curated Experiences: IWR Alumni Winner Julia Duin’s Story

Curated Experiences: IWR Alumni Winner Julia Duin’s Story

I arrived in Iceland a few days before the conference began, rented a car and explored such delights as Bláfjöll, a ski resort in the Blue Mountains a half-hour’s drive southwest of Reykjavik. The winds at the top were pretty strong, and the area was small compared to similar resorts in Washington state, but it was my first time ever skiing outside of North America. Writers are such a cloistered, indoor lot, so it was delightful to cloak myself in my new green ski jacket and experience the rush of spring snow.

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Almost Poetic Romance: IWR Alumni Winner Puja Changoiwala’s Story

Almost Poetic Romance: IWR Alumni Winner Puja Changoiwala’s Story

Life, if you’re extremely fortunate, blesses you with a few defining experiences — journeys that clear the fog over your ultimate destination, that bring you closer to yourself, and simply, ones that take your breath away. The Iceland Writers Retreat was one such experience for me.

Back in December last year, when I learnt I was one of the recipients of the IWR Alumni Award, my first reaction was disbelief, followed by insurmountable gratitude. I couldn’t wait to get to Iceland, and experience this gorgeous little Nordic nation in the middle of the North Atlantic, its rich literature, and her keepers. I was looking forward to my interactions with the IWR faculty, and learn from them in those mindfully-designed, eclectic set of workshops. But the experience I had during those five days went beyond these tangible flashes of pleasure.

The most unique part about IWR for me was the brilliant combination of writing workshops and cultural tours. At first, I assumed that the cultural tours were meant only to help us view the many prolific natural wonders that Iceland is famous for. But as we went about the tours, which had a strong literary bent enabled via readings from local Icelandic authors, I realised the relevance of that natural beauty to Icelandic writers, and why exactly IWR had decided to make the tours part of the writers’ retreat.



For example, at Nobel laureate Halldor Laxness’ home, Gljúfrasteinn, the care-taker, Margret Marteinsdottir told us how the country’s natural beauty was a source of creative inspiration for the brilliant twentieth-century writer. “He would walk for five hours every day in the woods around his home, and would return inspired,” she said. The man penned 62 works of writing over seven decades — novels, poetry, plays, short stories, essays and memoirs, which were translated into 43 languages.

With such interactions, it was during these cultural tours that we got closer to Iceland’s raw beauty, agreed with Laxness’ view of it, and to some extent, started hoping for the literary inspiration the vistas had left him with.

Icelandic countryside

Icelandic countryside

It’s almost poetic romance, the idea of a writers’ retreat in the land of ice and fire. The Scandinavian nation, I noticed, was gorgeous in its own unconventional right. Home to just 340,000 people, its landscapes are untouched, dotted with striking contrasts – stretches of yellow grass juxtaposed with black igneous rocks from centuries of lava depositions, golden basalt caves in the backdrop of black sand beaches with boulders of ice adorning their shores, and thundering waterfalls next to silent, stagnant seas of snow.

With 110 participants from 17 countries, I met writers from all over the world at IWR — those who had written multiple books, and those who were struggling to bring themselves to write, those who walk around with fantasy worlds within them, and those who wish to capture the difficult reality around them. And with each encounter, I felt inspired.

Puja Changoiwala with other IWR Alumni Award recipients, Michael Augugom and Fatin Abbas

Puja Changoiwala with other IWR Alumni Award recipients, Michael Augugom and Fatin Abbas

Being in that space with fellow writers, I realised that we were similar in the fact that we were all at the retreat to be better wordsmiths, but the similarities also extended to our determination when it came to the art of writing, our vulnerability in terms of its craft, and our passion to tell the stories we hold dear. IWR created a community of like-minded people for me, a community with a strong sense of belonging — something, which is matchless and invaluable.

The most important highlight of the retreat, the writing workshops, were conducted by some of the most brilliant writers in the world, including Pamela Paul, author and editor of The New York Times Book Review, Susan Shreve, award-winning author of fourteen novels, and Craig Davidson, whose literary fiction, Rust and Bone was made into an Oscar-nominated feature film of the same name.

The workshops were eclectic and varied in their discourse, rooted deeply in the technical nuts and bolts of writing – creating captivating anti-heroes, sensory writing, plotting non-linear fiction, writing to inspire, writing humour, to become another person when writing, and learning how to outline your novel, among other subjects. There was a lot that I learnt during these workshops, which were mindfully organised as small-group classes, limited to fifteen participants. This ensured close interactions with the faculty, allowing an informal and constructive exchange of ideas.

While the workshops delved into the fundamentals of the craft of writing, a Q & A session with the faculty on the last day put focus on its practicalities, and how one can deal with its many challenges. The floor was open for the attendees, and we could ask whatever question we wanted. Although an informal interaction, I returned with several practical tips on becoming a better, more productive writer.

For example, writer Lauren Groff shared the importance of protecting one’s writing hours, and how she has “built very high walls,” and dedicates every morning until 3 pm to writing alone. Other faculty members shared how setting daily word-count targets help, how exercise should be part of a writers’ routine since writing is a physically-straining job, and how one should not wait for inspiration. “It isn’t coming,” said the writer, “So just quit the wait, and start writing now.”

Tour guides, both Icelandic authors, during a literary walking tour around Reykjavik

Tour guides, both Icelandic authors, during a literary walking tour around Reykjavik

Another highlight of IWR was the literary walking tour around Reykjavik. “There are more statues of artists in Reykjavik than politicians,” said the tour guide, also a local author, as she walked us around the UNESCO City of Literature, and introduced us to the many literary sites in Reykjavik. We witnessed similar veneration for literature when we interacted with Iceland’s president, Gudni Johanneson during an IWR reception at his official residence, and when we met Lif Magneudottir, president of the Reykjavik City Council during a reception hosted by the City of Reykjavik at City Hall. We all could feel the love Icelanders hold for literature, and although I didn’t realise it then, it was contagious.

Through each of the encounters and experience at IWR, I could feel my passion for writing soar, and I returned home a much more equipped and passionate writer. In the two months since, I’ve not only come up with an idea for my second non-fiction book, but have also signed with a leading Indian publisher for it. That’s what IWR has left me with — a priceless, intangible experience, which is now quietly guiding the course of my life, directing me closer to my dreams.

Puja Changoiwala was a recipient of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award in 2018. She has also written extensively about Icelandic publishing and her time at the Retreat.

Rust Soil and Literary Souls in Iceland: IWR Alumni Award Winner Fatin Abbas’ Story

Rust Soil and Literary Souls in Iceland: IWR Alumni Award Winner Fatin Abbas’ Story

What you take from Iceland: soil the color of rust. Grey sky-hue of Hallgrimskirkja. Mountains shawling fog around their shoulders. Mustard yellows of cottages in Reykjavík. Spurt of geysers hissing up into an April afternoon. Arctic winds jostling you off your feet.



To experience such a landscape, to amble in it, to breathe its glacial air, to have it whistle its mysteries into your ear, is something that a writer can only dream of. It enlarges the imagination. Time warps in the strange spring light. ‘The end is in the beginning and lies far ahead,’ the narrator of Invisible Man says, and here you are reminded of those words. You feel as though you are at the end of time and at its beginning all at once.

As spectacular as it is, that scenery is simply a backdrop for the books. There’s the pleasure of listening to a rowdy 80 year old tell the story of her life in Hallgrímur Helgason’s Woman at a 1,000 Degrees. Debates about wickedness in ‘The Wife of Bath’ and Lolita in a workshop with Lauren Groff. Dissections of the twists and turns of narration in The Polyglot Lovers with Lina Wolff.

You leave brimming with inspiration from these conversations. Thinking about how to apply lessons to the novel you’re finishing, set in a landscape very different from the one you wander through in Iceland. A landscape on the equator, of desert dunes and swamplands and spotted cattle and temperatures that feel like a 1,000 degrees indeed.

You meet strangers who become friends. A Nigerian author who paints a gorgeous scene of a boy sitting atop an old fridge on a beach in Lagos. An Indian writer who presses little gifts from Mumbai into your hands. An American author who opens her door to you and conjures up for you the bustling alleyways of Barcelona.

Halldór Laxness’ view

And you laugh. At one reading the former mayor of Reykjavík evokes his childhood disorientation at the many strangers he meets in the Icelandic countryside who turn out to be…relatives. You laugh so hard you are in tears at this mirror-image of your own confusion as a child stumbling amongst aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins in Sudan.

Beyond the laughter, you are reminded that each word on a page is a step that bridges the gap between yourself and other selves. Your world and other worlds. It’s why you’ve always been drawn to books. And why you are ever so grateful that they’ve set you down in Iceland, crossed you from Khartoum to Reykjavík.

Fatin Abbas was a recipient of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award in 2018. We are currently fundraising to be able to offer this scholarship again for 2019. To contribute, click here.

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