Six Recipients of the 2020 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award

Six Recipients of the 2020 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award

This year is the fifth 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 29 to May 3, 2020 in Reykjavik. The winners are chosen based on both merit and financial need, and submissions were reviewed by IWR alumni volunteers. We received almost 700 applications from around the world and the quality of submissions was extremely high.

Three of our six 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:

Okechi Okeke is a writer and teacher whose work has appeared in The Economist, The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story Vol 4 and elsewhere. He was shortlisted for the Black Letter Media Short Story Competition in 2018 and was a finalist for the 2019 K and L Prize for African Writing. A Fellow of Africa Young Leaders Fellowship and alumnus of Goethe Institut’s Afro Young Writing Workshop, Okechi lives in Nigeria.  

Chuck D. Smith is a journalist who has been writing about Philippine entertainment and pop culture since 2008. He has served as writer and editor for various publications such as Yahoo! Philippines,, Coconuts Manila, and CNN Philippines, among others. For a brief period, he worked as a publicist for TBA Studios, a Philippine film company that produced the highly acclaimed, box office hits General Luna and Goyo: The Boy General. He also writes personal essays, some of which have been published in Esquire Philippines, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and GMA News Online. He won a Carlos Palanca Memorial Award and the Ustetika Student Literary Award for his essays.

Michelle Walshe was born in England but raised in Ireland where she resides after living abroad for many years. She worked as a teacher at third level before she began writing in 2017. Her work has been published in print in the national media in Ireland and the UK and in Teachers Who Write: An Anthology, online on, and She has been shortlisted in short story competitions and won a prize for flash fiction. She has won residencies, a scholarship, and bursaries to the John Hewitt Summer School, The Stinging Fly and The Bronte Parsonage. She volunteers at Roddy Doyle’s Fighting Words, an organisation promoting creative writing for children, and at literary festivals. She is working on a memoir and a children’s book. All her published work can be found on her website

Partial Award recipients:

Chelsie Bryant is an Ohio native currently living in Portland, Maine. In her spare time, she enjoys photographing her cat, har, who spells his name in lowercase because he makes the rules; he doesn’t follow them. Her work has been featured in Willow Springs, Michigan Quarterly Review, Yemassee, Passages North, Word Riot, and other places. She won the Willow Spring Fiction Prize in 2016 and holds a Master of Fine Arts from the Ohio State University.

Abak Hussain was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he still lives. A journalist by trade, he is currently the Editor of  Editorial and Op-Ed at Dhaka Tribune, a leading English language daily, where he worked since the newspaper’s inception back in 2012. He writes a weekly column — “Hard Target” — mostly on political issues. His other interest is creative writing — he has published short stories from time to time, and hopes to one day finish his novel.

 Jo McClelland Phillips was born on the shores of Lake Ontario, then migrated to the mountains of New South Wales. Her work has been published in TIME Magazine, USA Today, Fairfax Media, and Mashable along with several national and independent newspapers and magazines. She is the winner of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award and she has been shortlisted for the Publisher Introduction Program Fellowship with Varuna, the National Writers House in NSW. Her short story, The Glass Slipper, won the Fringe Festival Award at The Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, and received honourable mention in The Glass Woman Prize.

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):

  • Esther Ajari (Nigeria)
  • Luís Roberto Amabile (Brazil)
  • Talea Anderson (United States)
  • Aaina Batool (Pakistan)
  • Ashley-Elizabeth Best (Canada)
  • Nana Boateng (Ghana)
  • Avery Brooks (United States)
  • Dymphny Dronyk (Canada)
  • Elrena Evans (United States)
  • Julie Farrell (United Kingdom)
  • Eliza Gearty (United Kingdom)
  • Maria Gulina (Belarus)
  • Diane Helentjaris (United States)
  • Jessica Holliday (United Kingdom)
  • Maryam Kiyani (Pakistan)
  • Mary-Ann Leeb (United States)
  • Samantha Libby (United States)
  • Irina Lutsenko (Russia)
  • Jessica Martin (Australia)
  • Niall McArdle (Ireland)
  • Marija Peričić (Australia)
  • Cassandra Powers (United States)
  • Michelle Preen (South Africa)
  • Hani Yousuf (H. Y. Attia) (Pakistan)

An additional 39 people received “honorary mention” (these people have been informed via email).

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