About Iceland Writers Retreat

Virtual IWR events in October – Watch Here

The Iceland Writers Retreat will broadcast two free, virtual events in October and you’re invited! We will post a link here to watch the live streams as they appear on Wednesday and Thursday.

Watch our panel an Introduction to Icelandic Authors below:

Watch our workshop with Neel Mukherjee and Ruth Reichl below:

Wednesday, October 14, 2020: 12 noon ET / 9 a.m. PT / 5 p.m. BST / 4 p.m. Iceland: An Introduction to Icelandic Writers. Pre-recorded in Reykjavík, this panel will feature writer, poet and former IWR faculty Gerður Kristný, crime writer Lilja Sigurðardóttir, poet and former IWR volunteer Fríða Ísberg, and writer and poet Mazen Maarouf. (Ævar Þór Benediktsson is unfortunately no longer able to attend.) It will be moderated by IWR Co-Founder Eliza Reid. Duration: One hour. Co-presented with Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature.

Registration for the event is free and here. Registration is not obligatory. The panel will be streamed on Iceland Writers Retreat’s Facebook page.

Gerður Kristný, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Fríða Ísberg, and Mazen Maarouf.

Thursday, October 15, 2020: 12 noon ET / 9 a.m. PT / 5 p.m. BST / 4 p.m. Iceland: Iceland Writers Retreat Mini Workshop and author Q&A. Memoirist, editor, and bestselling food writer Ruth Reichl (IWR faculty 2015) will discuss memoir writing and Man Booker Prize nominee Neel Mukherjee (IWR faculty 2016) will talk about point of view in fiction writing via “mini workshops”. They will also speak about their time teaching at the Iceland Writers Retreat. Viewers will have an opportunity to pose questions to the authors. Moderated by IWR Co-Founder Erica Jacobs Green. Duration: One hour.

Registration for the event is free and here. Registration is not obligatory. The workshop will be streamed via Facebook Live on the Iceland Writers Retreat Facebook page.

Ruth Reichl leads a class on memoir writing at the 2015 Iceland Writers Retreat.
Neel Mukherjee reads at the author night of the 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat.

There is no need to register in advance for the events. We’ll update this page when we have links for how to view them.

The Iceland Writers Retreat and inaugural Iceland Readers Retreat are scheduled to take place in Reykjavík from April 28 – May 2, 2021. Click here for details.

IWR & IRR Delay due to Covid-19

IWR & IRR Delay due to Covid-19

Following this week’s developments, that in Iceland now include a minimum 4-week ban on public gatherings, we have decided that the only responsible course of action for us to take is not to hold the Iceland Writers Retreat / Iceland Reader Retreat in April this year. This will come as a disappointment to many, not least to ourselves, but under the circumstances it is the best responsible and reasonable decision. 

We, will, however, try to re-schedule this event for later this year, possibly in late August or early September. (And of course aim to hold another event in April 2021.) We will announce everything via our usual channels once we have confirmed further details. 

These are interesting times, indeed, and we will get through them by sticking together and being responsible citizens. Stay healthy, wash your hands, be kind to each other, and as soon as it’s good to do so, please patronize your local businesses, cultural and otherwise! 

Faculty Amendment

Faculty Amendment

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney will be leading workshops at this year’s Iceland Writers Retreat. She replaces Maria Semple, who is unfortunately no longer able to attend. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel The Nest spent more than six months on the New York Times Bestseller list. The book was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writer’s pick, a best fiction finalist for the Goodreads Choice Award and was named one of the best books of 2016 by People, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Amazon, Refinery 29 and others. The Nest has been translated into more than 27 languages and optioned for film by Amazon Studios. Her novel Good Company will be published in May of 2021. Sweeney holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons. Cynthia will be teaching the same workshops that Maria was schedule for, i.e. “Making a Scene” (workshops are full; waitlisting is available) and “Your First Five Pages” (Thurs workshop almost full).

Winner of the IWR Writing Competition

Winner of the IWR Writing Competition

We have partnered with the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel to offer one person a free spot at the Iceland Writers Retreat in April-May 2020.  The winner receives admission to all events for the Iceland Writers Retreat, as well as four nights accommodation at the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel and we received over 400 submissions from the around the world.

This year the challenge was to submit a 350-word story, essay or poem inspired by this photo, which we’ve captioned: “Iceland: ethereal, exhilarating, sublime.” Entries were judged anonymously by two previous IWR volunteers & writers, and a representative of the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel, our contest sponsors

The winner of the competition is Caroline Rannard from Australia, with her story “Postmarked Reykjavík”. Continue reading

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, Philstar.com, 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 Writing.ie, Skelligmichael.com and Silverbirchpress.wordpress.com. 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 www.thesparklyshell.com.

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).

Win a spot at the Iceland Writers Retreat 2020!

Win a spot at the Iceland Writers Retreat 2020!
We have partnered with the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel to offer one person a free spot at the Iceland Writers Retreat in April-May 2020.  The winner will receive admission to all events for the Iceland Writers Retreat, as well as four nights accommodation at the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel.*
The deadline to submit an entry is 23:59 (GMT) Monday, December 16, 2019. There is no fee to enter. The deadline to enter this competition has now passed. We will announce the winner via our newsletter and social media on January 13, 2020.

Continue reading

Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award testimonials

We are accepting applications for the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award until the end of October. (Click here to apply; link is at the bottom of the page.) Anyone can apply for this award, which is granted primarily on the basis of merit and financial need.

Here’s what some previous winners had to say about their experience: 

“I nostalgically remember the Iceland Writers Retreat as the distant heaven away from home where my writing grew (and still does grow) in ways I could never have imagined, thanks to the inspiring workshops led by globally-acclaimed writers and beautiful and inspiring Iceland and the world citizenry attending the retreat.” Peter Ngila, Kenya, Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award recipient 2017 

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the deeply inspiring culture of this retreat.” Lola Opatayo, Nigeria, Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award recipient 2019

Four of IWRs Alumni Award Winners
Lola Opatayo (Nigeria), Daniel Musgrave (USA), Carien Smith (South Africa), Jonaki Ray (India), Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award recipients 2019 (Missing: Lucy Grace, UK)

“The IWR experience was electric. It rekindled my mind, helping me to strengthen my writing as a whole. The friendly community of artists created a warm and inspiring environment, as did the stunning Icelandic landscape.” Nora Shychuk, USA, Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award recipient 2018

“The Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award introduced me to the international literary scene, exposed me to renown authors and connected me to a global network of publishers and writers. The award came at a crucial time in my writing career and were it not for this opportunity, I would not have had the confidence to sign with an agent or publish my first book.” Megan Ross, South Africa, Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award recipient 2016

“The Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award came at just the time I thought my creative writing life was a wash. But then I was transplanted into this thriving community of writers in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and it felt like, hey, if Eliza and Erica think I have what it takes, maybe I do.” April Wolfe, USA, Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award recipient 2016

Fatin Abbas with the other Alumni Award winners
Fatin Abbas (Sudan), Nora Shychuk (USA), Michael Agugom (Nigeria), Julia Duin (USA), Puja Changoiwala (India), Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award recipients 2018

“‘Make catchy beginnings! Round characters! Interesting research!’- I often heard as a piece of advice for writers. But the how wasn’t explained. The workshops at IWR were not only about what to do but how to do that! The concrete methods that were suggested by the faculty at IWR are useful tools which I grab when I need to fuel my writing process.” Akvile Buitvydaite, Lithuania, Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award recipient 2017

“Writing is not black magic, even though it often seems as such. IWR was one of the first places where I learned tools and gained faith in this practice.” Victor Yang, USA, Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award recipient 2017

Akvile Buitvydaite (Lithuania), Victor Yang (USA), Peter Ngila (Kenya), Nathan Ramsden (UK), Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award winners 2017

“This opportunity has given me the confidence to write with more clarity and precision in that I have gained more trust in my voice as a writer.” Carien Smith, South Africa, Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award 2019

Megan Ross (South Africa) and April Wolfe (USA), Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award winners 2016

Click on each recipient’s name for more information on their experience. Apply for an Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award here until October 31. Or simply sign up now to attend the Iceland Writers Retreat! 

What I Learned at the Iceland Writers Retreat

What I Learned at the Iceland Writers Retreat

Each year we offer a different collection of small-group writing workshops at the Iceland Writers Retreat. Whether seasoned authors or just beginning to test the waters, our participants return home inspired and with concrete tips to help improve their writing. 

In July, a group of 2019 participants shared the key takeaways they got from some workshops. Here are a few of them: 

  • Ivan Coyote reminded me that I could be faster and write more if I didn’t overthink it. – G.G., US
  • Louis de Bernière said to enjoy what you’re writing, even if it’s unconventional. So I’ve spent these past few months reaching inside of me and asking myself what things really interest me, and how I can tell stories from a place of acquaintance and understanding. – Lola, Nigeria, Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award recipient
  • Lina Meruane reminded me to return to the visceral, which is hard to do when you get bogged down with the profession/business side of being an author. – VS Holmes, US
  • Priya Basil had us embrace the semi-random jump cut, not worrying about transitions but allowing the subconscious to draw connections between seemingly disparate things. We did an exercise where she read one random word each five minutes and we’d write a paragraph incorporating it into a story in some way. Can be very surprising what shakes out and quite freeing during drafting. –  Daniel, US, Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award recipient
  • Ann Hood – When writing about something hot, write about it cold. – Antoinette – Malta
  • Tessa Hadley reminded me the best way to learn writing is through reading great stories. Also, revision is the time for real creation. – Vivian – China
  • The biggest relief for me was during the closing panel when one of the questions asked to the instructors was if they wrote daily – and they were all like “Nope.” – It was assuring to me that it’s okay if I didn’t write every single day. –  Phoebe, US
  • Louis de Bernière said “Writing without the flowers makes it more powerful” – Stephanie, USA
  • Paul Yoon indicated that perfectionism can get in the way of ideas and creativity – Lisa, Canada
  • I found Ragnar Helgi Ólafsson’s class so freeing! I loved the fact that approaching things experimentally can be a true asset. It’s okay to do things differently. Maybe it will work; maybe it won’t. — Lisa, Canada

In November, we will be announcing the specific workshops on offer during the 2020 Iceland Writers Retreat.  Remember that workshop spaces are limited and fill on a first come, first served basis. Click here to register for the Iceland Writers Retreat April 29 – May 3, 2020.

Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award 2020: Scholarship applications now accepted!

Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award 2020: Scholarship applications now accepted!

The deadline for submitting applications for an Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award has now passed. We will announce the recipients on December 2, 2019.

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, 2020.

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 29, 2020 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 2020 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 one participant fee, four nights accommodation at the Retreat hotel (Radisson SAS Saga Hotel), and round-trip flights to Iceland.

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

(Note that there is no scholarship available for the Iceland Readers Retreat.)

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: Thursday, 31 October, 2019. Midnight, PST. We will announce the recipients on 2 December, 2019. 

**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 2020 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 2020 include Maria Semple, Kamila Shamsie, David Chariandy, Gretchen Rubin, and Ariel Levy. 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 fifth 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)