About Jessica Key

Spotlight September

Spotlight September

One of my favourite days at IWR is always the last one. In many ways, it’s a sad day, since I’m about to leave an experience that was full of learning, new friends, adventures, and more. But, it’s also an important day, because the participants get to attend a Q&A with all of the authors, and the conversations had up on that stage have never failed to transform the ways I view my own writing and reading habits. 

In 2019, author Priya Basil said of her own reading habits: “I made a decision last year to read only women and in-translation. I think reading in translation opens up literature in a wonderful way.” 

That quote really resonated with me, and made me ponder my own reading habits. I work as the Manager Editor of a literary magazine and a Publishing Assistant at a local press, so I am lucky enough to spend hours reading submitted manuscripts, pieces I’m editing, and books for review throughout each month. However, sometimes that leaves me drained when it comes to my own reading, outside of work. I went into 2020 wanting to be more intentional about my reading, including carving time into my evening before going to bed to dedicate to reading a physical book, rather than news stories on my phone or laptop. I also remembered back to Priya’s quote, and decided that for 2020 I would only read books from diverse and/or under-represented voices. This includes BIPOC authors, women, LGBTQIA2S+ folks, and work in-translation. 

When Covid-19 hit, a friend reached out to me to help re-start a book club she had been part of, and I agreed, as long as the other members were open to making our reading choices in-line with my 2020 reading goals. And, happily, they were. Thus far we’ve read Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga, Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier, and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Reading diversely has helped me become a better editor, in thinking about the ways that my work can help platform interesting, new voices. 

Reading diversely has also helped me become a better ally in my work to become anti-racist. We’re witnessing a historic moment in North America amidst the Black Lives Matter protests, and we are so blessed to have access to many wonderful books that can help us look at our own place amidst systemic structures. Some of the works I’ve turned to in doing this learning (and unlearning) are: How to Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

In thinking about the importance of celebrating diverse voices, we at IWR want to introduce a new social initiative this month: Spotlight September. We’ll be drawing attention to the books we’re reading and excited about right now, including those by past faculty members. Follow along on our blog and social media pages as we call out the work we think you should be adding to your reading lists, and feel free to suggest even more to us in the comment section! 

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Michelle Walshe

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Michelle Walshe

This year is the fifth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Michelle Walshe.

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.

Continue reading

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Jo McClelland Phillips

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Jo McClelland Phillips

This year is the fifth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Jo McClelland Phillips.

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.

Continue reading

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Chelsie Bryant

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Chelsie Bryant

This year is the fifth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Chelsie Bryant.

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 SpringsMichigan Quarterly ReviewYemasseePassages NorthWord 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.

Continue reading

Third Place in the IWR Writing Competition

Third Place in 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. Continue reading

Second Place in the IWR Writing Competition

Second Place in 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. Continue reading

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Abak Hussain

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Abak Hussain

This year is the fifth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Abak Hussain.

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.

Continue reading

Once Upon an Iceland

Once Upon an Iceland

Once upon a time the Hallgrímskirkja clock struck 03:00 and, on her way to the bus that would take her to the airport, a South African girl lost her hiking boot in the streets of Reykjavik. She did not mean to, and it happened swiftly, the shoe slipping off much easier than it had been to put on. As if it had a will of its own, forcing her to leave a piece of her behind so that she might have to return one day.

In the airplane, on the final stretch of the trip towards Iceland from Munich to Keflavik, I watch an Icelandic crime series and listen to the language. The words I hear and see at once seem so familiar to the tongue, yet so foreign:

“neyðarútgangur” (Icelandic), “nooduitgang” (Afrikaans) – emergency exit

“kirkja” (Icelandic), “kerk” (Afrikaans) – church

“Mánudagur” (Icelandic), “Maandag” (Afrikaans) – Monday

Upon arrival at Keflavik International Airport I meet with one of the other retreat attendees and we are met by a glacial wind unlike any I had ever experienced before. We stare through the window of the bus at a foreign landscape.

Snow.
I had never seen snow before.
Iceland is unyielding, stark, cold, sublime.

Skálholt.
The sublime: an aesthetic value judgment – that which is linked with both pleasure and pain. With danger, extremity. The experience gives a type of pleasure that is riddled with anxiety, with an awareness of something that transcends the ordinary sense of beauty. The sublime is the experience of the limits of understanding and reason.

Geysirs.
The sublime threatens one’s existence and is a delightful horror.

Gullfoss Waterfall.
Iceland is a mythical mistress, forcing one to face beauty, tragedy, and catharsis.

Þingvellir.
Oddities reveal the truth. Staircases and landings. The senses are the strings of an instrument. Rubbish. Dogs and cats and old people and children.

Gljúfrasstein.
Just past midnight I stand on the bow of a boat and I try to focus my camera in the dark, the North Atlantic wind blowing against my jacket. The cold had taken hold of my hands. It is nearly impossible.

I await her. The Aurora Borealis.
She is mischievous and I sometimes wonder if I ever truly saw her shimmering green satin dress for a brief few minutes that final night in Reykjavik.

Carien Smith
Carien Smith will be a JIAS Writing Fellow in 2020 after which she will pursue her PhD studies in Climate Change Ethics and Epistemology (Philosophy). For more information, visit her website: https://www.cariensmith.com and https://www.facebook.com/Carien-Smith-166234987540871/ .

Fundraising for IWR’s 2020 Alumni Award

We are currently fundraising to offer an Alumni Award again in 2020. These awards are need- and merit-based scholarships that allow talented, international writers to join us in Reykjavik next spring to explore Iceland’s unique literature and culture, as well as to learn from our internationally-renowned faculty. If you’d like to donate, you can do so via our Karolina Fund here.

If we raise enough funds, applications will open in September 2019 and continue through October. Winners will be announced in early December.

Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Awards from Iceland Writers Retreat on Vimeo.

IWR on Authors Electric

IWR on Authors Electric

Jonaki Ray is a 2019 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award winner, receiving a partial scholarship to attend the Retreat. Her work has been published, both online and in print, in India, the US, the UK, Ireland, Italy, and Singapore. She was nominated by Zoetic Press for the 2018 Pushcart Prize for short fiction; and by Oxford Brookes Poetry Center for the 2018 Forward Prize for the Best Single Poem and was the winner of their 2017 International Poetry Contest, ESL. She has been shortlisted for multiple other awards including the 2018 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize and the 2016 Writers’ HQ International Fiction Contest.

Jonaki wrote a guest blog about her experience at IWR for Authors Electric. Read more about what she learned at IWR 2019, and what she took from the experience, here.

To help writers like Jonaki attend the Retreat in 2020, you can donate to the Alumni Award fund here. Registration for IWR 2020 opens on July 9th. To learn more about the Retreat, and our brand new Iceland Readers Retreat, check out our website.