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An Emotional Account of my Experience at the Iceland Writers Retreat 2019: Participant Antoinette Borg’s Story

An Emotional Account of my Experience at the Iceland Writers Retreat 2019: Participant Antoinette Borg’s Story

Note to organisers: I hope you are sitting down as you are reading this. I know this is not the kind of feedback you would want bandied about for all the world to see, so I will fully understand and respect your position if you decide not to publish this. Sorry guys, I’m going to be brutally honest.

So these are some of the emotions that IWR 2019 triggered in me…

FEAR crept up my backbone as I read the headline, just a couple of weeks before the event: “Massive Strike in the Works in Iceland”. My insides were in liquid state by the time I reached the bottom of the article: Icelandic bus drivers and hotel employees would be on strike for three full days bang in the middle of the IWR! Oh shit! Some too-vivid images started to form in my head: my (not-even-remotely-athletic) self starting to walk from the airport in the direction of the hotel. My numb fingers frozen around the handle of my suitcase, struggling to drag it behind me while bravely facing a raging blizzard. With luck I’d manage to hitch a ride, and I saw myself hauling my suitcase up into a massive truck, with a big blond toothless smile greeting me from behind the steering wheel. You wouldn’t want to hear how the rest of that vision went…

Happily, all my fears turned out to be unfounded, not because the strike was called off, but because Eliza, Erica and their team had devised an extraordinary Plan B that was more like Plan P for Perfect. They had thought about and addressed every little detail, and as it were I’m pretty sure that, had the strike happened, we would have hardly noticed.

Thinking about it, I am now actually sorry that the strike didn’t happen. The strike-scenario images in my head are of (the not-at-all-unlikely possibility of) being driven from the airport to the hotel, or indeed my bed being made in the morning, by the First Lady of Iceland herself! Or how about touring the wild wonders of Iceland – again, driven by the First Lady – and getting to know that our tall, erudite tour guide was none other than the President of the country? How cool would that have been? Perhaps the strike being called off wasn’t such a lucky strike after all…

DISGUST was what I felt when I found out that, among the workshops offered, two were actually about Writing Rubbish! I turned up my nose disdainfully, thinking, Well I’ve been writing rubbish every single day of my life, Ms Sarah Moss! I certainly need no tips for that (excuse the pun and thank you very much!)  I signed up for it anyway, and was surprised to find myself enjoying a fascinating discussion about a fascinating collection of rubbish from all around the world. I was impressed, litter-ally! In fact, now that I’m back in Malta it’s my neighbours’ noses that are being turned up in disgust every morning, at the sight of me peering through their rubbish bags, sometimes even bending down over a particularly intriguing specimen and turning it over for a closer look!

Antoinette with Louis de BernieresThe rest of the workshops also had some pretty interesting effects on me (and my bodily fluids). I broke out into a sweat when Lina Meruane asked us to write and I couldn’t manage to string a single sentence, let alone a whole little story. I literally shed tears when Ann Hood asked us to write about food and emotions, which drove me to let out a pretty painful scribble about split pea soup and my dear departed daddy. And I was drooling in Louis de Bernières’ classes in the idle hope that a drop of his literary genius could somehow rub off and make its way to me! I dare not imagine what might have happened had I signed up for one of Ivan Coyote’s (undoubtedly hilarious) workshops…

ANGER keeps welling up inside me when I think of the capricious Northern Lights, which showed themselves to everyone in Iceland during IWR week, except me! Deep into the night I was two hours out of Reykjavik feeling confident that I was about to tick that right off my bucket list. But it was not to be. For more than an hour my little Mediterranean body, sunkissed since birth, was made to stand shivering in Arctic temperatures, squinting in vain at a pitch-black sky. It was silently screaming at me: WTF?! What are we doing in this freezing hell? I tried to explain patiently: We’re waiting for Aurora Borealis. She’s right there, behind those clouds. It’s showing on that guy’s camera, see? We just have to wait for the clouds to move away, then we’ll be able to see it with our naked eye and rejoice. My body, itself feeling naked despite being wrapped up in all the clothes I had brought with me to Iceland, was not impressed. It gloated – I told you it was pointless! What a sheer waste of five precious sleeping hours! – as we made our way back to Reykjavik, having seen absolutely nothing, bucket list still intact.

Sure enough, my disenchanted body refused to repeat the attempt another night. I did glimpse a shadow of the elusive lights from outside our hotel one night, but peering at them from a brightly-lit airfield doesn’t quite cut it, does it?

Antoinette at GullfossI could say a lot about another set of emotions that IWR fired up in me: EXCITEMENT, SURPRISE, JOY… but then I’d have to use a lot of boring adjectives like amazing, friendly, wonderful, delicious, beautiful, breathtaking… I think I’ll spare you all that cheesy, touristy stuff and stop right here…

Note to Eliza, Erica, faculty and the rest of the organising team: THANK YOU! WELL DONE! Sorry (for that missed heartbeat a little while ago)!

Note to fellow participants: You are such lovely people. Thank you for the smiles and the laughs and your friendship.

Note to Aurora Borealis: You haven’t seen the last of me!

Meet Our 2019 Media Intern

Meet Our 2019 Media Intern

The Iceland Writers Retreat welcomes interns each year, and Marion Grant is this year’s Video and Advertising intern. She is currently completing Ryerson University’s Literatures of Modernity Masters Program. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in English literature from Ryerson University. She is a student research fellow at Ryerson’s Centre for Digital Humanities and works on the Yellow Nineties 2.0, which focuses on digital remediation and scholarship of nineteenth century periodicals. A Toronto native, Marion enjoys her time cooking, canoeing, and writing.

IWR: How did you become an intern for the Iceland Writers Retreat?

MG: The English Masters program at my school has a practicum component where we are required to get an internship related to our interests. I saw the posting for IWR and thought that my previous social media experience would be a good fit! I also love to write in my free time and the opportunity to meet such a diverse collection of authors was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.

IWR: How do you feel about being involved with the Iceland Writers Retreat?

MG: I’m very excited about the upcoming conference. It has been so wonderful to meet the IWR team, everyone is so wonderful and so talented. The workshops seem so incredible and address such interesting topics.

IWR: What part of the retreat are you looking forward to the most?

MG: I really appreciate that the workshops are small groups, I feel like that will be a really good opportunity to hone my writing skills. Also, I’ve never been to Iceland before so that’s very exciting!

IWR: What do you like to write?

MG: I primarily write academic work, mostly because of my degree. I am currently finishing up a digital exhibit that explores the intersection between the Fin de siècle Periodicals and Victorian theatre. In my free time I like to write non-fiction pieces.

IWR: What do you like to read?

MG: I just finished reading For Today I am a Boy By Kim Fu, which was incredible. However, as a Victorianist I primarily read Nineteenth century literature.

IWR: If you weren’t a student/intern right now, what would you be doing?

MG: If I was not a student or an intern right now I would hope to be travelling. I really enjoying exploring new places and experiencing different cultures.

IWR: What made you pursue your degree?

MG: I am currently completing my Masters degree at the same school I did my undergrad. I remember catching glimpses of the graduate classes or talking to some of the students and was always super impressed by it. The Literature’s of Modernity program at Ryerson University is a really incredible program. They program has very small class sizes so that each student gets a lot of attention from the professors to improve their work. The cohort this year only has nineteen people, including myself. Each student is paired up with a mentor who checks in quite frequently to make sure their mentee is on track. This type of set up of course resulted in such a strong sense of community between the students and teachers, which I think makes Ryerson unique in comparison to other programs. I also met a really wonderful professor in my undergrad that really encouraged me to pursue my academic career and helped me with my application to the graduate program. Through her support and assistance I was really about to blossom and pursue my interests. I am so happy with my choice for my graduate career, I could not possibly imagine doing my Masters anywhere else.

 

Third Place in the 2019 Writing Contest

Third Place in the 2019 Writing Contest

For the fifth year in a row, we partnered with Iceland Travel to run a competition to win a spot at the Iceland Writers Retreat. This year’s theme was “Equality” and we received over 400 submissions from the around the world. Today we are sharing the third place story, which is “On Reynisfjara Beach” by Alyson Hilbourne of the United Kingdom.

The winner of the competition is Giacomo Roessler from Germany, with his story “Ferðin” which you can read hereThe second place entry was “Volcanoes” by Petronella Wagner of South Africa.

There are still some spaces available to attend the Iceland Writers Retreat. Click here to sign up.

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2019 Writing Contest Runner-up

2019 Writing Contest Runner-up

For the fifth year in a row, we partnered with Iceland Travel to run a competition to win a spot at the Iceland Writers Retreat. This year’s theme was “Equality” and we received over 400 submissions from the around the world. Today we are sharing the second place story, which is “Volcanoes” from Petronella Wagner of South Africa.

The winner of the competition is Giacomo Roessler from Germany, with his story “Ferðin” which you can read hereThird place was awarded to Alyson Hilbourne in the United Kingdom, with “On Reynisfjara Beach” which we will post in the coming days.

There are still some spaces available to attend the Iceland Writers Retreat. Click here to sign up.

Continue reading

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Carien Smith

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Carien Smith

This year is the fourth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. This prestigious award is funded in 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. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Carien Smith. You can read our Q&As with Dan Musgrave, Lola Opatayo, and Jonaki Ray on our blog.

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 van in 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.

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Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Jonaki Ray

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Jonaki Ray

This year is the fourth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. This prestigious award is funded in 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. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Jonaki Ray. You can read our Q&As with Dan Musgrave and Lola Opatayo on our blog.

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.

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Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Lola Opatayo 

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Lola Opatayo 

This year is the fourth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. This prestigious award is funded in 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. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Lola Opatayo. You can read our Q&A with Dan Musgrave here!

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 lolaopatayo.com.

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

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Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Dan Musgrave

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Dan Musgrave

This year is the fourth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. This prestigious award is funded in 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. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, starting with Dan Musgrave!

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 danmusgrave.com

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2019 Faculty Update

2019 Faculty Update

We are so pleased to have three great additions to our faculty for the 2019 Iceland Writers Retreat:

Ann Hood is the author of the bestselling novels The Knitting Circle, The Obituary Writer, and The Book That Matters Most as well as two memoirs, Morningstar: Growing Up with Books and Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, which was a NYT Editors’ Choice  and named one of the top ten non-fiction books of 2008 by Entertainment Weekly. She is also the author of the YA novel She Loves You, Yeah Yeah Yeah and a ten book series for middle readers, The Treasure Chest, which has recently been optioned for television. Hood’s short stories and essays have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, National Geographic Traveler, Food and Wine, Tin House, and The Washington Post. Her most recent book is Kitchen Yarns: Notes in Life, Love and Food.

Ragnar Helgi Ólafsson is a writer and visual artist, living and working in Reykjavík. A poet, playwright, and author of both novels and short story collections, his work has received the Tómas Guðmundsson Literary Prize and been nominated for both The Icelandic Literary Prize and The DV-Culture Prize.
Ragnar is active in the field of visual art producing performances, text-based works and digital installations often dealing with the elementary banalities of the human condition: the connections between oneself and others, poetry, time and memory. He also runs a small publishing house Tunglið forlag, which publishes a handful of books of poetry and fiction per annum, available only at special events on the night of the full moon.

Alexander Maksik is the author of the novels You Deserve NothingA Marker to Measure Drift and Shelter in Place. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize and The Andrew Lytle Prize, he’s co-director of the Can Cab Literary Residence in Catalonia, Spain.

Please note that Emma Straub and Jón Gnarr are unfortunately no longer able to appear at the event in April; we apologize for the inconvenience.