Discovering Icelandic Literature & Connection: IWR talks with Margaret Nowaczyk about her new book Chasing Zebras

Discovering Icelandic Literature & Connection: IWR talks with Margaret Nowaczyk about her new book Chasing Zebras

Margaret Nowaczyk’s memoir Chasing Zebras was published earlier this year. Iceland Writers Retreat sat down with Margaret to talk about her time at IWR, her life as an author, and her recommendations for others thinking of attending future IWR events.

Iceland Writers Retreat (IWR): When and why did you choose to attend IWR? 

Margaret Nowaczyk (MN): The summer before the April 2019 retreat, I and two other writers had decided that we would love to see each other again. Since one of them loved travelling to Iceland and the other – and I – had never been, we decided to meet up at IWR. I had been eyeing the IWR for several years before – the programs were enticing and I had always wanted to experience the raw beauty of Iceland. For years, however, I couldn’t talk my husband into going there, so, with my friends both willing, I decided to go without him. Decision made, I couldn’t wait to get on that Icelandair plane!

IWR: What was/were the highlights of IWR for you? 

MN: Discovering Icelandic literature. Before IWR, I had never read any Icelandic writers, but in preparation for my visit, I read “Independent People” and Sjon’s “CoDex 1962” and was completely blown away by both. I have since read most of Sjon’s books and can’t wait for his most recent. The pristine and otherworldly natural beauty of Iceland was so much more than I expected and imagined. With all that, the IWR program with writers from all around the world was simply the cherry on top. I mean, where else would one meet Sarah Moss and Louis de Bernières and Chigozie Obioma in the same room? Have Lina Meruane discuss your work and Ivan Coyote teach you how to best present it? The wealth of literary talent and accomplishment was simply astounding. 

IWR: Is there anything you learned at IWR that use now when you write?

MN: I remember an amazing seminar from Paul Yoon, on the use and the structure of metaphor. And Lisa Meruane’s lesson on incorporating life into fiction resonated – I write short stories based on evens from my life and her insights into literary form and structure when translating life into fiction were invaluable.

IWR: Had you published a book when you attended?

MN: I had published two non-fiction books in Polish, in Poland, and I co-edited a collection of short stories from the Polish-Canadian diaspora (in English, in Canada) but I hadn’t published a full-length book in English on my own.

IWR: What have you published since?

MN: My memoir Chasing Zebras was published in 2021 by Wolsak&Wynn, an independent Canadian publisher. It deals with my training as a pediatrician and a clinical geneticist, but it also delves into darker waters of mental health and how writing has helped me with both. It has also received some very nice press. We even managed to have a wonderful in-person launch just before the last COVID lockdown here in Ontario, held at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in November 2021. The book is available directly from the publisher: https://bookstore.wolsakandwynn.ca/products/chasing-zebras , and also from Indigo, and on Amazon.

IWR: Who do you think would benefit most from the IWR? 

MN: Writers who are looking for connection around the world. Readers who want to discover new writers that they may have never heard about.

IWR:  What do you think is most unique or special about this event?

MN: The personal attention of the organizers: Erica and Eliza make everybody feel welcome and at home during the IWR. The location – no explanation needed! The amazing breadth and diversity and stature of the faculty. How smoothly it ran – in spite of the number of participants and faculty, the atmosphere was intimate, like getting together with friends around a fireplace.

To find out more, you can find Margaret Nowaczyk on:

Twitter: @Marg_Nowaczyk

Facebook: Margaret Nowaczyk

Instagram: @margaretnowaczyk

www.margaretnowaczyk.ca

The IWR X-Factor: Inspiration, Tips, & Tricks from Debut Author (oh, and IWR Co-Founder) Eliza Reid

The IWR X-Factor: Inspiration, Tips, & Tricks from Debut Author (oh, and IWR Co-Founder) Eliza Reid

Iceland Writers Retreat Co-Founder Eliza Reid´s book, Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland´s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World is published in February. A mix of memoir and current affairs, the book discusses why Iceland is leading the charge in the fight for gender equality by telling the stories of dozens of “sprakkar” (an Icelandic word for “extraordinary women”) throughout Iceland.

Iceland Writers Retreat (IWR): How did you first get the idea for this book? What is the origin story? Why did you decide to write it?

Eliza Reid (ER):  I had the idea for the book at the beginning of the pandemic. Former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who was the world’s first democratically elected female head of state, turned 90 in April 2020. She is widely admired here in Iceland, but it occurred to me that not many people know about her achievements outside of the country. Iceland has topped the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for the past dozen years, and not many people know that either. I thought it would be interesting to paint a portrait of what life is like for women in “the world’s best country” for women, and in doing so, hopefully inspire people to work towards further gender equality.

IWR: How did you research this topic?

ER: I chose to interview a number of “sprakkar” (Icelandic for “extraordinary women”) who could use their stories to illustrate various aspects of Icelandic society in the context of gender equality. I tried to be diverse but also tell the stories of everyday – yet outstanding – women, not just the spokesperson for a cause or the very first to achieve something. It’s not a history of the country, but more a modern portrait.

IWR: We know you are busy—running IWR & IRR, being a mom, and also you have another big “job” that you talk about in the book. When and how did you have time to write? Where did you write?

ER: I think a lot of people today know what it’s like to be juggling a lot of balls in the air. I wrote almost all of it during the most “lockdown” part of the pandemic so things were quieter with many of my other commitments. Parenting is just as demanding as ever, but we are two parents raising four children together and can share that load well. Then I had to be very organized; there was no time for procrastination! And I drink a lot of coffee.

IWR: How did IWR/IRR influence your writing or the business of your writing? Did you learn any tips/tricks/lessons that you used in working on this book?

ER: At the end of the book, I thank all the people who have attended the IWR over the years because they have inspired me. I have never written a book before and having met so many over the years who are so devoted to all sorts of writing projects has been very helpful.

As the co-founder of IWR, I have attended far fewer of the actual writing workshops than I would in other circumstances, but there are still tips and tricks that I remember from a few classes with e.g. Ruth Reich (how to write about things that are hard to describe – e.g. parsley!), Pamela Paul (writing book reviews, and therefore how to critically analyze a work of writing), Terry Fallis (organizing and structuring a book), Marcello Di Cintio (interviewing and writing profiles), that I keep in mind when writing. [poss link to those author profiles in the blog, or maybe to a year in review video?]

IWR: Do you think attending IWR/IRR will help others interested in publishing their first novel?

ER: I’m biased, but yes! Of course, we offer all sorts of practical information on writing in the workshops, and I think we all find inspiration from the question and answer panel on the last morning. But for me the most special part of the IWR is a sort of x-factor of all these people – who all love to write, no matter where they are on their writing journeys or what their ultimate goals are – coming together in a country that has a tremendous respect for the written word. It’s the chats on breaks, the shared adventures on the day tours, the moments of listening to great music in the pub night. These lasting memories help to create a community that lives long beyond the event itself and I think that is really special.

IWR: Will there be a next book?

ER: Who knows! I have really enjoyed the entire process of writing a book, so I hope another idea appears at some point!

IWR: Will you be promoting the book online or on tour? And/or if we attend IWR or IRR can we expect to hear from you in addition to having access to the other authors?

ER: Yes, there are several online events in Feb and March in US, Canada and UK and we will promote them on IWR as well or people can follow my personal social channels. As usual, I will be around a lot during the IWR / IRR in April.

Secrets of the Sprakkar is published in Canada on 1 Feb, the U.S. on 8 Feb. and the UK on 8 March.

To find out more about Eliza, see:

FB and IG: @elizajeanreid

Twitter: @elizajreid 

www.elizareid.com

New book by IWR Co-Founder Eliza Reid released on Feb 8, 2022

New book by IWR Co-Founder Eliza Reid released on Feb 8, 2022

IWR Co-Founder Eliza Reid is publishing her first book in February, 2022. Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World explores why Iceland is leading the charge for gender equality.

Secrets of the Sprakkar is a fascinating window into what a more gender-equal world could look like, and why it’s worth striving for. Iceland is doing a lot to level the playing field: paid parental leave, affordable childcare, and broad support for gender equality as a core value. Reid takes us on an exploration not only around this fascinating island, but also through the triumphs and stumbles of a country as it journeys towards gender equality.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Iceland is often cited as the best place on earth to be a woman—but why?  For the past twelve years, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report has ranked Iceland number one on its list of countries closing the gap in equality between men and women. What is it about Iceland that enables its society to make such meaningful progress in this ongoing battle, from electing the world’s first female president to passing legislation specifically designed to help even the playing field at work and at home?

The answer is found in the country’s sprakkar, an ancient Icelandic word meaning extraordinary or outstanding women. Eliza Reid interviews dozens of sprakkar to tell their inspirational stories, and expertly weaves in her own experiences as an immigrant from small-town Canada. Throughout, she examines her adopted homeland’s attitude toward women: the deep-seated cultural sense of fairness, the influence of current and historical role models, and, crucially, the areas where Iceland still has room for improvement. The result is an illuminating discussion of what it means to move through the world as a woman and how the rules of society play more of a role in who we view as equal than we may realize.

Secrets of the Sprakkar is now available for pre-order wherever you like to buy your books. It has already been published in Icelandic and is forthcoming in other languages in 2022.

Everyone who visits Iceland quickly learns that the little country contains some of the world’s most extraordinary women, their lives rooted in a social and political culture that nurtures equality between men and women without ignoring the pleasures and complexities of family life.  It’s a pleasure to see that culture marked out for us through the sometimes wry but always beautifully personal and perceptive lens of the remarkable Eliza Reid.

Adam Gopnik, author and staff writer for the New Yorker

With warmth, wit, and insight, First Lady Eliza Reid explores the reasons why Iceland is one of the best places on earth for women, as well as the challenges still ahead in achieving full gender equity. Secrets of the Sprakkar is an illuminating, inspiring, and absorbing book about how a more equitable society could elevate us all.

Cheryl Strayed, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Wild

A warm and intimate exploration of what one small country can teach the world about gender equality. Eliza Reid charts her personal journey from a Canadian farm to Iceland’s Presidential Residence and along the way proves to be the best possible guide to the historical, geographical, and cultural factors that helped women thrive and built a vibrant modern society.

Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize winning author

Charting her own love of the nation and her journey to becoming its First Lady, alongside histories of other formidable women, Eliza Reid’s Secrets of the Sprakkar sheds light on Iceland’s unique approach to gender equity—an emblematic look at what’s possible in the fight for women’s rights worldwide. A fascinating, hopeful, and inspiring read.

Esi Edugyan, two-time Giller Prize Winning author

What a world of possibilities Eliza Reid unveils in this warm and wonderful book! It made me want to pack my bags and move to Iceland.

Ruth Reichl, author of Save Me the Plums

The fact that the Icelandic language includes the word ‘sprakkar’—an ancient term that translates to mean ‘extraordinary women’––in its lexicon tells you a great deal about the country of Iceland. And in her marvelous memoir, Eliza Reid tells us a great deal more: not only about her life in Iceland, but also about gender equality in action, and the sense of purpose that all of us seek. This is a charming and necessary book.

Meg Wolitzer, New York Times bestselling author of The Female Persuasion

Four Reasons You Should Attend the Iceland Writers Retreat

Four Reasons You Should Attend the Iceland Writers Retreat

This is part one of a 4-part series by Jo McClelland Phillips, Alumni Award Recipient

Reason 1: Immersion in Writing

Have you ever gone on holiday, with no other plans but to sit on the beach, or by a fire, or in a cabin in the woods with your favourite book and just read?

Imagine that ideal holiday without interruptions. And that you’re staying with people who just want to read their book as well – and at the end of the day you all come together for beautiful meals and talk about the book you’re reading.

Now imagine that your favourite book hasn’t even been written yet. And you’re going to write it.

Immersion time for writing is powerful and productive in a way that benefits the craft and inspires writers.

Writing is a massive commitment of time and energy. The immersive retreat formula feeds the writer with the connection and support of people going through the same thing. This is what makes it different from just committing yourself to taking time alone.

During the retreat, you will have discouragement, and doubt, and fatigue, so having other writers there who can support you in your commitment is invaluable.  

As we suffer yet another lockdown here in Australia, I find my mind wondering about a future time when the borders open and I can finally get to the IWR.

Before I applied for the award for the first time in 2015, I searched Google looking for ways to get to Iceland. But that’s not why I kept applying. The more I grew as an author, and the more I researched this retreat specifically, I realised the value and the power of the complete immersion format of this retreat.

Back in 2019, I wrote as part of my application: “With the immersion format of the Iceland Writers Retreat, I can block out ‘external noise’ and commit my entire focus to writing.”

In 2021 I had the opportunity to attend the virtual retreat . I booked time off work and changed my sleep schedule – with the time difference in Australia, I needed to start at 1 am and go until 8 am.

The result was me alone in my home office in the middle of the night, working through the workshops. Then, as the sun came up, we had chat rooms where I had the opportunity to talk to other writers, like fellow Alumni Winner Michelle Walshe . She shared my views of the retreat in this unique way. And that connection kept me coming back and staying later each day.

I might not have held the commitment without knowing I would see her there, and she’d be looking for me. That accountability is something I wouldn’t have gotten by simply taking the weekend off to write.

She and I also shared our anticipation of meeting in Iceland in person. As wonderful as the virtual retreat was, I do long for the time when the retreat doesn’t pause because the screens are turned off. Also, it would be nice to be in the same time zone as everyone else.

If you haven’t signed up yet, get ready! Registration opens August 25th! And let’s all stay safe and do what we must to make sure the borders open and we can meet again in Iceland.

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! 

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

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

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