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).

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)
  • Lisa Harding (Ireland)
  • 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).

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)

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/ .

Successful campaign for Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award

Successful campaign for Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award

We did it — thanks to your support!

Thanks to the generosity of our wonderful alumni and friends of the Iceland Writers Retreat, we have once again achieved our goal and will be able to offer Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Awards for deserving writers to attend our event in 2020, at least one full and one partial award.

(Full funding covers all participation in the Iceland Writers Retreat, as detailed on our website, as well as accommodation and round-trip flights to Iceland. Partial funding covers the participant fee only, and neither accommodation nor round trip flights.)

Details for eligibility and how to apply for will be published from 1 September, with applications accepted until 31 October. It will be free to submit an application, but follow the instructions carefully, as incomplete submissions will not be considered. (We will post full details on how to apply on 1 September.)

The recipients will be chosen based primarily on two factors: a) The potential they demonstrate (or have demonstrated) as writers and b) Their 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.)

If you’re not eligible to apply for the scholarship, but wish to attend the Iceland Writers Retreat, you can register now. Anyone can register to attend, but spaces fill on a first come, first served basis.

A special thank you to our contributors:

Karen Anderson

Paulette Barnes

Georgia Berner

Carol Binkowski

Chris Blackford

Stephanie Bourbon

Patrick Connolly

Nicholas Crowley

Randver Fleckenstein

Sally Foskett

Jose R. Garcia

Erica Jacobs Green

Christine Grimando

Sue Heilbronner

Ian Gunn

Ásdís Ingolfsdóttir

Katharine Kroeber-Wiley

Kimmery Martin

Felicia L. Mason

Edna McNamara

Cindy Morris

Lisa Morriss-Andrews

Laurie Moy

Joy Nash

Margaret Nowaczyk

Elizabeth Nunberg

Ghislaine Patthey

Cathy Raphael

Eliza Reid

Lisa Shannen

Jan Stanley

Ann Thorsson

Martine van Bijlert

Janine Vici Campbell

Molly Watson

Florence Wetzel

Susie Wilde

Sara Winokur

*Names in bold denote individuals who contributed EUR 110 or more to the campaign.

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.

2019 Alumni Award Recipient Daniel Musgrave’s Experience

2019 Alumni Award Recipient Daniel Musgrave’s Experience

If I’m being totally honest, I certainly didn’t expect the most memorable experiences of my Iceland Writers Retreat to occur indoors. In my defense, the reasoning seemed obvious at the time — it’s the “I” of IWR — but I still hesitate to admit it now. I was so impressed with the sharp minds and incredible writers at IWR that I don’t want to embody the quip, so often misattributed to Twain, about what happens when fools open their mouths. And yet, here we are.

GeysirThe promise of the Icelandic landscape initially drew me in. In part, this can be attributed to the total dearth of photographs of hotel conference rooms in Iceland’s tourism adverts. Though, probably more of it has to do with the fact that I am only semi-domesticated. That I feel so much more myself with grass underfoot and foliage overhead in place of carpet and fluorescents. I’m happy to say that this part of me was not left wanting as we traveled the Golden Circle on my first day of the retreat. From Geysir to Gullfoss and Thingvellir, my eyes (and camera) feasted. And then, each clear night thereafter, I got to watch the northern lights dance until my toes threatened to secede from my feet.

How funny it was, then, for me, this semi-feral part-ape man, to arrive for my first workshop the next day and discover just how tame my writing practice had become while I wasn’t paying attention. That first session, Priya Basil led us through an exercise where we welcomed abrupt and unplanned transitions. We jumped from one topic to another, which allowed the subconscious to weave connections from seemingly disparate prompts. This twenty minutes was so productive that afterwards I declared I would pay good money for an app that replicated the exercise where she read a random word every four minutes. She was not swayed then, but the offer still stands.

Though it sounds borderline obsequious, IWR knows how to do programming. Every workshop I attended was just as good and productive as the first. Elizabeth Renzetti got us into the point of view of other characters from our own memories; Chigozie Obioma steered us through character-generated plots and the difference between tales and stories; Tessa Hadley’s love of craft was twice as infectious in person as it is on the New Yorker Fiction Podcast as we dissected a short story word for word, finding new and deeper meanings in every line; and Lina Meruane guided us through an exercise to generate a story from two random photographs put into relation. In this last session, because of the unique interaction of my two images, I may have unwittingly taken my first steps into writing… well, let’s call it Romance and hope for the best. I walked away from each workshop invigorated and with an idea of something new and unexpected to write once I returned. Each session pushed us to expand our practice and suggested new ways to unbridle our writing.

But perhaps the most meaningful moment I had (indoors of all places) was also the most personal. On that Golden Circle tour our first day, the last stop was at Gljufrasteinn, the former home of Nobel prize winning author Halldor Laxness. We were in a rush to return in time for a visit to the President’s residence (#humblebrag) and we’d just seen, in order, a geyser, the largest waterfall by volume in Iceland, and the place where the European and North American tectonic plates drift apart 1cm at a time. The house seemed like an afterthought sandwiched between the geological and political events of the day. Until, that is, I stepped inside.

Audur Jónsdóttir’s memories of her grandfather lulled me somewhat out of the present. It seemed like with each word about this great author who was, to her, just a grand-dad, she sparked a memory of my own. The eclectic decor, like the zebra print couch that ran beneath an expansive window, the smell of old books, the paintings on the wall, and the tasteful midcentury modern furniture all (perhaps counterintuitively) fit together. It matched the charming stories of this man’s daily walks up the nearest mountain.

The house and her memories reminded me of my own departed Uncle and his home. A landscape painter of some small local renown, my Uncle Tom had been one of my first intellectual idols. When he passed away, rather than flowers, paint brushes were dropped on his casket. I frequently think of his studio, with the pile of canvases and prints against one wall. And the corner next to the sliding glass door where he set up his still-life compositions. The small mounds of dried oil paints and the piney smell of the cleaner that got them off his brushes. The only furniture in the studio was a humble chair in front of the easel.

My uncle was technically color-blind. It’s part of what made his paintings unique. He would paint a landscape and throughout there would be scattered, impressionistic pops of unexpected colors. Purples amidst greens. Blues with yellows. To him, these were not flourishes. The shade fit, even if the hue— that he could not discern— did not. His paintings all contained these small surprises and were elevated by them.

In Halldor Laxness’s den, I sat listening to Audur speak with warmth and love about this famous man who was never too busy to be a good grandfather, and I felt so close to being back at my Uncle’s. It is only in hindsight that I recognize how this all too brief visit foreshadowed my week at the Iceland Writers Retreat. How it would be about the joy and power of discovering the unexpected and integrating it into our own work.

Dan is currently a member of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship. You can find him online at danmusgrave.com

2019 Alumni Award Recipient Lola Opatayo’s Experience

2019 Alumni Award Recipient Lola Opatayo’s Experience

What were you most looking forward to about the Retreat?

I wanted to meet new people and gain new insights from the sessions.

Are there any exercises or bits of wisdom you heard at the Retreat that you look forward to using in your writing going forward?

The most important thing I learnt from Louis de Bernières is to enjoy the writing process, even if that means going against the norm. I needed to hear that, because I had been having a hard time with a project, trying to follow a “due process” that was clearly ineffective and frustrating. Now I’m particular about enjoying the process, I realize that if I’m not enjoying it, my readers probably wouldn’t too.

I learnt about paying more attention to the other senses. Prior to this, I’d really only concentrated on sight, touch, and a few times, smell. Now, it’s amazing to see how much more affective my stories are, because I’m adopting a wholistic, deliberate approach to conveying the senses. Paul Yoon taught this.

Another important thing I gathered from the retreat, is really fundamental. Chigozie Obioma expounded on characterization and how it’s important to check that that foundation has been well laid. It was really the answer to a question I went to the retreat with. As a result of this, I’m rewriting a significant portion of my novel.

Were there any other highlights of your time in Iceland?

Welcome dinnerI can’t talk about Iceland Writers Retreat without talking about the food! Gosh! I loved it all. It was delicious and healthy, and we were well-fed during and in-between meals.

I also enjoyed walking around Reykjavik and observing the lifestyle of the people. I was quite impressed with the warmth of the Icelandic people.

It was also such an honour to meet Audur Jónsdóttir, granddaughter of Halldór Laxness.

And yes, I made new friends that I’m happy to keep in touch with!

Is there anything else you think would be relevant to share with our followers?

Snowy MountainsIf you can make it to Reykjavik for this retreat, please do. And go on the Literary Borgarfjörđur tour! You would be incredibly inspired by the rich, intriguing history of the Icelandic people. If you do, look out for the snowy mountains, they’re majestic.

Lola blogs creative writing news and tips at lolaopatayo.com. Her work has appeared in Obsidian and Hot Metal Bridge. She is a recipient of the Iceland Writers Alumni Award. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria where she is at work on a collection of short stories and a novel.

2019 Alumni Award Recipient Jonaki Ray’s Experience

2019 Alumni Award Recipient Jonaki Ray’s Experience

How did you find out about Iceland Writers Retreat originally?

I found out about this retreat in 2016. I was researching for an article about writing retreats around the world and found this mentioned in a list of the best writing retreats! I didn’t apply that year but decided to try my luck for the 2019 retreat.

What were you most looking forward to about the Retreat? How has writing influenced your life? What do you find to be your biggest challenge in your writing life?

I have always been a reader and looking back, it was obvious that the world of literature is where I belong, but this wasn’t something that happened until a few years ago. I studied science and it was only after I finished my Master’s in Computer Science and started working that I realized that I enjoy literature more. As a result, I started writing poetry and fiction only recently. Along the way, I have worked as a software engineer, a teacher, a journalist, and now am an editor. I don’t get much time to write, but when I do manage to write, I feel that I am celebrating the most beautiful aspect of life—the gift of creativity. Given my writing journey and the fact that I also love traveling, there were actually two things that I was most looking forward to about the Retreat: learning the craft of writing and visiting Iceland.

What was your favourite part of the Retreat? Were there any other highlights to your time in Iceland?

There are too many favourite parts and highlights: Starting from the first day when we went on the tour of the Golden Circle, standing at the fissure between the two tectonic plates, meeting the President, the workshops, listening to the stories by Icelandic writers during the walking tour…the list is endless! A completely unexpected bonus was the rapport and friendships I formed with the other participants; people who love books and writing and support each other, even now when we are back to our respective lives.

Are there any exercises or bits of wisdom you heard at the Retreat that you look forward to using in your writing going forward?

I learnt something from all the workshops. Maintaining a goal of certain words and finding the time to write every day, learning to analyze samples of writing, and realizing the atypical ways one can write are some of the points that have really impacted me. I hope to implement these in my writing going forward.

Is there anything else you think would be relevant to share with our followers?

I would like to share my appreciation of the organizers and volunteers for the excellent coordination and help they provided for each of us. At some point there was a lot of anxiety about travel and hotel arrangements, and I really appreciated how we were all kept in the loop, and everything was kept running smoothly. It was made to look easy, but it is an amazing feat given the number of events and people who participated!

Jonaki is a 2019 Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award winner. 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.

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