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: , 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

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