On Generous Listeners and Bookshelf-Shaped Buildings

On Generous Listeners and Bookshelf-Shaped Buildings

Our social media and marketing intern reflects on the 2018 Iceland Writers Retreat 

It’s hard to sum up the week I spent in Reykjavik without being reduced to speaking in clichés, but I will do my best to forge ahead. I may even accidentally slip in the term “life changing” a time or seven. But really, when thinking of the Retreat, the word I keep revisiting is generosity. I feel as though I learned something from every single person I met during the Retreat, and I feel very thankful that they were all willing to share their knowledge, stories, and support.

Volunteers at the start of the Retreat

© Roman Gerasymenko

I walked into my first workshop feeling like an imposter. I was there because I was an intern and, in my day job, an editor. I had not considered myself a writer in many years, since completing my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing. Imposter syndrome is not something unique or special, especially for young women, and certainly not for writers. What did feel unique and special was how quickly those around me worked to help banish those feelings of inadequacy.

From the faculty, staff, volunteers, and participants, I learned about the generosity of being a listener. One of the most important traits a writer can have is to be an active listener. To be someone who listens and engages with a conversation or story, rather than simply waiting for their next turn to speak. You never know when a story will find you, such as with Hallgrimur Helgason’s inspiration for Woman at 1,000 Degrees. As I sat in my workshops I was inspired by not only the high-calibre of talent of those who read their work, but also by the level of engagement I noticed from those who listened. The positivity, and warmth, and genuine emotional response from the audience was apparent in every workshop I attended, and in every conversation I had outside of the classroom as well.

seljavallalaug

Seljavallalaug, South Iceland

As I’ve travelled around Iceland since the Retreat finished, it is easy to see how this landscape could inspire legions of writers, artists, singers, and other creative types. But even further, in speaking with Icelandic people, it’s easy to understand a culture that celebrates stories and storytellers on a grand scale. Today I visited Hali to see an exhibition about Þórbergur Þórðarson, an Icelandic writer. I’ve been to many beautiful bookstores in my life, but never a museum, hotel, and restaurant shaped like a bookcase. The care and detail put into this exhibition was as awe-inspiring as many of the waterfalls I saw on my trip south. But how could I expect any less when I’ve had animated conversations about literature with almost every person I have met here, from farmers to flight engineers.

Hali

Hali Country Hotel

There is something very special about Iceland, and something very special about Iceland Writers Retreat. I have always loved the energy present at literary events. There is this kind of indefinable sense of potential. I’ve never felt that more than during my week in Reykjavik.

 Jessica Key was the IWR’s Social Media and Marketing Intern for the 2018 Retreat, and will be returning in 2019.

 

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