Alexander Weinstein made a number of connections at the 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat, which would bring him back to Iceland over the next three years. He returned to teach a course on fairytales, again to teach a graduate fiction course at the University of Iceland, and finally in 2019 with his family. Read on to hear about how he fell in love with Iceland and felt as if he’d found his new literary home.
Iceland Writers Retreat (IWR): When and why did you choose to attend?
Alexander Weinstein (AW): I attended the Iceland Writers Retreat as the 2016 Writing Competition Winner.
IWR: What were the highlights of IWR for you?
AW: Among the many highlights was sitting together with writers from around the world every morning for breakfast (at one of the best buffets I’ve ever had) and talking about literature and fiction & returning after a day of classes and a night of exploring Reykjavik to find the sky transformed by the Northern Lights—all of us writers on the hills below gazing up in complete awe.
IWR: What was the most unexpected thing about it?
AW: How Iceland opened its arms to me after my visit. During my time at the retreat, I ended up making a number of connections which would bring me back to Iceland over the next 3 years. I returned in 2017 to teach a 3-week course on fairytales, in 2018 to teach a graduate fiction course at the University of Iceland, and again in 2019 with my family. I fell completely in love with the country and it was amazing to see how the country kept calling me back—it felt like I’d found a new literary home.
IWR: Did you have any good take-aways/tips/lessons you remember from IWR? Anything you use now when you write?
AW: Elina Hirvonen’s class had us walk out into nature and listen to Iceland in order to capture the most minute sounds we could find. This quality of listening—to the world, to people, to nature—has played a central role in the novel I’m presently finishing.
IWR: Had you published a book when you attended?
AW: Winning the competition and attending the conference came at a crucial moment in my life. I’d just finished my first collection Children of the New World and was editing it in preparation for publication. Though I’d been writing at that point for nearly 20 years, this was really the start of my career as an author.
IWR: What have you published since?
AW: Children of the New World was published in 2016, and went on to great success, being chosen as a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times. My second collection, Universal Love, was published in 2020. My short story, Saying Goodbye to Yang, is forthcoming as the film After Yang, which just premiered at Cannes. The adaptation is written and directed by Kogonada, and stars Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith, and will be released worldwide by A24 Studios in June 2022.
IWR: Who do you think would benefit most from the IWR?
AW: Writers seeking connections with poets and authors from around the globe & writers who would like to explore their work in one of the world’s most beautiful places (in other words, all of us!)
IWR: What do you think is most unique or special about this event?
There is an incredible openness to the conference which allows writers to take classes in whichever genres they’re most interested in—and this cross-genre approach was deeply inspiring to my own writing. When you add the setting of Iceland, which provides a magical atmosphere that surrounds every aspect of the event, it makes IWR a truly enchanting program. ***
Bio: Alexander Weinstein is the author of the short story collections, Universal Love (2020) and Children of the New World. Alexander Weinstein’s fiction and interviews have appeared in Rolling Stone, World Literature Today, Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Best American Experimental Writing. He is the Director of The Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and a Professor of Creative Writing at Siena Heights University.