Despite its remote location and small population, Iceland has an extremely vibrant contemporary poetry scene.
Through conversation and performance, editor Helen Mitsios and translator Sola Bjarnadóttir-O’Connell will introduce four of the country’s most celebrated contemporary writers: poets Einar Már Guðmundsson, Didda Jónsdóttir, Gerður Kristný, and Bragi Ólafsson.
Sola Bjarnadóttir-O’Connell & Didda Jónsdóttir
Sola Bjarnadóttir-O’Connell is a translator and the recipient of The American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Leif and Inger Sjöberg Translation Award (2013) for her translation of selected poems by Icelandic poet Gyrðir Elíasson. A native Icelander who has lived in New York for the past 30 years, Bjarnadóttir-O’Connell is pursuing a lifelong interest in bringing Icelandic poetry and literature to an English speaking audience. She is the translator of the forthcoming collection of contemporary Icelandic poetry Beneath the Ice: Contemporary Icelandic Poetry (Talisman House, Publishers, 2014).
Didda Jónsdóttir (b. 1964, Selfoss) published her first book, the poetry collection A Gathering of Sins and Loose Screws/Lastafans og lausar skrúfur, in 1995 (Forlagið). She has since published two novels – Erta (Forlagið, 1997) and The Gold in the Head/Gullið í höfðinu (Forlagið, 1999). Jónsdóttir also starred in Stormy Weather by French/Icelandic director Sólveig Anspach, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003, and received the Icelandic Edda Film Award for Best Actress for her role in the film. Jónsdóttir worked with Anspach again, starring in the director’s 2008 film Back Soon/Skrapp út, which screened at Scandinavia House in 2009.
Helen Mitsios & Gerður Kristný
Helen Mitsios is the editor of the forthcoming book Beneath the Ice: Contemporary Icelandic Poetry (Talisman House, Publishers, 2014). She is the editor of Digital Geishas and Talking Frogs: The Best 21st Century Short Stories from Japan (Cheng & Tsui, 2011) and New Japanese Voices: The Best Contemporary Fiction from Japan (Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2003), which was listed as a New York Times Book Review Summer Reading Selection and New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Mitsios has contributed to publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Washington Post’s Book World.
Gerður Kristný (b. 1970, Reykjavík) has published poetry, short stories, novels, and books for children. She graduated with a degree in French and Comparative Literature from the University of Iceland in 1992. After a course in Media Studies at the University of Iceland from 1992-93, she trained at Denmark’s Radio TV. Kristný was editor of the magazine Mannlif from 1998-2004 and now is a full-time writer.
Among her numerous awards are the Children’s Choice Book Prize in 2003 for her book Smart Marta/Marta Smarta (Mál og menning, 2002), the Halldór Laxness Literary Award in 2004 for her novel A Boat With a Sail and All/Bátur með segil og allt (Mál og menning, 2004), and the West-Nordic Children’s Literature Prize in 2010 for the novel The Garden/Garðurinn (Mál og menning, 2008). Kristný’s collection of poetry A Weak Spot/Höggstaður (Mál og menning, 2007) was nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize in 2007; she later won the prize in 2010 for her book of poetry Blood-Hoof/Blóðhófnir (Mál og menning, 2010), which is based on the myth about Freyr and the poet’s namesake Gerður Gymisdóttir from the Eddic poem Skírnimál.
Bragi Ólafsson & Einar Már Guðmundsson
Bragi Ólafsson (b. 1962, Reykjavík) has published six books of poetry, six novels, three collections of short stories, and a number of plays for the stage and radio. He worked as a musician, internationally, for six years, but has worked as a fulltime writer since 2001 and is considered one of the most prominent novelists and poets in Iceland.
Ólafsson’s poetry and plays have been translated into various languages, and two of his novels, The Pets/Gaeludyrin (2008) and The Ambassador/Sendiherrann (2010) are available in English (both published by Open Letter Press), German, and Danish. The Pets has also been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic. His plays, for the National Theatre and Reykjavík City Theatre, have enjoyed great popularity, as well as controversy. Four of his novels have been nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize, two of them received the Booksellers Prize, and one them, Party Games/Samkvaemisleikir (Bjartur, 2004), won the DV Cultural Prize. His novel The Ambassador was shortlisted for the Nordic Literature Prize. One of his plays, The Chickens/Hænuungarnir (2010), was nominated for the Nordic Drama Prize. Among Ólafsson’s translations are works by Harold Pinter, Paul Auster, and Max Jacob
Ólafsson’s latest poetry collection was published in 2012 and he is currently working on a novel and a short story collection to be published in 2015.
Einar Már Guðmundsson (b. 1954, Reykjavík) is an award winning and widely translated Icelandic author of novels, short stories, and poetry. He received his B.A. in Comparative Literature and History from the University of Iceland in 1979, after which he moved to Copenhagen for graduate work in Comparative Literature at the University of Copenhagen. A leading voice of neorealism, his poetic diction is a bold attempt to make slang and foreign loan words legal tender in poetry, and to draw images from everyday life.
Guðmundsson’s first collection of poetry Is Anyone Here Wearing the Korona Line?/Er nokkur í kórónfötum hér inni? was published in 1980 (Gallerí Suðurgata 7). In 1985 he received first prize in a literary competition held by Almenna Bókafélagið, Book Publishers and Book Club, for the novel The Knights of the Spiral Staircase/Riddarar hringstigans (Almenna bókafélagið, 1982). The highly acclaimed novel Angels of the Universe/Englar alheimsins (Mare’s Nest, 1995) received the Nordic Council’s Literary Prize in 1995. Director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s film based on the book premiered in Reykjavík in 2000. In 2012 Guðmundsson was awarded the Swedish Academy Nordic Prize