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Iceland Writers Retreat | Eliza Reid Interview

Iceland Writers Retreat (IWR), which is held in Iceland every year, is a combination of small writing workshops on the craft of writing and a series of social events and cultural tours to introduce people to Iceland’s rich literary heritage. Eliza Reid, one of the two founders, says it’s a friendly and welcoming change for anybody who is interested in the written word to come to Iceland and be inspired by its literary heritage and unique natural environment.

“In late 2012, my friend, Erica Green, had just returned from a writing conference in the United States and was full of inspiration and ideas. She said that Icelanders had a lot of writers and held such great respect for their literary tradition and mused why Icelanders had no similar writing conference to the one she had recently attended. I agreed, and suggested that we just put one together,” says Eliza Reid, originally from Canada. Green lived in Iceland for two years and Eliza has lived in the country for 13 years. “We wrote a business plan, put some goals together and did it.”

IWR has been held in Reykjavík annually since 2014. “Everybody is welcome to attend and that is something we stress a lot. The participants range from full time authors to people who just have diaries and no publishing ambitions. We compare IWR a little bit to people who might want to go to a cooking course abroad, because that could attract the gamut of experiences and abilities, with everyone still getting something from the experience. We are running a competition to win a spot at the Retreat, and offering an Alumni Award which is granted based on merit and financial need.”

“Most of the participants are from North America but we have people as far as from Australia and all around the world. It’s a very international, friendly and welcoming group. The teachers also come from various countries. In 2016, we had 10 teachers from five different countries and they each taught different workshops on topics they chose themselves.” Eliza says the topics are different each year. “But there is always a good range of fiction and non-fiction. There is also a gender balance and age variation within the authors so we try to have a good range.”

The participants also get to know Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, as well as the countryside. “Part of IWR is to introduce people to Iceland’s literary heritage. We have a pub night where we have readings by Icelandic authors and music. We have a literary walking tour in the city and there are two all day literary tours (of which participants choose one) that are led by Icelandic authors as the guides. Both include a stop at Gljúfrasteinn, which was the home of Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s Nobel Prize Winner. Then there is a Literary Golden Circle Tour where we stop at Skálholt, the ancient site of learning, and a trip called Literary Borgarfjörður, which goes around the Borgarfjörður area with stops at the home of Snorri Sturluson, who was a historian and a writer, and some museums and natural sites.”

Eliza says she is thrilled to see how IWR has continued to grow and thrive over the years and hopes it will be a part of Reykjavíks’s cultural calendar for a long time to come.

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Photography by Roman Gerasymenko

The next Iceland Writers Retreat takes place in April 2017. For more information visit www.icelandwritersretreat.com or follow them on Facebook or Instagram @icelandwriters.