Women of Icelandic and Foreign Origin Writing Together

Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature organized a multilingual writing workshop for women that took place over a period of five months in 2015, from January to May. Women of Icelandic and foreign origin living in Iceland came together to create literary texts. The workshop is part of Iceland’s centenary acknowledgement of women receiving the right to vote in Iceland.

The workshop was designed and fasciliated by foreign-born Icelandic resident and internationally renowned author Angela Rawlings. It became a platform for women with a wide range of writing experience and twenty-three distinct languages to explore their voices in a supportive and professional environment. This accented The Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature‘s goal: to make the voices of immigrant women in Iceland heard and to ease their way into the local literary scene.

The City of Literature will continue working with the group and their creations will be part of the Reykjavík Reads Festival in the fall of 2015. As a result of the workshop, prose and poetry in multiple languages has emerged, and a number of these texts will be translated into Icelandic and performed and published in different formats in connection with the festival.

The women met at the Reykjavik City Library that thus collaborated in the project, and also worked together on-line.


Participants comprised an extraordinary variety of life experiences. The women collectively carried 23 different languages between their 13 bodies. They came by way of Poland and Italy, Breiðhólt and Hafnarfjörður, Costa Rica and Brazil, Bulgaria and Australia, Grafarvogur and Garðabær, USA and Russia, Scotland and Malta.

Angela has this to say about the workshop:

“It was quite a gorgeous challenge to facilitate a workshop for women whose writing experiences range from curious enthusiasm to creative-writing degree, and whose genre interests span memoir, short fiction, sci-fi, novel, fairy tale, lyric poetry, experimental poetry, vispo, and comics.

The workshop commenced with generating new work through an assortment of writing exercises designed to dismantle writer’s block and expose the malleability of languages. Then we spent time developing independent literary projects devised by each participant, according to her passion, interest, and available time. Much time was spent cultivating a practice for editing — both how to receive and implement, and also how to offer.

We finished off with a spirited session translating excerpts of each others’ works and then a lecture on publishing followed by a private group performance. We even worked on mic technique, navigating a finicky microphone that just didn’t want to hold its head up and whose sensitivity for plosives was apparent!

During the publishing conversation on our last day, I spoke candidly about the challenges facing foreign-born writers who live and work in Iceland. We were full of revolution by workshop’s end, with as-yet private dreams for how to make public the fantastic multilingual writing that’s blossoming in Iceland these days.”

In October 2015, Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature will focus on women’s voices for the Reykjavík Reads Festival – Lestrarhátíð í Bókmenntaborg.

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