For centuries Iceland was one of Europe's poorest countries. Its people lived a harsh and isolated life on their chilly island, especially in the later middle ages and early modern times. Urban development was all but non-existent, and cultural life was limited – with the notable exception of literature. Iceland experienced a golden age of writing in the 13th and 14th centuries, when the renowned Icelandic sagas were written, and ever since that time literature has been closely identified with the self-image of the Icelandic nation.
Icelandic literature was unique in Europe in terms of linguistic continuity: the Icelandic language underwent little change over the centuries, which means that even today Icelanders can read their medieval literature with ease.
In the 19th and 20th centuries Icelandic literature flourished once more. When Halldór Laxness was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955, the Swedish academy praised his “colourful fiction writing which has revived the great Icelandic narrative tradition.”
Icelandic literature will be in the limelight at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011.
This website will provide information on Icelandic literature, old and new. We will tell you about writers and their books, translations, translators and translation grants; and the youngest generation of writers will have the opportunity to present themselves.
For further information on contemporary Icelandic writers, novelists, poets, children's writers and playwrights, go to the Reykjavík City Library's literature website www.literature.is. It is in database form, enabling searches for information on individual authors and their works. The information provided is extensive, including essays by literary scholars about the writers, personal articles written by the authors for the website, biographical information, bibliographies and samples of their writings. The website is in Icelandic and English.
The Writer's Union of Iceland
The Writers' Union of Iceland was founded in 1974. For many years previously, two societies of authors had been in operation, the first association of Icelandic writers having been established in 1928 as a division within the Federation of Icelandic Artists.
The Writers' Union of Iceland is a trade union for writers, with membership open to Icelandic authors and foreign writers who are resident in Iceland. The aim of the Union is to protect the interests and rights of its members and to protect the freedom and respect of literature. The Union's board draws up contracts with publishers, theatres, mass media, organizations and other parties that publish or make use of its members' works. The Writers' Union of Iceland is a member of the Federation of Icelandic Artists, The Nordic Council of Writers and Translators, and the European Writers' Council.
Although the Icelandic community is a small one, around 70 writers are able to make a living from writing. Here, proper remuneration for artists is crucial, together with income through libraries, photocopying in schools and publication of material in textbooks.
The Union is located in Gunnarshús, the former home of author Gunnar Gunnarsson. The house comprises offices and reception rooms as well as an apartment for the use of our foreign colleagues. The apartment is much sought after and is in demand throughout the year. During the winter there is intense activity in Gunnarshús: Union meetings, readings, presentations and receptions. Emphasis is placed on giving all visitors a friendly reception.
In order to become a member of the Writers' Union of Iceland certain criteria have to be met, and a formal application for membership must be made. At present the Writers' Union has 391 members, of which ⅔ are men and ⅓ women.
See the Union's website: www.rsi.is