Clear Results of Promotional Efforts

In Iceland, we regularly read news items about the success of Icelandic authors abroad. Their books cause a stir, are adapted into television shows, movies, and video games; they take on new lives in new languages—and in new media.

12. October, 2021

Compared to a decade ago, there are now three times as many Icelandic books translated into upwards of 50 foreign languages. Good translators make all the difference in ensuring that Icelandic books reach foreign readers while still maintaining their essential artistic value.

In Iceland, we regularly read news items about the success of Icelandic authors abroad. Their books cause a stir, are adapted into television shows, movies, and video games; they take on new lives in new languages—and in new media. This Icelandic literary invasion has not escaped the attention of foreign news outlets, either. This arouses a positive interest in Icelandic authors and their work while, at the same time, increasing foreign interest in Iceland's literature, culture and creative environment. 

The Orðstír Translation Award

It goes without saying that translators play a key role in the promotion of Icelandic literature abroad. Good translators make all the difference in ensuring that Icelandic books reach foreign readers while still maintaining their essential artistic value. The Orðstír translation award recognizes the work of exceptional translators and is given biannually, in conjunction with the Reykjavík International Literary Festival. The honor is presented by the Office of the President of Iceland, Business Iceland, the Icelandic Association of Translators and Interpreters, the Reykjavík International Literary Festival, and the Icelandic Literature Center.

There are many first-rate translators who translate from Icelandic, but it's important that this body of professionals grows in accordance with the increased demand for translations of Icelandic literature into other languages. In order to meet this need, the Icelandic Literature Center regularly holds a translators' seminars here in Iceland for foreign-language translators of Icelandic literature. The next seminar is planned for this coming spring.

Clear Results of Promotional Efforts

For some time, the Icelandic Literature Center and its collaborators have made concerted efforts to promote Icelandic literature abroad and have taken many different approaches to this. Icelandic authors are sought-after guests at literary events all around the world. Participation in, and robust promotion at, foreign literary festivals, the annual publication of “Books from Iceland,” the English-language brochure on new Icelandic books, a dedicated website about Icelandic authors who have books published in translation, introductory videos, and much more have paved the way for Icelandic books and their authors. These efforts have yielded clear results. Compared to a decade ago, there are now three times as many Icelandic books translated into upwards of 50 foreign languages.

Translation Didn't Suffer During the Pandemic

We haven't seen a lull in the dissemination of Icelandic literature due to the COVID-19 pandemic—in fact, we've seen just the opposite. The Icelandic Literature Center has never before received as many applications for grants to support translations into foreign languages. Last year, this was undoubtedly thanks to the joint efforts of literary centers throughout the Nordics to put increased funding into foreign-language translation during the global pandemic. This was proven to be a strong tactical approach as literary festivals were cancelled and authors were unable to travel to events to meet their foreign readers.

Icelandic Literature Finds Eager Readers in France

To give a little insight into the inroads that Icelandic literature is making abroad, we can point to France, a nation that has eagerly embraced Icelandic literature. To wit, in recent years, the vast majority of translations of Icelandic literature have been into French—over 60 titles in just over three years—and Icelandic authors are frequent guests at literary events all around France.

At the same time, we are seeing an ever-increasing number of Icelandic books translated into English as well. This could prove to be a significant springboard for Icelandic authors, as the English language has an enormous reach. Around fifty Icelandic books have recently been, or will soon be, published in the UK and the US, including novels, poetry collections, crime novels, children's books, and nonfiction works by both established and emerging authors.

The Future Needs Diverse Voices 

The world is calling for new and diverse voices in literature and the arts—this is a moment of great opportunity. Continued state support and collaborations across the arts are foundational to the ongoing success of Icelandic literature and authors in the future. But this won't be possible without good translators, which is why we need to uplift their excellent work.

Hrefna Haraldsdóttir, Managing Director, Icelandic Literature Center. English translation: Larissa Kyzer


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