Millions of Readers

Article by Hrefna Haraldsdóttir, managing director of Icelandic Literature Center.

6. February, 2023


The interest and demand for Icelandic books is there, the ground is fertile. With a concerted effort and strong support, we can further expand the reach of Icelandic literature around the globe.

The presentation of the Icelandic Literary Prize at the presidential residence in Bessastaðir marks the end of the Christmas book flood in Iceland, but opportunities are sought all year round, not least abroad.

Icelandic authors and their works garner attention all around the globe, our writers are popular guests at foreign literary festivals and their works are translated into many languages. One of the functions of the Icelandic Literature Center is to promote Icelandic literature abroad by, for example, participating in book fairs. In recent years, Iceland has taken pride of place at a variety of literary events in Sweden, Poland, the Czech Republic, France, the UK and elsewhere.

At the same time, there has been significant growth in the spread of Icelandic literature. The number of translations of Icelandic books into foreign languages has almost doubled in the ten years that have passed since the Icelandic Literature Center started to operate.

Those of us who work in this field can sense the tremendous interest foreign publishers have in contemporary Icelandic literature, and how they are always on the lookout for new authors in addition to those they have already published or are familiar with.

French, English and German are the main languages into which Icelandic books are being translated. Over the past few quarters, more than a dozen titles have been translated into French, English and German, and translations into Nordic languages, Italian, Spanish, Polish and other languages are steadily being published too.

Of course, there is no simple explanation for the popularity of these books, but some of the elements which foreign publishers and readers often say characterise the style of Icelandic authors are the joy of storytelling, humour and originality.

Translation is a prerequisite for a book to travel to other countries and can prove to be a powerful springboard for an Icelandic author. Translators play a key role in this. When a book is translated, its readership expands dramatically – in an instant, millions of readers have access to books, which only people with an understanding of Icelandic had been able to read before.

The Icelandic Literature Center strives to foster and strengthen links with translators of Icelandic literature and to boost their number. To that end, the Center holds an international translators' conference every other year in Iceland, focusing on specific linguistic areas each time.

We are exceptionally lucky to have access to excellent literary translators who translate works from Icelandic into their mother tongues with dedication, insight and skill.

The interest and demand for Icelandic books is there, the ground is fertile. With a concerted effort and strong support, we can further expand the reach of Icelandic literature around the globe.

Hrefna Haraldsdóttir

Director of the Icelandic Literature Center

* Article published in Morgunblaðið on 31 January 2023

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