An International Translators´ Seminar in Reykjavik 2017

An Translators' Seminar provided a wonderful venue for translators of Icelandic literature to strengthen bonds and establish new contacts.

Valuable and interesting

The International Translators´ Seminar in Reykjavik, hosted by The Icelandic Literature Center, spanned two days, September 11th and 12th, and both the organizers and the participants agreed it was a great success. At the seminar, translators were given the opportunity to meet their colleagues from various parts of the world, as well as Icelandic authors, academics, publishers and others with a genuine interest in Icelandic literature. They could also attend lectures and talks and participate in panel discussions on literature and translations. The two day seminar proved both valuable and entertaining, providing translators of Icelandic literature with a marvelous venue for establishing contacts, making friends and reinforcing bonds.

Invaluable advocates

There is little doubt that good translators are great advocates of Icelandic literature abroad and that Iceland owes a great deal to their ambitious and generous contribution to promotion of Icelandic culture. This seminar was in part a chance to give thanks for this wonderful effort. The translators´ conference was held in Icelandic and it was impressive to note how well translators of Icelandic literature into foreign languages have mastered spoken Icelandic.

ForsetinnOpening address by the President

The opening ceremony took place in the conference hall of Veröld, Vigdís´s House and the opening address was by Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, President of Iceland. In his address, he remarked that “it is claimed that there have never been as many translators hard at work on Icelandic texts and never as many published translations of Icelandic works, as there are today. Yes, to our great fortune, there is an ever-growing interest in our literature, all over the world; there seems to be a lot of people who are eager to find out what people are writing and thinking about in this resilient and dynamic language. Translators are battering rams who prevent words from becoming prisoners behind distant borders, they set the words free and enable them to fly. Would the world be a better place if this could only be stated in one way, in one language? No way, José! Ó nei, Jóney!”

Hrefna Haraldsdóttir, Managing Director of the Icelandic Literature Center, welcomed the attending guests and gave thanks to translators for their invaluable contribution to the promotion of Icelandic literature, culture and ideas. She said that the seminar aimed to strengthen ties between active translators and demonstrate clearly who greatly their work is appreciated, as well as encouraging new and aspiring translators in their work.

IMG_0109_1505486311884Winners of Orðstír share their wisdom

The recently announced winners of Orðstír, Victoria Cribb (translating into English) and Eric Boury (translating into French) shared their ideas and thoughts on translating with the audience. Orðstír is an honorary award for translators of Icelandic literature into foreign languages and is presented biannually, in conjunction with the Reykjavik International Literary Festival (see here ).

People can lay roads, but poetry lays roads, too.

Hallgrímur Helgason, author and recipient of The Icelandic Translators' Prize for 2017, gave the audience a spirited lesson, in which he asked: “Why do we constantly have to fight this out with the government and the general public? Why do we have to justify the fact that we need a salary so that we can write? My father worked for the government his entire life, designing and building bridges over rivers and streams to make sure we could get where we needed to go, as a society. Don´t we all agree that in order to make some sense as a community, we also need poems and stories that span our days and our weeks? It´s all in a day´s work and work has to be paid for. We need people who can lay roads, but poetry lays roads, too.”

IMG_1214_2Various events, workshops, talks and discussions 

The seminar´s programme was very varied and included lectures and workshops at Veröld – Vigdís´s House. It seems eminently fitting that this Translators´ Seminar should be one of the first events to take place in this beautiful building, the headquarters of an international language center and the venue for all lecturing and research in the field of foreign languages at the University of Iceland. The programme also included a reception, a Literary Walking Tour, Meet the author-events and much more.

The seminar gathered some 31 translators from 17 linguistic locations and among them were both seasoned and experienced translators as well as new and aspiring ones. Their target languages are English, Danish, Finnish, French, Galician, Dutch, Italian, Chinese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Polish, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, Czech, Hungarian and German. Around half of those participating are residents of Iceland, with the other half travelling from other countries on order to take part.

IMG_1221_2“Meet the author” – Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and Steinunn Sigurðardóttir


Among those who attended and took part in the seminar were authors Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and Steinunn Sigurðardóttir, both of whom know and communicate actively with the translators of their works. Some of those translators attended the seminar. Actress and literary critic Maríanna Clara Lúthersdóttir gave an entertaining and informative lecture on Icelandic contemporary literature, Jón Karl Helgason, who is a professor in Icelandic as a second language, provided some great insights on learning Icelandic and translating Icelandic texts, and Halldóra Jónsdóttir and Þórdís Úlfarsdóttir, dictionary editors at The Árni Magnússon Institute, gave a presentation on useful websites on the Icelandic language and language usage and e-dictionaries, to name but a few.

Staff members of the Reykjavík City Library also invited seminar guests to a Literary Walking Tour through the old city center and there was, of course, some great dining in even better company.

The importance of events like this one is indubitable and its organizers sincerely hope that neither they nor the translators will have to wait too long for the next one.

Organizers and partners

The Icelandic Literary Center was the major organizing party for the seminar, in wonderful partnership with The Árni Magnússon Institute, The Icelandic Publishers Association, The Icelandic Association of Translators and Interpreters, The Reykjavik Literary Festival, The Icelandic Writers Association, Reykjavik Unesco City of Literature and The Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages.

The seminar also recieved financial support from The Ministry of Culture and Education, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Promote Iceland.


Thydendur-a-FiskislodForsetinn Hallgrimur_1505487081740IMG_0118