Svetlana Alexievitch, a journalist and writer from Belarus, was born in 1948. She has written for newspapers and magazines, but is best-known for her novels, which have earned her acclaim and several awards. The books mainly discuss the lives of ordinary people and their experience of historical events such as WWII, the fall of the Soviet Union, the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Through her choice of subjects, Alexievitch manages to give different parts of society a voice, allowing the reader to discover these historical events from a previously unknown angle. She collects her material by talking and listening to people, allowing their voices to be heard, letting them express their opinions, feelings and vision of events. She has spoken to thousands of people and recorded the history of an entire people during the 20th century.
Alexievitch herself admits struggling to define her writings and put a label on them, as in fact her books are based on eyewitness accounts. She writes what she sees and hears, accounts are brought together to become polyphonic texts telling powerful stories that must not be forgotten. Among Alexievitch’s best-known works is her first book The War’s Unwomanly Face (1985), which tells of women soldiers’ experience in war time, during WWI, and portrays a vision of war that has never been shown before.
For her book Voices from Chernobyl which came out in 2005, Alexievich won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The material for it was collected over a 10-year period and Alexievitch talked to more than 500 people connected in some way or another with the Chernobyl disaster. It resulted in a polyphonic account of a horrendous accident that had worldwide consequences. Alexievich was named the recipient of the 2013 Peace Prize by the German book trade association. Her latest book, Time Second Hand (2013), will be published in several countries in the fall and has already been published in Swedish by Ersatz.
Douglas Coupland is a Canadian writer and artist, born in 1961. He is the author of Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, which put him on the map as a novel writer. The book not only met with an enthusiastic reception, but also contributed to the popularization of the term “Generation X”. The expression refers to the generation that reached adulthood during the late 1980s, and the book portrays these young adults and their lifestyles. Generation X had a tremendous impact on this part of the population.
Coupland has published thirteen novels, a collection of short stories, non-fiction books, as well as a number of screenplays for films and television. He addresses a wide range of subjects: postmodernism, networking, sexuality and pop culture. A new novel, Worst. Person. Ever., will be published this October and this July a collection of essays on arts and culture, Shopping in Jail, is coming out.
Kiran Desai was born in India in 1971 and lives in the United States of America. Her first book Hullaballoo in the Guava Orchard was published in 1998 and received a warm welcome. Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard is about a boy who runs away from adult responsibility to live in a tree where he becomes unexpectedly famous as a hermit.
Desai’s most famous work is the novel The Inheritance of Loss, published in 2006 and acclaimed by both critics and readers. In The Inheritance of Loss, Desai recreated busy, intersecting tales of immigrants meeting for the first time in the basement kitchens of New York, contrasting their stories with the landscapes left behind. The Inheritance of Loss won the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was translated into over forty languages.
In 2008, the Gates Foundation project invited Desai to report on a community of sex workers in the coastal state of Andhra Pradesh. Her account, “Night Claims the Godavari,” was included in AIDS Sutra: Untold Stories from India. In 2009, she was presented with the Columbia University Medal for Excellence. This year she is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and the Berlin Prize from The American Academy of Berlin. Desai’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Guardian, Gourmet Magazine, Best American Travel Writing, and The New York Times.
Jenny Erpenbeck is a German writer, born in East Germany in 1967. She comes from a family of writers and academics, and her parents and grandparents all had something to do with writing. According to Erpenbeck, her grandmother was writing constantly, and she appears in one of Erpenbeck’s books as a woman who travels around with a typewriter.
Erpenbeck is particularly known for her fiction, but she has also written plays and short stories. She writes novellas, short novels, and her first, Geschichte vom alten Kind (Story of the Old Child) was published in 1999. The book immediately attracted much attention for the beauty of its language and the powerful style, and is considered amongst the best of the author’s early works.
Her first two books are allegories, which whilst telling the story of young girls, portray a nation with a dark history. In her third book, Heimsuchung (Visitation), the main character is a house, and the reader discovers the inhabitants and the history of the house through different periods of German history. The book received excellent reviews and Erpenbeck has established herself as an outstanding author, both in Germany and internationally.
She has received several literary awards, German and international, for her writings, and her works have been translated into several languages including English, Danish and Swedish, so Icelandic readers should be able to access her work easily.
Kjell Espmark, the Swedish poet and writer, was born in 1930. He is a member of the Swedish Academy and as such, is a juror for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is also professor emeritus of literary history at Stockholm University.
Initially influenced by the works of T.S. Eliot, he published his first poetry book at age 26. Now Espmark has published over 40 works: poetry and scholarly books, novels and a collection of short stories which appeared in 2006 when he was 76 years old.
Espmark’s works has been translated into some 20 languages. His latest books in English are Lend Me Your Voice (Vintergata) and Outside the Calendar,Selected Poems, translated by Robin Fulton Macpherson (Marick Press, Grosse Point, Michigan 2011 and 2012). His series of novels The Age of Oblivion, now under publication in China, has been a great success.
He has received numerous awards for his poetry books, including the Tomas Tranströmer Prize in 2010 and the International Premio Capri in 2012. Espmark is considered a remarkable writer and his books have received excellent reviews from both readers and critics.
Nuka K. Godtfredsen is an author, illustrator and artist born in Greenland in 1970 and started experimenting with oil paints at a very early age.
Godtfredsen is best known for his Andala stories, which were published weekly by the Greenland newspaper Sermitisiaq over a period of four years, and enjoyed great popularity
The graphic novels Oqaluttuaqs or Narratives tell the history of Greenland and how people have survived in the arctic over the last 4500 years. These stories were published in collaboration with the National Museum of Denmark and form part of the exhibition in the museum’s Greenland section. A great deal of research was done to ensure the accuracy of the archaeological facts. The first story is about the original settlement of Greenland and the second recounts the arrival of the Inuit and their encounter with the Norsemen around 1100.
The first two books in the series were published in three languages: Greenlandic, Danish and English, and enjoyed great popularity. The third volume in the series will tell the story of the encounter between the Inuit People and Dutch and English whalers. The fourth work travels back in time to the year 900.
The exhibition Qanga – Drawing the past will be opened at the Nordic House in connection with Nuka Godtfredsen’s presence at Reykjavik International Literary Festival. The exhibition presents a selection of images from the graphic novel series Oqaluttuaq (stories about Greenland) and also includes music created especially by Kristian B. Harting and Lill R. Bjørst. Nuka Godtfredsen has been nominated for the Swedish Alma-Award in 2013.
Georgi Gospodinov is a Bulgarian poet, writer and playwright born in 1968. He is considered Bulgaria’s most important contemporary author and is also the most translated Bulgarian author after 1989. Gospodinov’s first published work, Lapidarium (1992), was a poetry book, which won the Best First Book award of the year. Three other poetry books followed and his poetry was translated and published in many international anthologies.
His first novel, Estestven roman (Natural Novel, Dalkey Archive 2005), is his most famous work. It was translated into 22 languages and was printed 8 times in his country. The main theme is the narrator’s failing marriage. Yet the story is manifold and covers a remarkable range of subjects including Bible of the flies, history of toilets, a novel made only of beginnings, a novel of verbs, etc. Natural Novel was widely reviewed, for example by New Yorker, Guardian, Times. FAZ qualified it as a “small and elegant masterpiece.” Neue Zürcher Zeitung called Gospodinov a “humourist of desperation”
He has written prize-winning plays and screenplays, and published a collection of short stories. He has also edited the book I Have Lived Socialism, accounts of people about their daily life and experiences during the days of Communism in Eastern Europe.
His new novel, Physics of Sorrow (2012), won the Best Bulgarian Novel of the year award.
Rachel Joyce is a British playwright who has contributed more than 20 radio plays for the BBC and received many awards for her work. She has also written plays and series for television, but always had the ambition to write a novel. In 2012 her dream came true with the publication The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry. The book instantly made the author a star. In touching terms, it tells the story of Harold Fry, who goes out one morning to post a letter to a dying friend, but his short walk around the corner turns into a cross-country odyssey. Encounters on his way prompt thoughts about his own life and give him an opportunity to reconsider. The novel has enjoyed huge popularity among readers and critics.
The book was longlisted for the Man-Booker Prize in 2012 and the same year, Rachel Joyce received the “New Writer of the Year” prize from the National Book Awards.
Herman Koch, a Dutch writer, born in 1953, has attracted much attention in recent years with his incisive, razor-sharp style. Koch’s works describe the interaction between people in today’s society and dissect various social issues. He has written both short stories and novels and his work has aroused a great deal of interest.
His book The Dinner was nominated Book of the Year in Holland in 2009. It was published in more than 20 languages, including Icelandic in 2010 where it attracted well-deserved attention. Koch’s book Summerhouse with Swimming Pool came out in Holland in 2011 and was selected for literary awards. It was translated into Icelandic in 2012 hailed as a success. Icelandic critics described Koch as a writer who reveals the mores and moral shortcomings of Western societies and said that his book shakes the readers with his uncompromising descriptions of human behaviour.
Kim Leine is a Danish writer, born in 1961. After his studies he worked as a nurse in Greenland for fifteen years. His first book Kalak appeared in 2007. The book is based essentially on his own life, memories and experience of Greenland. The main character and the writer bear the same name and the story is about Kim, born to a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway. At 17, he moves to Denmark to live with his father, an ex-Church member banned from the community, who sexually abuses him. He subsequently moves to Greenland. The substance of the story is harsh, its background a portrait of Greenland in the nineties, and it recounts Kim’s difficulties in adapting to life there.
In his two following books, Leine’s choice of subjects is strongly connected to the story of his own family and life. The distinction between author and character is hard to define and remains so until the fourth book, which breaks new ground.
Profeterne i Evighedsfjorden was published to a great critical acclaim. The book won the Danish Booksellers’ Award and was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize. It is a historical novel telling of the Norwegian Morten Falck who travelled alone to Greenland in the eighteenth century as a preacher, his struggles, triumphs and defeats, and his relations with the Greenlanders.
Ewa Lipska is one of the most important Polish poets, born in Cracow in 1945. Her poems have appeared in many languages, including Icelandic, and a new Icelandic translation of Lipska’s poems is expected in the fall. Lipska has received numerous prizes for her works.
She published her first book of poetry at the age of 22, and the date of her birth and first published poems place her among the Polish New Wave. Yet she does not feel herself to be a part of any generation or group and has systematically been demonstrating her artistic individuality for years.
Mazen Maarouf is a Palestinian poet, writer and journalist, born in Beirut in Lebanon, in 1978. Mazen Maarouf has a degree in chemistry, and used to work as a journalist. His first poetry book came out in 2000, followed by another four years later. The third poetry book, Angel on Clothesline, appeared in 2012 and will be available before long in translation (several languages including French). A selection of poems will also soon be published in a bilingual edition: Icelandic and Arabic. Maarouf’s previous poetry has been translated into several languages and published in several poetry magazines. He has himself translated several literary works into Arabic, amongst which Skugga-Baldur by Sjón. Today, Maarouf is working on a novel inspired by events in Syria.
Maarouf is currently living in Reykjavik at the invitation of the City of Reykjavik. As a part of the ICORN City of Refuge programme, Reykjavik has pledged to offer persecuted writers a safe place to stay and work without fear. Maarouf enjoys life in Reykjavik but his stay comes to an end in the autumn.
Alain Mabanckou is a French writer born in Congo in 1966. He is considered one of the most interesting writers in the French language today and is one of the biggest names among francophone African authors. He especially addresses the question of French people of African or Caribbean origin, living in France, and is not uncontroversial. Alain Mabanckou is a professor of French literature at UCLA. He has published 10 novels, poetry books and essays. His work has been translated into several languages, including English and Swedish, and has earned him several prizes and wide recognition.
The novel African Psycho, le Serpent à Plumes (2003) tells of a fictional African serial-killer and is an obvious reference to American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis. However, Mabanckou says the comparison goes no further, since the whole setting of the story as well as all of the book’s material has its roots in Africa. Another well-known work of Mabanckou’s is the novel Verre Cassé (2005). The book is a humorous account of the life of a retired Congolese teacher. The story was set up on stage several times and received warm praise.
Alain Mabanckou is a member of the judging panel for Pen International New Voices Award, annual award given for the first time at the PEN International Congress in Reykjavik 2013.
Madeline Miller was born in the United States of America in 1978. She studied classics, and teaches Greek and Latin. Her first and only novel is the best-seller The Song of Achilles, published in 2011, for which she was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction the following year. The Orange award (known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction since 2012) is a British literary prize awarded annually to a female author, and Miller was the fourth author to receive this prestigious prize for her first novel.
The Song of Achilles is based on Homer’s Iliad and tells the story of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, two heroes who fought on the Greek side in the Trojan War. The story of their love is a famous one, dating back to Plato, and is therefore legendary worldwide.
In the Iliad, Achilles laments Patroclus’ death as one would weep for the death of a lover. Miller was intrigued by the story and found herself compelled to find out more, discover who Patroclus really was and arouse the interest of today’s readers towards the Iliad and other classical texts.
Steve Sem-Sandberg is a Swedish writer, critic and translator, born in 1958. He is considered one of the most interesting writers to have emerged in Scandinavia in the past few decades. His books Theres, Allt förgängligt är bara en bild and Ravensbrück together form a loosely linked trilogy about three women, who each in her own way left their mark on the 20th century. They were widely acclaimed by critics.
His most recent novel, The Emperor of Lies is a striking account of life in the Jewish Ghetto of Lodz, Poland, during WWII. The main character, Chaim Rumkowski, was an unsuccessful and shady businessman who became “King” of the ghetto. The book was awarded Augustpriset in Sweden in 2009 and nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2010.
Sem-Sandberg was invited to the Reykjavik International Literary Festival in 2011, but was unfortunately unable to be present. We are therefore very pleased to renew the invitation, and look forward to welcoming this remarkable author to our country.
Antonio Skármeta is a Chilean writer born in 1940. After Pinochet’s coup in 1973 he went into exile, first moving to Argentina and then to West Germany where he lived and worked until 1989. He returned to his homeland once Pinochet was no longer in power. From 2000 to 2003, Skármeta was the Chilean Ambassador to Germany.
In 1985, Skármeta wrote his book Ardiente paciencia (Burning Patience) based on the eponymous film he released in 1983. This work was later the inspiration for the award-winning film The Postman (Il Postino) in 1994. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards. The story tells of a young man who aspires to something more in life than to become a fisherman like his father. He is offered a job as a postman in a village where the only person who receives letters is the poet Pablo Neruda. The story then goes on to describe their developing friendship and the postman’s destiny.
The film No, which is based on a play by Skármeta was Chile’s entry to the Academy Awards in 2012. The film tells of events which took place in Chile in 1988 when Pinochet, increasingly unpopular, calls for a referendum on his presidency. An influential advertising campaign was launched where people were urged to vote “no”. Against all odds the campaign was so effective that “no” came out as a majority, and with that Pinochet had to leave office. The film received excellent reviews and stars several famous actors, with Gabriel Garcia Bernal in the leading role.
Skármeta’s books have been translated to over thirty languages and Ardiente Paciencia will be published in Icelandic in time for the festival. Among the several international prizes Skármeta has received are: the Prix Médicis Ètranger in France for the novel La nôce du poete (The Poet’s Wedding) , the Ennio Flaiano Prize in Italy as well as the Goethe Medal in Germany.
Can Xue is a Chinese writer, literary critic and tailor born in 1953 in Hunan, China. Her youth was marked by great hardship and political persecution and her parents, who were academics, were accused of undermining communism. Her family was sent to work camps, but Can Xue was spared because of her poor health. It transpires in her memoirs that her family was often half-starving in those days, and that life was extremely hard. Can Xue did not receive regular education as a young girl, but she spent most of her youth immersed in novels and dedicated every spare moment to reading.
Can Xue has written three novels, 50 novellas and around 120 short stories as well as articles on literature. Her very personal style and unconventional way of telling stories attracted attention in the early nineties. Several of her collections of short stories were translated into English, most recently Vertical Motion (Open Letter Press, 2011). Can Xue’s name has been mention several times in connection to the Nobel Prize for literature. She started writing in 1983 and published her first short stories in 1985. Her articles on literature discuss, among others, Kafka, Borges and Dante.