PUBLISHERS’ FELLOWSHIP – PROF. HELEN MITSIOS (USA)

• Tell us a little bit about your company and your work there!

I’m a poet, writer, and editor.  For many years I have been a Professor of Languages and Literature at The Touro College & University System in New York City.

Helen Mitsios portrait by Tony Winters DSC_0145 copy 2

Helen Mitsios (portrait by Tony Winters)

Who are the Icelandic authors that you publish. How were they received in your country?

In January 2015, I hosted a literary event at the Scandinavia House in Manhattan, which was part of the book launch for the poetry collection I edited: Beneath the Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary Icelandic Poetry. We had a poetry reading and panel discussion with Einar Már Guðmundsson, Didda Jónsdóttir, Gerður Kristný, Bragi Ólafsson, and Sola Bjarnadóttir O’Connell who translated most of the poems in the collection and is recipient of the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Leif and Inger Sjöberg Translation Award. Even though it was the coldest night of the year, we had a big and lively turnout. I’m grateful to all the writers who participated, and also to Megas who gave me permission to publish–for the first time ever in English–a few of his lyrical poem-songs.

• Do you have any favourite Icelandic author?

Of course there’s more than one favorite by now. I’ll just mention my first love: Steinn Steinarr’s poetry. I discovered “Time and Water,” which is still virtually unknown in the U.S., while I was studying for an MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. I thought it was one of the most beautiful poems I had ever read. And this galvanized my passion for Iceland and its literature and poetry.

Have you been to Iceland before? What do you expect from your visit this year to the Literary Festival?

I was fortunate to attend a long-ago New Year’s Eve party at the Hotel Borg where the Sugarcubes were playing. Since that time, I’ve been back often to see friends I made on my first visit.

I expect to meet new and accomplished people from international backgrounds who share an interest in Icelandic culture.

How do you see the situation of translated literature in your country? 

First, I’d like to pay tribute to Bernard Scudder’s excellent, comprehensive English translation of Icelandic poetry in Icelandic Poetry, published by Saga Forlag in 2012. The Scudder estate was generous to allow me to use some of Mr. Scudder’s poetry translations in Beneath the Ice.

Before the publication of Beneath the Ice, the last Icelandic poetry collection published in the U.S. was Brushstrokes of Blue in 1994. Currently about 3% of yearly publications in America are translations, and in terms of literary fiction and poetry the number is actually closer to a rather bleak 0.7%. So we still have some room for improvement, and we’re indeed improving one book at a time.