Once upon a time, in the winter of 2014, there was a woman living in Reykjavík, Iceland who saw an add on Facebook about a creative writing workshop at one of the city libraries. She thought to herself “ætti ég?” And signed up. At the workshop, she met women she had never met before. The facilitator, poet and artist a rawlings, led the workshop, inviting each woman to write in (m)any language(s), within any genre, and to try out translating, editing, and working together with texts of their own creation. At first, the woman felt nervous about all the things she was invited to try and to work with all these new women. Nonetheless, she found the atmosphere empowering, challenging her to continue. As the workshop came to an end, friendships had already been made within the group, and several of them decided to continue meeting to write and work together.
A few weeks later, the woman received an email about another workshop, facilitated by a rawlings. She did not think twice about signing up. She even sent out emails to her new friends to encourage them to join her. And there they met again, at the City Library, with more new women. This workshop was five months long. The woman thought to herself “en spennandi!” Participants were given different tasks and tools to try out, and the woman soon realized that these fourteen female bodies shared experience and strength that might not have been revealed had the workshop not been for women only. Many of them also shared the joy / relief / therapeutic method of getting thoughts and feelings out on paper. Each expressed herself with words / sounds / body language, on her own terms.
At the end of the workshop, the women realized that there was a gap in the Icelandic publication industry for marginalized writers and poets, whether it be because of language, background, gender, social status, genre, or simply their last name. Nine of the women started working on a writers’ collective, and in August 2015, Ós Pressan was born. The woman thought “hvers vegna ekki við!”
Once upon a time…
Once upon a time, in summer 2016, there was a woman drinking beer with friends in Reykjavík, Iceland. They started talking art and books and the woman said that she had been studying publishing and been involved in publishing projects and working on a Master’s thesis on multilingual art. One of these friends told her about a writing collective which evolved from a writing workshop for women hosted by angela rawlings. “Klingt super spannend!” The woman did not think twice about joining the next meeting.
At the meeting, she found herself surrounded by a type of humans that was previously unknown to her: Óssers. They discussed the publication of a journal called Ós – The Journal, and the woman immediately knew that she wanted to be involved in the creation of this journal and that the ideas behind this initiative were close to her heart. When the woman left Iceland to finish her studies in Amsterdam, she kept close contact to Ós Pressan and contributed to the the journal. After her return, the connection to Ós Pressan became even stronger.
Óssers sind fantastisch! When joining Ós Pressan, the woman had expected an interesting publishing initiative and reading events. Ós Pressan and the changes in the current Icelandic linguistic landscape also inspired the PhD project that she is now working on. To her, what is most important about Ós Pressan is the aspect of community and connections. What the woman did not dare to expect was the characteristics and dynamics of Ós Pressan as a group. Óssers are radical. Radically open to all backgrounds, languages, genres, identities, sexual orientations etc. Óssers redefine Icelandic literature and who counts as an Icelandic writer. Óssers provide spaces and Óssers trust people to learn and grow. Above all, to be a part of Ós Pressan, one only has to want to be a part of Ós Pressan. That’s it. Welcome.
Now in its third year, Ós Pressan is putting its fingerprints on the sheets of Icelandic literature. Each of the board members has contributed in their own, special way. With the trust and support from other members each continues to explore her own talents and interests and discover new ones. It has been a privilege to meet writers and poets who, had it not been for this initiative, may not have had the opportunity to be noticed and welcomed into the Icelandic literary scene. Reading their submissions, discussing them within the Ós board, seeing them in print and giving the opportunity to listen to works being read by the authors, at times in an unfamiliar language, has been one of the greatest experiences.
Now, the women smile and wonder “hvað gerist næst?”, “Was geschieht als Nächstes?”
In Other Wor(l)ds – Nordic Dimensions of Multilingualism
Three years later, the two members of Ós Pressan mentioned above, are invited to Helsinki, Finland, to participate in a seminar called In Other Wor(l)ds – Nordic Dimensions of Multilingualism. On arriving to the country they immediately notice the beauty in this bilingual world they find themselves in. Fallegt! Schön! At Hanaholmen they get settled in, have an early dinner and consume the amazing nature, the ocean, the big trees, the fire outside in the lanterns and the overwhelming sky above us all. They go over their notes for tomorrow’s presentation and then turn to bed early. Tomorrow will be a busy day with a lot of new friends in the fields of multilingual literature.
After Frühstück the seminar starts with some more coffee and chats among the group of participants which, when looking through the list of participants and their organizations or fields, varies with people from libraries, universities and institutes, museums and culture centers, a researcher, a writer, publishers and a teacher. The program varies from a presentation on promoting multilingualism and language diversity in Iceland, to a presentation of a report on the Sámi literary field in the Nordic countries, to a presentation of the forthcoming report on Nordic – Kurdish literature. It is interesting to hear how people in the other Nordic countries are trying to figure out ways to promote and support the non-dominant languages in their countries through literature. They are passionate about their work because it is important for them personally to keep those languages from fading out or disappearing from their community.
The Writing Workshop
After a productive morning it’s time for their presentation on Ós Pressan and their mini writing workshop. While talking about the collective and publishing house and what changes have taken place since its founding in 2015, a slide show of photos from various events, workshops and exhibitions was screened. Then participants are invited to take part in a mini writing workshop. Sheets are spread out from the first two issues of the multilingual literary journal Ós – The Journal, which they can choose from a poem or a short story, in full length or in a form of an excerpt. Everyone present is invited to use the text as an inspiration for another text or visual, or to create and respond to the text. Most of the texts which were chosen are written in English, which was the main language of the seminar. But within the ten participants at this mini workshop are several languages: Icelandic, Spanish, Finish, Sami, Swedish, German and probably many more.
At the beginning some were hesitant about in what language they should write and asked us what to do. Since Ós is all about welcoming new voices to the platform of literature, we turned the question back to the participants, saying there was no rule. That we are open to all languages. For about 20 minutes we all sat in this creative and energetic silence working on our own creation. It could be felt on ones skin how ready everyone was to use the opportunity to process everything from this seminar and use it to create something of their own making. When the time had passed we went around in a circle and each person read aloud or talked about their new text, translation of the original text or showed the visual poem they had created. It was a wonderful experience to sit and listen to something so fresh as a recently created literature, even if it was in a language someone in the room didn’t understand at all. This mini workshop was proof of how simple it can be to facilitate a workshop where (m)any language(s) can be written or heard or spoken.
When reading through the new pieces, it is interesting to see the playfulness in many of the texts—mixing languages, focusing on the sounds and translating them to another language and following what the original text lights up in the writer. How a simple title about memories being like salt can turn into a new text about the salty water of the ocean, being on holiday and reading the book Taran. How a story about Frankenstein and breast cancer can inspire a new piece about who´s playing God in this human life and what we fear. How a page from a story can be turned into a poem. How an English translation of a political poem about Polish people can be a memory trigger to anarchy in a 7 year old mind about the monkey who ate red chillies. How an excerpt from a story can simply be turned into a visual poem. Just to give a few examples.
“Hvað gerist næst?”, “Was geschieht als Nächstes?”, “What happens next?”
Anna Valdís Kro is a kindergarten teacher from Iceland, has been writing since she was young. She writes short stories, lyrics, and poems. Anna writes for children and adults in different types of languages.
Lara Wilhelmine Hoffmann is a PhD student working in the research project “Inclusive Societies: The Integration of Immigrants in Iceland“ at the University of Akureyri in North Iceland. She is also active in the artistic and cultural field.
Ós Pressan is a non-profit initiative designed to bring out and promote new authors, to create an inclusive writing community and to challenge the reality of the publishing industry in Iceland.