Interview With Erica Green and Eliza Reid, Co Founders, Iceland Writers Retreat & Iceland Readers Retreat

Credit for Photos: Roman Gerasymenko

What inspired you to start the Iceland Writers Retreat and Iceland Readers Retreat? 

It was a dark, wintery night in Reykjavik when we first conceived of the idea for this event and a group of friends started talking about what it could be. Erica had just returned from a writer’s conference in the US and Eliza asked her why on earth she had to travel so far away to do that. After all, Iceland was the first non-native English speaking UNESCO City of Literature. It’s said that one in ten people in Iceland publishes something in their lifetime. Iceland has a rich literary heritage, and it is half-way between Europe and North America—so easily accessed! If any city should host a writing or reading conference, we figured it should be Reykjavik! So, while our initial intent on that dark night was to offer a way for individuals to become better wordsmiths, to develop their craft, and appreciate the written word, ultimately, we’ve found it is a way to bring people who love writing and reading together to create community. 

What happens during these two retreats?

At the Iceland Writers Retreat (IWR), participants gather for small group workshops on the craft of writing, led by esteemed faculty. Workshops cover fiction and nonfiction topics, such as “The Challenge of Plot” or “Writing Memoir.” In 2022, our faculty will include: Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, Gretchen Rubin, Will Ferguson, Heather Harpham, Elnathan John, David Chariandy, Dan Kois, Kristín Helga Gunnarsdóttir, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, and Patrick Gale.

Running concurrently is the Iceland Readers Retreat (IRR), led by New Yorker Staff writer Adam Gopnik. Here, avid readers will gather to listen to small group lectures and talks by renown authors while learning about the rich literary heritage of this Nordic, book-loving nation.

Both IWR and IRR are held in Iceland, where between intimate discussions and workshops you can walk the charming streets of Reykjavik, breathe the crisp sea air, and learn about the rich literary culture of Iceland. As part of the retreat, we’ll take you on bespoke literary-themed tours of the countryside, led by Icelandic writers and with special extra talks by local authors, and offer tours of museums and other cultural sites. 

What can spouses and partners do if they are a guest of a retreat attendee but choose not participate in the retreat?

The Iceland Readers Retreat (IRR) began as a way to further engage IWR partners. While one partner is in a writing workshop, for example, the other can listen to book talks. But, if your partner is less interested in IRR, they can still attend with you. Our partner program includes the welcome dinner where each of the faculty reads from their work. Partners can attend all the afternoon and evening events, as well, like our literary walking tour of Reykjavik, receptions, or the pub night with live music by local musicians. And, most importantly, your partner can accompany you on the all-day tour to the gorgeous sites outside the city center, which includes glimpses of magnificent waterfalls or breathtaking views of volcanos, glaciers, wild horses, and the sea.

Are there any special stories that you can share about a person that was impacted by your retreats?

Each year we have a handful of attendees sign up because they are commemorating something, perhaps recovery from an illness, a milestone birthday, or other new chapters in their lives. One thing we love is to follow a writer who attends IWR before their first book has been published and then watch as their career soars, like it did for Mara Rutherford and Megan Ross.

We encourage our participants to stay in touch with each other. Many have formed their own writing or reading groups in their own communities. We are also very proud of sending numerous participants on full scholarships that have been funded and selected by our past participants.

How do you want people to remember their experience at Iceland Writers Retreat and Iceland Readers Retreat?   

At the end of each event, we hand out feedback forms. We are lucky to have received some incredible comments. Here are some from the last two events that fill us with so much joy. In fact, we’ve taped up the praise in our offices to keep us motivated.

“The faculty is the best and the atmosphere is warm and non-judgmental. IWR is the best organized and most inspiring conference of any I have ever attended.”

“When it was over I … felt I’d learned a year’s worth of writing lessons and ideas.”

“Thanks for a real burst of inspiration and growth during what's been an incredibly tough time. Just what I needed!”

“This was a marvelous experience. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.”

“The Green & Reid combo is magical...and together you mix up an enchanting environment of imagination and practical applications in an atmosphere of 'safe fun!”

Now as we close, please share favorite book and how you apply it to your life?

Erica: It’s so hard to choose just one book. As a teenager, one of the first novels I utterly fell in love with was Poisonwood Bible and that’s what prompted us to ask Barbara Kingsolver to attend our event. In fact, each year we talk about our favorite books from the year prior and then extend invites to those authors. So, I suppose you could look at our list of faculty to see which writers we adore.

Eliza: The first book I remember re-reading, and then re-reading again and again, is Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (I’m a crime fiction fan). But I really can’t put my finger on one particular book, though I (almost) always read at least one book by all our visiting faculty and enjoy the great diversity of stories they tell, both in fiction and non-fiction.

Thank you for this meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success. 

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