Because Reykjavik is the only city in Iceland and is home to half the country’s residents, it is naturally home to the vast majority of the country’s cultural institutions and events. However, don’t be fooled by its small size: Reykjavik has a rich cultural and literary life, which led to its becoming the first non-English speaking UNESCO City of Literature in 2011. Its thriving publishing industry and centuries-old literary tradition make it truly a city of books.
An important point on the Icelandic capital’s literary life is the Museum House, which chronicles the nation’s cultural history. The Viking Maritime Museum showcases the city’s Viking history. The Harpa Concert Hall hosts many concerts at Reyjkjavik’s harbour front. Reykjavik is also home to a vibrant rock scene, and Björk, the Sugarcubes and Sigur Rós have gained international fame. The Reykjavik International Film Festival focuses on recognising young cinematic talent.
Reykjavik has a centuries-old rich literary tradition. Its origins date back to the sagas written in Old Norse in the 10th and 11th centuries. They are written in prose and document the medieval history of Scandinavia, and were an influential narrative art whose impact can still be felt today. In the 19th century, there was a revival of Icelandic literature, and the first novel was written in the language. Naturally, Reykjavik was the centre of this. In 1955, Halldór Laxness, who wrote socially and politically engaged prose set in Icelandic scenery, won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Among contemporary writers, Arnaldur Indriðason, a master of crime fiction whose works have been translated into 21 languages, was born and lives in Reykjavik. Sjon is a well-known poet, lyricist and musician. You can learn more about contemporary Icelandic literature by clicking here. According to the BBC, one in 10 Icelanders publish a book. Books are also the most popular Christmas gift in Iceland.
Each year, the Reykjavik city council gives the Reykjavik City Children’s Literature Prize. The Icelandic section of the IBBY (“International Board of Books for Young People”) also gives awards for children’s literature.
Iceland’s statistics office boasts that there are five books published per each Icelander each year. Because, as has been mentioned above, Reykjavik is the only city in Iceland, most publishing houses are located there. In fact, in recent years publishers in Reykjavik have complained that they publish too many books and do not know what to do with the surplus. Forlagið is Iceland’s biggest publisher.
The Reykjavik City Library is the biggest and most important in Iceland. It actively promotes readership and has many literary programmes. Each summer, it hosts free literary walks. The library has also hosted screenings of films about Icelandic folklore.
Reykjavik has many bókakaffi, or bookstore cafes. Eymundsson is the oldest and largest book seller in Iceland. The Laundromat Cafe is exactly what it sounds: a bookstore, cafe and Laundromat. The Icelandic capital has many used bookstores, and Bókin is among the best.
Despite its small size, Reykjavik is home to quite a few. literary festival. The most important is the Reykjavik International Literary Festival. It is one of Europe’s most prestigious. In its 30-year history, it has hosted such literary superstars as Günter Grass, Isabel Allende and Kurt Vonnegut. Other international literary festivals in the city include the International Children’s Literature Festival and the International Poetry Festival. Many Reykjavik art festivals, such as the Winter Lights Festival and the Rejkavik Arts Festival, prominently feature literature. Reykjavik also features many other literature-related events. The University of Iceland features many literary seminars, and poetry events are regularly held around the city. Each April, the city celebrates the Week of the Book.
The city features many institutions dedicated to literary education. The World Language Centre offers many programmes and other resources for language education and research. The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies preserves Icelandic manuscripts and offers training and assistance to foreign scholars. Meanwhile, the Reykjavik International Literary Festival offers a fellowship for publishers from around the world. Across Reykjavik, Sleipnir, the mythical eight-legged horse of the Norse god Odin, is used as a mascot to encourage children to read.
As mentioned above, the Reykjavik City Library promotes many readership programmes. The Vigdis Finnbogadottir Institute promotes cultural literacy both in Iceland and abroad.