An anthropology of literature and creativity in Iceland

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Charlotte Ettrup Christiansen


Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, University of Iceland


DKK 850,000




Internationalisation Fellowships


Iceland boasts one of the strongest literary cultures in the world. In an era of multi-medialization, contemporary Icelandic literature is thriving and widely translated, often with themes of nature, enchantment and the imposing Icelandic landscape. This has recently been called 'the literary miracle of Iceland'. The aim of this project is to look behind what has led to this literary miracle and ask how contemporary Icelandic writers actually produce their texts. I will particularly pay attention to how encounters with, attitudes towards and imaginaries of the natural environment influences the writing process. Investigating this, I will also aim to develop a new literary-anthropological theoretical framework to describe the creative practices of literary writers more generally.


Several disciplines have studied literary fiction, but few studies have looked at it from an ethnographic angle. In anthropology, most studies of literature have focused on how the ethnographer can be inspired by fiction writers or how they can learn about a culture through reading its literature. Instead, this project contributes to an emerging approach, where literature is studied as a field in its own right. Here, the aim is to examine how people in different contemporary socio-cultural contexts use literary texts in many different ways, to create meaning and to act upon the world. Furthermore, my project contributes to anthropological studies of the interplays between the actual worlds people live in and their interior lives and imaginations, which is also an understudied topic.


The unique methodological strength of this project is its focus on the experiences, practices and perspectives of writers, and how they relate to their texts, as opposed to investigating literary texts as isolated objects. To gain knowledge about this, I will conduct 10.5 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Iceland. This will include in-depth interviews and informal talks with writers as well as other relevant actors such as book editors, literary critics, and readers in Iceland. I will conduct participant observation in literary events, such as book talks and festivals, and workshops, such as writing experiments and field trips. After the fieldwork, the collected material will be analyzed and disseminated for 12 months.

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