There are a number of festivals in Reykjavík and they have played a vital part in the city’s cultural life for the past decades.
The festival has been held biennially since 1985. It is respected both at home and abroad and can boast a remarkable guest list, counting Kurt Vonnegut, Günter Grass, J.M. Coetzee, Paul Auster, A.S. Byatt, Isabel Allende, Haruki Murakami, Ngugi wa Thiong‘o, Seamus Heany and Taslima Nasrin, to name but a few. In addition to these fine international writers, many of Iceland’s greatest writers have taken part in the festival. All the events are free and attendance has always been high.
The International Children’s Literature Festival has been held in Reykjavík every other year since 2001, and it has attracted numerous writers and scholars from different countries. The festival is organized by the Nordic House, Reykjavík City Library, IBBY Iceland, The Writers’ Union of Iceland, SÍUNG (Association of Writers of Children’s and Young Adult Fiction) and the University of Iceland School of Education. The festival caters to children and offers all sorts of events with Icelandic and foreign authors, readings, workshops, performances and exhibitions, but also hosts an academic program on children’s literature for professionals and enthusiasts at the same time.
The Reykjavík Arts Festival, which started in 1970 and took place every other year until 2000, when it became an annual event, has always included literature in its program. One of the new additions to the festival in recent years is an event where local writers invite guests into their homes and read to them from their own works. This is reminiscent of the old Icelandic tradition of “húslestur”, or house-reading, where a member of the family would read excerpts from the available reading material to the entire household. Such intimacy with the authors has proved both popular and successful, making this a regular part of the festival. A similar program has taken place at Reykjavík Culture Night in the past and authors have also been called upon in Reykjavík City Library’s literature walks.
Other Arts and Culture Festivals
The City of Reykjavík presents a number of festivals every year, organized by the Visit Reykjavík office. The biggest ones are Reykjavík Culture Night in August and the Winter Lights Festival and Museum Night in February. Even though Reykjavík City officially hosts these festivals , they are in fact grassroots festivals in which many individuals, institutions and organizations contribute. Literature is always part of the program, with various events on offer by different parties such as the Reykjavík City Library, the Nordic House, local bookstores, publishers, writers’ associations and individual writers. Culture Night is the largest and best attended festival in the country, and in recent years it has attracted as many as 100.000 visitors to the city centre.
Reykjavík City held a Children’s Culture Festival for the first time in April 2010, and the goal is to make this a biennial event. Iceland’s official First Day of Summer is celebrated at this time and so is the Week of the Book, but both events are traditionally dedicated to children and reading. The Children’s Culture Festival focuses on all sorts of cultural activities with children and youths, and the city’s daycares and primary schools take an active part, along with cultural institutions. Among the events at the first festival was a cooperative program between the festival organizers, Reykjavík primary schools, publishers and the Reykjavík City Library, where school classes “adopted” a writer. The writers worked with the students for a few weeks and at the end a joint exhibition was put up at Reykjavík City Hall.