An Interview with Ós Pressan

Ós Pressan collective members: a rawlings, Randy Stebbins, Anna Valdís Kro, Beatriz Portugal, Ewa Marcinek, Virginia Gillard and Elena Ilkova

Clarise Foster: Starting a publishing venture in Canada these days is a pretty ambitious venture — but it seems that the publishing industry for books in Iceland is quite robust, so I am wondering at what point during the workshop did the discussion of writing turn to one of publishing and how did that discussion turn into plans to create your own publishing house?

Ós Pressan: You’ve caught us at a great moment, when we’re on a writing retreat together. So we’ve sat down to answer this collectively.

“þetta reddast.”

“It’ll work out.”

The difficulties of publishing in Iceland as marginalized people were discussed candidly at the end of the workshop. [a rawlings] talked about the market in Iceland being very restricted and not super open to writers writing in other languages. What [a rawlings] discussed resonated well with the realities of the members in the room, who had had similar experiences in other non-literary capacities. Virginia, for example, had years of experience working in theatre but voiced similar frustrations in terms of inclusion and placement within the larger circulation and acknowledgement of work in Icelandic society.

Also during the last workshop, most participants agreed that they would find value in continuing to meet, given the supportive space we had co-fostered over the previous five months. We imagined a collective where we could work together, encouraging and editing each other’s writing. Then we said, “Why don’t we make a space?”

We also wanted to open a space for other people to join us in working. It felt like a natural development of working together and having the support system of being foreigners or under-represented. Hosting public writing sessions and reading events was already within our shared skillset. We got excited to look into funding that would help actualize ambitious plans of a writing collective.

We didn’t stop to think about the things we would come up against. We were just so excited about the idea. We saw the opportunity because there’s nothing in the Icelandic literary scene like a multilingual collective. Time and again, we’ve described Ós as a space that was waiting to be filled in Icelandic society.

The level of complicated bureaucracy present in larger societies such as Canada isn’t necessarily present in a small society such as Iceland. Starting a non-profit in Iceland feels lower-risk — less red tape. Randi’s experiences in the United States underscored that it felt much easier in Iceland to write a non-profit constitution and file it. Likewise, Ewa had experience working multinationally in arts and culture funding with importing Polish cinema to Iceland, so her navigation of grant-writing was a boon to the collective. As the fluent Icelandic linguist in the group, Anna fielded translations and media engagements. Beatriz’s experience with journalistic writing and editing spurred collective consideration of how to spread the word and what kinds of publications we might manifest. Agata took on intensive study of graphic design, typography, and industry-standard publishing software to become the resident designer of the collective.

Ós Pressan is, first and foremost, a group of doers, so every member took swift action to find grants and generate applications to support the various dreams we’d brainstorm over coffee. From this collective foundation, we’ve had an incredible response from local and international readers and writers, and our membership continues to grow with the enthusiasm and diversity of everyone who joins.

This interview is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.

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. The Ós writing community started in early 2015 during a workshop celebrating the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote in Iceland and is dedicated to gathering writers from the margins of Icelandic society and bringing them into Iceland’s rich literary scene.