“We just do this for the party,” Bjarndís Tómasdóttir laughs. “That’s a meme.”
Along with Elísabet Thoroddsen, Bjarndís co-organizes QueeReads, the annual literary gem of Reykjavík Pride. The mood is buoyant between the organisers and author Elías Knörr as they discuss their upcoming event.
“It’s important for queer people to know what there is to see and read,” explains Elísabet. “Often you seek that when you are queer; you want to mirror yourself. It’s very important to have a queer event.”
Bjarndís concurs. “As a queer person, when all the books come out, you always notice the queer authors or queer materials, so you always remember those because it reflects your own reality a bit more.”
QueeReads will feature readings by Anna Stína Gunnarsdóttir, Ari B. Eggertsson, Elías Knörr, Guðjón Ragnar Jónasson, Ragnar Blöndal, and Þorsteinn Vilhjálmsson. The band Ukulellur will perform, and Samtökin ‘78 will present details of their book club, which is open to all.
The return of Elías Knörr
The organisers agree on how much they enjoy having Elías Knörr as a recurring performer at QueeReads. A fixture for more than a decade on Iceland’s literary scene, Elías excels at queering the notion of both authorial identity and what literature can be through his work as an avant-garde poet. He is also active as a translator and plays with artificial languages. Over the next year, he will participate with British, Norwegian, Swedish, and Icelandic LGBTQ+ writers and dancers in the international project ‘To write dance and to dance writing.’
For the upcoming QueeReads appearance, Bjarndís encourages Elías by saying, “There is no pressure. You have charisma.”
“My charisma didn’t work in Kópavogur,” rebuts Elías.
“Yeah, but that’s because you had a gimp mask,” Bjarndís laughs. They are referring to a recent poetry contest in which Elías won a prize, for which he performed incognito.
“The idea was like I was the text, so I didn’t have any face. When you give the text a context, it gets a voice.” For QueeReads, Elías will wear the mask again. “It’s either that or a garbage bag. But I have to find a way to be more comfortable in the garbage bag.”
“We don’t want to police what people say or do,” says Bjarndís. “It’s just the queerness that matters, either of the author or the text. We don’t police that either, you know. ‘Are you queer? Really? How many women have you slept with?’ We don’t do that because that would be weird, right?”
Elísabet extends the joke, “Oh, you didn’t pass the test,” and Elías rapidly riffs, “Here, have my queer passport with every boundary crossed in society.”
On a serious note, Bjarndís comments, “There’s a dilemma where authors maybe don’t want to be identified specifically as queer authors.”
Elísabet agrees: “Just as authors.”
“That’s a political conversation that we should have,” Bjarndís affirms. “But there are different opinions on this, of course.”
Encouraging new writers
The poetry competition affiliated with QueeReads—with an August 1st submission deadline—started a couple of years ago when the organisers noted that it was harder than they liked finding queer authors to perform. “We knew there had to be people out there who needed encouragement or a platform,” Bjarndís says.
Elías emphasises the importance of experimenting with language in non-conventional ways, especially Icelandic. “It’s important that when you are a writer, you are creating language. With an endangered language community, like the Icelandic one, it is people’s duty to keep on creating language and get to know their language a little bit more. Translators and teenagers are going to be the people to save the language, if it is to be saved.”
How to be a human through literature
“Not so many years ago, studies were made with teenagers before and after reading, for example, Harry Potter,” Elías recalls, reflecting on the capacity of literature to grow empathy and tolerance in readers. “Their empathy muscles stretched, and they became more tolerant towards other people after reading. The word ‘menning’ in Icelandic can be understood as ‘becoming a person.’ Culture and the act of becoming a human being is very literal in Icelandic—mennta, menna.”
Bjarndís also cites a connection between reading and becoming. “Elísabet and I are definitely both avid readers but for me, at least, it’s the queer angle that is super important. And this is Iceland. We still understand, I hope, the importance of literature. You learn how to be a human being by reading.” She pauses. “That’s another meme.”
They erupt in laughter. The party has already begun.
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