Literature needs to reflect diversity

Jónína Leósdóttir’s trilogy about the emotional life of a teenager where the protagonist comes out as a lesbian is one of the best Icelandic literature work that’s been written for young adults. I met with Jónína and talked to her about the importance of queer characters in our stories and culture, both for young people finding their place in the world and as a reflection of society’s true diversity.

Is it important to young adults have books written about LGBTQIA+ teens?

"Icelandic authors, playwrights and screenwriters are not shy about using LGBT characters," says writer Jónína Leósdóttir. Photo/Forlagið
“Icelandic authors, playwrights and screenwriters are not shy about using LGBT characters,” says writer Jónína Leósdóttir. Photo/Forlagið

“It’s absolutely necessary, not just for those teens, but straight ones as well. Although, I think it works best when the sexual orientation of the character doesn’t matter at all, like in the Icelandic novel “Confessions of a Milk Carton Poet” (i. Játningar mjólkurfernuskálds), a story about a girl who lives with her two fathers. I think the author Arndís Þórarinsdóttir did a beautiful job on never mentioning the birth mother or trying to explain why the girl is raised by two men. That’s how it should be, it’s just a normal part of life that needs no explanation.

It’s immensely important for people of all ages that literature, films, plays, and basically all art reflects the diversity of everyday life. Although I think forcing a certain character into a story is never a good idea. It’s neither desirable nor practical.

On the other hand people who create stories have a certain responsibility. For the longest time queer people didn’t have many role models causing them to keep to themselves, hiding in their dark closet believing there was no-one out there like them.

Straight couples where everywhere. In books, on the stage, on the silver screen, and on TV and not to mention the perfect family seen in all ads, where there’s always a dad, a mom, children and a car. That image affected straight people too and strengthened their belief that everyone was just like them, and didn’t exactly encourage them to be sensitive towards the feeling of queer people or promote tolerance.

When I was growing up, people truly believed that there were almost no queer people in Iceland. Today most people have some connections to a LGBT person, either within their family or among their friends. At the same time the proportion of LGBT people is no more today than it was back then. They’ve just become more visible.”

 

“For the longest time queer people didn’t have many role models causing them to keep to themselves…When I was growing up, people truly believed that there were almost no queer people in Iceland.”

Do you think it’s important to put books that have queer characters under a specific genre?

“Yes and no. Like I said before, it’s important that stories reflect true diversity, but when we discover new sides to ourselves or have a new experience many of us seek out reading material that supports and educates us.

Jónína's trilogy revolves around the teenage girl Anna and her friends. The first book is called "Kisses and Olives" (i. Kossar og ólífur, 2007), the second one "Black & White" (Svart & hvítt, 2008) and the third one is called "I and You" (i. Ég & þú, 2009).
Jónína’s trilogy revolves around Anna and her friends. The first book is called “Kisses and Olives” (i. Kossar og ólífur, 2007), the second one “Black & White” (Svart & hvítt, 2008) and finally there’s “I and You” (i. Ég & þú, 2009).

When I found myself in love with a woman in my thirties I read lots of books on being gay, both fiction and nonfiction. Therefore it can be helpful to have that specific genre.”

How have you addressed being gay in your own work?

“In 1997 I wrote a play for Aristofanes, Breidholt’s College drama club, called “A Secret” (i. Leyndarmál). It was about a college/high school girl who discovers she’s gay. That was the first time I wrote about this issue and it made me happy how well received it was and also that the high schools at Ísafjörður, Selfoss and Akureyri also put up a production of it.

Ten years later I published three novels where the protagonist is a teenage girl from Vík who has a boyfriend at the beginning of the first book, but a girlfriend at the end of the last one. I chose to have her transition take 2 to 3 years, because I think it takes most people some time to realise that they are gay. For the most part people are raised in an environment where everybody is straight. Like there’s nothing else. That big discovery that you belong to a minority needs time to settle in. And some people need time to come with terms with their situation and learn to accept it.

But these books weren’t just about coming out, a lot of other things are going on with the protagonist’s friends and within her family. Therefore the books easily reached a broader audience. I especially enjoyed the fact that boys didn’t shy from reading the trilogy even though the protagonist is a girl.”

Do you believe authors need to be encouraged to write about LGBTQIA+ characters?

“I think that comes naturally here in Iceland since there have been a lot of changes in how society perceives queers. Icelandic authors, playwrights and screenwriters are not shy about using LGBT characters.

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Jónína and Arndís Þórarinsdóttir, author of “Confessions of a Milk Carton Poet”, reading for schoolchildren in Grindavík town.

Unfortunately that is not the case in societies where LGBT rights have not yet been accepted. Therefore it was particularly joyful that Marlon James, a gay man from Jamaica, received the Man-Booker Prize recently for a book he wrote with gay characters. In Jamaica men can get up to ten years in prison for having sex with other men.”

Is it important for us to have books and stories that are set in Icelandic reality?

“Oh yes. Even though the western world has much in common, it’s vital for people, especially children and teenagers, to have access to stories in books, films and on TV that originate in our society and reflect on our unique situation.

If we don’t do that we’re going to see our language and culture slowly fade away. Our heritage is at stake, no less.”

The Hamburger Factory
- gourmet burgers

Ok. You’re in Iceland. Most likely for the first time.

You will probably bathe in the Blue Lagoon and take a road trip to Gullfoss and
Geysir. That’s all well and good. But neither Geysir’s nor waterfalls are
something you eat. That’s why we have 15 brilliant and creative hamburgers at
The Hamburger Factory. And they are all perfectly square. Don’t miss out on
Iceland’s most beloved hamburgers.

The Hamburger Factory is Iceland’s most innovative gourmet burger chain.
Packed with burger-craving customers since it’s opening in 2010, among the
regulars is Iceland’s best known fisherman, Eric Clapton. In our restaurants we
welcome tourists with our newspaper like menu and smiley service. They are
packed with fun items and memorable connections to Icelandic pop culture.

Locations:

Omnom Chocolate
- award-winning chocolate maker

    Omnom Chocolate is an Icelandic craft chocolate company based in Reykjavík. We produce handcrafted chocolate from organic cacao beans sourced ethically and sustainably. We’ve developed direct relationships to create premium chocolate with fine flavor cacao beans.

    Our creative flavors are carefully crafted by meticulous chocolate makers. The cacao beans are roasted, winnowed, ground, and refined into melty-smooth chocolate.

    Omnom’s process is one of constant exploration, invention, and experimentation. If it doesn’t please us, if something isn’t absolutely delicious, there’s no reason to be doing it. So, we always start with our taste buds and follow our instincts. Our team searches for the finest ingredients in the world and new ways to improve chocolate. This obsession with knowing where our ingredients come from has led us around the corner to dairy farms in the Icelandic countryside and all the way to rainforest cacao farms of Nicaragua.

    In only a few short years, we’ve grown from our 50 sq. m. petrol station space and become an award-winning chocolate maker. Now, with our headquarters in 101 Reykjavík, our chocolate is sent out around Iceland and all over the world.

    At the end of the day, our goal is to make chocolate.

     

    Alfred’s Apartments
    - gay owned an operated

      Alfred’s Apartments and Alfred’s Studios is a gay operated and owned accommodation in the heart of Reykjavik.

      Alfred’s Apartments offers spacious apartments at a good price located just around the corner from Laugavegur shopping street. You can choose the apartment starting from a Small Studio for 2 persons to a large One-bedroom Apartment with balcony for 5 persons.

      Their staff will ensure your comfort during the stay and provide the most updated information about the city, gay and night life in Reykjavik.

      Each apartment has a private bathroom with a shower, fully equipped kitchen and free Wi-Fi. Guests can buy groceries at the local grocery store 50 meters from the apartments. Because of their very central location, numerous shops, restaurants and cafés are available in the surrounding area. The Church of Hallgrimur is located 350 m from the apartments, a tourist agency is just 50 m away and the nearest gay bar is less than 5 minutes walking distance.

      Laekur hostel
      In the hostel we have dorms for 4-8 persons with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The rooms are furnished with free internet, lockers, and a USB charger by each bed. The beds have linen provided and you can rent a towel in the cafe on the ground floor for 5 EUR.

      All the dorms are mixed with both genders. You can also book a whole room with 4-8 bunker beds.

      Blue Lagoon
      - a world of wonder

      Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a shimmering expanse of warmth, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Its unique geothermal seawater comes from 2000 meters within the earth where sea and fresh water converge in a tectonic frontier of porous lava and searing heat. Propelled by extreme pressure, the water ascends to the earth’s surface, emerging enriched with silica, algae, and minerals: the elements that endow Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater with its radiant, healing properties.

      From its humble beginnings in the shadows of a geothermal power plant, Blue Lagoon has evolved into a world of wonder, now encompassing a hotel, a restaurant, a luxury lounge, a renowned line of skin care, a research center, in-water massage, and a wealth of spa and refreshment facilities.

      Achieving harmony with the volcanic landscape of Iceland’s Reykjanes lava plain, the lagoon and its surrounding architecture embody the unification of the man-made and the natural, and adhere to the highest principles of sustainability.

      Blue Lagoon. A wonder of the world. A world of wonder.

      Whales of Iceland
      - larger than life

      Whales of Iceland is the largest whale exhibition in Europe (and perhaps even the world), where guests can learn about the giants of the sea in a calm and modern environment. The permanent exhibition features whales like guests have never seen them before. It is truly a giant experience.

      Landsbankinn
      - leading financial institution

      Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

      The present bank was established on 7 October 2008 but the history of its predecessor dates back to 1886. The bank is owned by the National Treasury of Iceland, which holds 98.2% of its share capital, and other shareholders who own 1.8%.

      Landsbankinn’s strategy is to provide comprehensive financial services that meet customer’s needs. It emphasizes providing exemplary service to customers, developing e-banking for their convenience, increasing the efficiency of support functions, modernizing its technology and ensuring effective utilization of its balance sheet.

      The bank’s vision is to be exemplary and its role is to be a trusted financial partner.

      Special emphasis is placed on promoting a performance-oriented culture in the bank. To follow up on the implementation of this strategy, the bank has defined key goals which are measured regularly to determine progress. These goals include, for example, customer satisfaction and loyalty, profitability, cost efficiency and the correlation between risk appetite and employee satisfaction.

      Landsbankinn wishes to lead the development of a sustainable society in Iceland by integrating economic, social and environmental concerns in its operations. The Bank aims to ensure that both its owners and society at large benefit from its activities.

      It intends to achieve this aim by building solid infrastructure and a strong team of 1.100 employees, by listening to its customers and by respecting and encouraging its employees to actively participate in their community. Landsbankinn was a founding member of Festa, a Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, and is a member of the UN Global Compact.

      Landsbankinn has been a proud sponsor of the Reykjavik Pride since it was first celebrated in Iceland.

      Dohop
      - get inspired

      Dohop allows people to find the cheapest flights available with just one click. Founded in Reykjavik in 2004, it is the only Icelandic company of its kind and quickly became the go-to tool for finding cheap flights among the locals. Dohop finds the best deals among hundreds of different airlines and online travel agencies, to make sure that the user is getting the cheapest price. Dohop also offers hotel and car rental search engines, so users can make all of their travel bookings from a single website.

      Dohop‘s specialty is finding so-called “self-connect” flight options, which can save travelers money by booking a ticket through two or more different airlines. The ability to look for these self-connect option is what sets Dohop apart from its competition, as it can save people hundreds of dollars on certain routes.

      More recently, Dohop has developed a unique product called Dohop Go!, which allows users to check for the cheapest available flights from their home airport. This tool is perfect for those who are looking for travel inspiration but are not willing to overpay for their flight ticket. Dohop Go! is now available in the Dohop Flights App, both for Android and iOS, along with its traditional flight, hotel, and car search engines. “

      Macland
      - for all your Apple needs

      From starting out as a proper startup with only a good idea and the need to change things, to becoming an established company with 6 employees. Starting from scratch and expanding organically has allowed us to love our expansion and take our customers on the ride with us.

      Macland is located at Laugavegur 23 (101, Downtown Reykjavik)
      For all your Apple needs. We are here.

      Aurora Reykjavik
      - northern lights center

        Aurora Reykjavik is a Northern Lights Center situated in downtown Reykjavík at the Old Harbor next to Icelandair Hotel Marina and Vikin Maritime Museum.

        Aurora Reykjavík is Iceland’s first educational and recreational Northern Lights Center where multimedia is used to explain when, why and how the Northern Lights work, with the highlights being large HD projection of the Aurora’s. We also share myths and legends about what our ancestor thought about those mystical lights.

        The Northern Lights Center is for all ages. Children are our favorite guests and we created the exhibition in a way that children can have a look freely and parents don’t have to worry about things being broken.

        Aurora Reykjavik offers a great selection of souvenirs that are designed and made by Icelanders along with nice little coffee corner, where you can enjoy free coffee and tea while browsing through the souvenirs or just planning your next step.

        Contact Aurora

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        Ísey skyr
        - once tasted never forgotten

        Our Story
        Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

        For centuries, Icelandic skyr formed a cornerstone of the national diet, helping to keep people strong in living conditions that were often harsh. On family farms countrywide, it was the women who nurtured this dairy and passing on both the recipe and the original Icelandic skyr cultures from mother to daughter.

        Ísey skyr builds on this remarkable legacy. It was some of those very same women, the recipients of their mothers’ expertise, who, around 90 years ago, taught Icelandic dairy scientists the art of skyr-making. The production process is more high-tech these days, and the quality standards more rigorous. However, the basic recipe and the use of original cultures to ferment the skimmed milk remain the same. Protein rich, fat-free, creamy and delicious – Ísey skyr is as relevant to consumers now as it was all those centuries ago.
        This is our secret and you are in on it

        You can read more about Ísey skyr on our website.

        Núðluskálin
        - noodle bar

        Núðluskálin is a small gay owned and operated fusion noodle bar.

        All of our courses are individually made from fresh ingredients and therefore highly customisable.
        We offer fully Vegan versions of all courses.
        Though originally a take-away we now seat over 30 people.

        Núðluskálin is located right in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustígur 8 (street leading up to the big Church) near the junction with Laugavegur (main street).

        Seatours
        - adventure cruise

        Ferry Baldur – the gate to the West fjords
        and VikingSushi Adventure – Bird & Nature watching Tour for everyone all year around

        The “VikingSushi Adventure” is the right boat tour for travelers who are adventurous and want to experience something new – close up to the nature seafood simply doesn’t come fresher than this! The archipelago area of the Breidafjordur Bay always surprises her visitors during winter or summer with spectacular sights. Where else you get to try delicious fresh scallops and sea urchin roe straight from the ocean served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.

        600x400-seatours-tasting

        This old volcanic area, characterized by the typical basalt formations of the islands, is the home of countless birds. Here you will also find the strongest currents in Iceland. The VikingSushi Tour takes roughly two hours and our captain is also the tour guide.

        600x400-seatours

        The VikingSushi Tour is a true adventure through incredible nature which should not be missed by any traveler to West Iceland.

        Birds, possible to spot:
        -puffins (from the middle of April until the middle of August)
        -eider ducks
        -shags
        -kittiwakes
        -fulmars
        -white-tailed eagle

        The car ferry Baldur is the bridge to the West fjords via the island Flatey
        Ferry Baldur crosses Breidafjordur Bay daily from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula to Brjanslaekur in the north. A ferry ride considerably shortens the route between the south and mid-west of the country and the West Fjords region. It also gives you the opportunity to experience a floating restaurant.

        Take a stopover at the charming island Flatey when you are crossing the bay or go to a day tour to Flatey and back to Stykkishólmur. At Flatey are no cars allowed and between the houses of the 18th century you get the feeling of a journey back in time.

        Contact Us


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