The Department of Icelandic has, for many decades, held a special place in the hearts of the Icelandic North American population.
They funded it, then when that funding was no longer adequate, they funded it again, and again.
It is the only Department of Icelandic outside of Iceland. Its existence is proof of both determination and pride.
Literature, books and publishing have long been associated with Icelandic culture. A source of great pride in North American Icelandic society is that no matter how poor the emigrants from Iceland were, they brought books with them.
Those emigrants, coming from Europe’s poorest country, had few material resources, but they had their love of literature and their ability to read and write.
We all know how they suffered from cold, hunger, scurvy and smallpox. However, in the midst of calamity, a newspaper was begun. It’s not surprising that the preservation of literature, the discussion of ideas and the dissemination of news had such a high priority. They came from a society where literature and literacy were important.
That literature began with the oral telling of the sagas. Later, these stories were written on vellum.
In 1530, a printing press was brought to Hólar. The first known local print is the Latin songbook Breviarium Holensein 1534.
The first newspaper printed in Iceland began in 1775.
In 1872, just before our ancestors began emigrating to North America, there were three periodicals being published: Þjóðólfr, Tíminn, and Norðanfari.
Even though there was no printing press in Gimli, the first Icelandic newspaper was produced in longhand. Five issues were circulated.
Framfari (Progress) appeared in September of 1877. It was printed in a hand press at Riverton. Books in Icelandic started to be produced not only in Winnipeg but in a number of communities.
The Icelandic Department is continuing this tradition by establishing the Kind Publishing company. It is hoped that the publications from this press will safeguard and promote Icelandic culture and history in North America.
The books published are both original and in translation. They are for the general reader. The books are expected to inspire students, to help them recognize the significance of literature, language and translation. On the practical side, this publishing enterprise is also intended to provide the Department’s graduate students with valuable experience in proofreading, editing and book-design.
Birna Bjarnadóttir’s, A Book of Fragments was published by Kind in the fall of 2010. The book is a collection of texts, with a foreword by George Toles and with illustrations by Guy Maddin, Cliff Eyland and Haraldur Jónsson. A text that gradually transformed into a collaborative enterprise, Maddin’s cover image of Iceland’s Golden Waterfall, and Toles’ foreword prepare the reader for a journey into some of life’s mythic realities, its sorrow and beauty. The gallery version of the book, designed by Cliff Eyland, has been featured at three major cultural events in two continents, and as such, it’s impact has proven to be a fantastic outreach – project for the only Icelandic Department outside of Iceland: New York Art Book Fair, New York, November 7–9, 2010; the Reykjavík’s Cultural Night, Reykjavík’s City Library, August 21, 2010, and at the opening of Art in Translation, International Conference on Art and Languages, University of Iceland, May 21–23, held at the Nordic House, Reykjavík, May 21.
On September 22, 2011, a book launch will take place at McNally’s bookstore in Winnipeg, featuring both versions of the book. This will be one of a number of events celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Icelandic Language and Literature.