Lecturer in English Awarded High Honor by President of Iceland

Monday, March 7, 2005 - 12:00pm

For immediate release
March 7, 2005

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. - Author Brad Leithauser, a senior lecturer in English at Mount Holyoke College, has been awarded the Order of the Falcon by the president of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, for his efforts to make Icelandic literature available to American readers.

Induction into the Order of the Falcon is a high honor, one awarded to just three to five non-Icelanders each year. It is conferred upon Icelandic and foreign nationals "for achievements to the benefit of Iceland or in the international arena." Grimsson presented Leithauser with the honor in a ceremony on January 31.

"I'd like to think it's a sign of good mental health to love at least one country on the planet unreservedly. And I'd further like to think it better not be one's own country," Leithauser told the Icelandic president after accepting the honor.

"I'm an American and I love my country deeply, but much of what it does distresses or dismays me. Iceland is a different matter. I love pretty much everything about it. I love the harsh weather, I love the bleak landscapes, I love the people. I'm sure if I were an Icelander, I'd see things in the country to complain about. But as an American writer who visits Iceland every year, and who finds it the best place in the whole world to get his work done, I love the place in the same unqualified way I love my family."

Leithauser has made no secret of his affection for the North Atlantic island republic. In receiving the 2004 Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship at Mount Holyoke, he said, in part: "I'll close this speech in praise of ambivalence with one further personal detail. I try to visit Iceland every year. I prefer to go in January, when winds are chilliest, storms are fiercest, the arctic darkness is deepest. I tell my students that my goal as a writer is to induce in myself a feeling of productive self-pity, and one of the reasons why I love Iceland is how quickly, once I arrive in January, I begin to feel happily sorry for myself."

Leithauser, Emily Dickinson Senior Lecturer in the Humanities, came to Mount Holyoke in 1987. He teaches courses in composition, fiction-writing, modern European fiction, and light verse. He and his brother Mark Leithauser most recently produced Lettered Creatures, a collection of 28 light verse poems by Brad and 29 drawings by Mark, who is chief of design at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. His novel-in-verse Darlington's Fall was chosen as a notable book for 2003 by the New York Times Book Review.