First Lady of Iceland. Journalist. Iceland Writers’ Retreat Co-Founder.
Eliza Reid is a journalist, editor, and co-founder of the annual Iceland Writers Retreat, an annual event that combines small-group writing workshops with cultural tours to introduce visitors to Iceland’s unique literary heritage. Through a surprising turn of events, Eliza is also the First Lady of Iceland, a tiny country in the North Atlantic, known for a few unique attributes: the world’s most peaceful country (it has no military), the world’s most accepting country of LGBTQI, and one of the happiest countries in the world. Here’s what captured Eliza’s imagination—for the past 14 years, it’s also been the country closest to closing the gender gap.
Eliza grew up in the countryside near Ottawa, Canada, and moved to Iceland in 2003, five years after winning a student raffle at Oxford University for a date with a fellow grad student and the man who became her husband, Gudni Jóhannesson (rumor has it she stuffed the ballot box!).
In April 2016, Eliza’s husband, Gudni, was one of the lead pundits invited to analyze the Panama Papers scandal on TV. His commentary was so popular that he began to receive unsolicited requests to run for office. He eventually threw his name in the hat. The election was on June 25. Gudni won and assumed office as president of Iceland on August 1, 2016, plunging the two of them into a public life neither had anticipated.
Being the spouse of the head of state is an immense privilege, full of surreal and wonderful experiences. Eliza has been candid about the role, which is an unofficial position with no job description, penning a lauded op-ed in the New York Times and delivering a TEDx Talk on the topic.
Eliza’s first book, Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland's Extraordinary Women and How They are Changing the World, is a powerful and atmospheric portrait of a tiny country that could lead the way forward for us all. Published to critical acclaim in 2022, Secrets of the Sprakkar became an instant bestseller in Iceland and Canada, a New York Times Book Review Editors' Pick, and was recommended by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Margaret Atwood and many others. Secrets of the Sprakkar is published or forthcoming in 8 languages.
Eliza was previously editor for Icelandair's in-flight magazine, a staff writer at Iceland Review, and has been published in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, Monocle, and other publications. As First Lady, Eliza is patron of several organizations in Iceland, including the Alzheimer's Society, The Iceland Symphony Youth Orchestra, and Pieta House (for suicide prevention). Eliza holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations from Trinity College, University of Toronto, where she also held the position of Head of College in her final year. She holds a Master of Studies degree in modern history from St. Antony’s College, Oxford University.
Secrets of the Sprakkar: The alchemy of gender equality
Iceland is the best place on earth to be a woman—but why? For the past 14 years, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report has ranked Iceland number one on its list of countries closing the gap in equality between men and women. What is it about Iceland that enables its society to make such meaningful progress in this ongoing battle, from electing the world’s first female president to passing legislation specifically designed to help even the playing field at work and at home?
The answer is found in the country’s sprakkar, an ancient Icelandic word meaning extraordinary or outstanding women. In this insightful talk, Iceland’s First Lady examines her adopted homeland’s attitude toward women and its deep-seated cultural sense of fairness
On stage, Eliza shows—through entertaining stories of diverse but everyday women—what it means to move through the world as a woman today, and how the rules of society play more of a role in who we view as equal than we may understand.
Photos: courtesy Eliza Reid
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