Rice University’s Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS) is delighted to announce that Icelandic writer, comedian and actor, Jón Gnarr, former Mayor of Reykjavík, will serve as the first CENHS Writer-in-Residence during Spring Semester 2015.
Gnarr (b. 1967) was diagnosed as a child with severe mental retardation due to dyslexia, learning difficulties, and ADHD. He nevertheless overcame these hardships and went on to become one of Iceland’s best-known actors and comedians. In late 2009, in the bitter aftermath of Iceland’s banking crash, Gnarr founded “The Best Party” which sought to bring joy, humility and humanity back to Icelandic politics. Although dismissed as a “joke party” by the Icelandic political mainstream and national and international media, Gnarr’s ability to be equally sincere and satirical about his country’s political situation struck a chord with disillusioned and disoriented voters. The Best Party surprised all observers by winning the 2009 municipal elections in Iceland’s capital and Gnarr served as Mayor from 2010-2014.
With his mayoral years now behind him, Gnarr plans to continue writing and speaking on issues that are most important to him: freedom of speech, human rights, protecting the environment, and achieving international peace. Gnarr published the first two volumes in his fictionalized autobiography, The Indian, and The Pirate in 2006 and 2009 respectively. A third volume will be published in Iceland in fall 2014 and Dallas’s Deep Vellum will publish the trilogy in English in 2015-2016. He was also the subject of Gaukur Úlfarsson’s 2010 documentary, Gnarr. Gnarr writes, “I am very excited to come to Houston with my family and get the opportunity to work with the great people at Rice. I also see this as a chance for me to get first hand information about anthropogenic climate change and further my social and political studies. I look forward to sharing my story and experience with students and teachers and the public and to assist in any way I can.”
CENHS Director Dominic Boyer explained the significance of Gnarr’s residency, “Gnarr’s story has served as an inspiration to both movements and individuals across the world who are looking for an alternative to contemporary political stasis and cynicism. He and his collaborators in the Best Party proved that citizens can occupy, operate and even improve our political system when given the chance. We at CENHS believe that it will be impossible to address the energy and environmental challenges facing the planet unless we begin to develop political ideas and institutions appropriate to life in the Anthropocene. Jón Gnarr has known this for a long time and recognizes climate change as the single most important challenge facing his country and the world. He will bring a wealth of experience, vision and ideas to Rice and we are very excited at the opportunity of learning and laughing with him.”
In addition to a staged reading of his play Hotel Volkswagen at Mildred’s Umbrella on January 25-26, 2015, Gnarr will make several appearances on campus at CENHS events while writing a book based on his mayoral experience provisionally titled, A Human’s Guide to Politics. He has even hinted at a longer stay in Texas, “At the end of my stay I just might run for Governor of Texas,” Gnarr writes, “We live at a very exciting time in history and I’m happy to be part of it. Looking forward to seeing y’all!”