Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research

Arctic Journeys: Surviving in Icy Times

Talk and presentation with Neil Gower, Nancy Campbell and Alexandra Loske

Date: Tuesday 15 December 2020
Time: 4 - 5.30 p.m.
Location: ZOOM
Free, but booking essential (details below)

While in Covid-19 lockdown, art historian/writer Alexandra Loske and artist/poet Neil Gower re-discovered a fascinating memoir, Christiane Ritter's account of a year spent in a small hut in near-isolation in the icy wilderness of Spitzbergen/Svalbard in 1933. 

A Woman in the Polar Night [Eine Frau erlebt die Polarnacht] first published in German in 1934, became a classic piece of travel writing and was soon translated into English, but was then largely forgotten. Recently, the Pushkin Press published a new edition, for which Neil provided new artwork and maps. Neil and Alexandra embarked on a lively exchange about forms of isolation and how reading one brave travelogue of an extreme journey can help us survive our own 'icy times'. 

                        Arctic journey: Christiane Ritter's 1930s memoir A Woman in the Polar Night.

Neil and Alexandra introduced and evaluated Ritter's memoir and her art, and compared them to other examples of travelogue and art about icy and snowbound regions, both real and imagined.

They were joined by writer and poet Nancy Campbell. Between 2010 and 2017 Nancy was on a series of residencies with Arctic research institutions, which resulted in many projects responding to the environment, including The Library of Ice: Readings in a Cold Climate (Simon & Schuster, 2018), which was longlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2019. Her latest book picks up on the theme of cold climates again: Fifty Words for Snow (Elliott & Thompson, 2020). 

                                                    Nancy Campbell The Library of Ice cover     Nancy Campbell 50 Words for Snow cover

This event coincided with a major exhibition at the British Museum, Arctic: Culture and Climate.

The audience are encouraged to bring their own memories of arctic journeys, or their favourite examples of life narratives about being isolated in cold, vast or harsh landscapes. 

Here are some screenshots of the hugely popular event:


Arctic Journeys: Surviving in Icy Times - 15 December 2020


Dress code: Hans Christian Andersen's Snow Queen. Wrap up warm.

Drinks and nibbles: Apologies, virtual only, but we suggest anything on ice.