To be a Greenlander
“You're a Greenlander when you're queer.”
At the age of 24, Niviaq Korneliussen published her groundbreaking debut, describing the rebellion of young queer people in Greenland, “all being ticking time bombs, with so much in them.” Her recent second novel is an alarm call ignited from the fact that her country has the world’s worst statistic of suicides. Still, the writer remains hopeful: “I’ve never seen a generation that is so strong-willed and so motivated to change society,” the young writer says in this video recorded in Nuuk, Greenland. Read more …
The video begins with Niviaq Korneliussen reciting a poem from her debut novel ‘Crimson’, which ends:
“What it really means to be a Greenlander: You’re a Greenlander when you’re an alcoholic. You’re a Greenlander when you beat your partner. You’re a Greenlander when you abuse children. You’re a Greenlander when you were neglected as a child. You’re a Greenlander when you feel self-pity. You’re a Greenlander when you suffer from self-loathing. You’re a Greenlander when you’re full of anger. You’re a Greenlander when you’re a liar. You’re a Greenlander when you’re full of yourself.
You’re a Greenlander when you’re stupid. You’re a Greenlander when you’re evil. You’re a Greenlander when you’re queer.”
Niviaq Korneliussen comes from a very small town in South Greenland. “There weren’t a lot of people and nothing much happened,” she says. “The way I could escape from town was by writing. I could invent characters, whom I wanted to meet in real life. I was always very curious and that’s how I created a world that I wanted to see and people I wanted to meet. It was a huge playground.”
From early on, Korneliussen knew she was queer and wanted to communicate with young people. “I often wrote about girls because at the time I already knew that I was into women. I knew it was going to be about young people because my goal was to write for young people. When I was young, I would’ve liked to have a young Greenlander who wrote a book I could identify with and relate to.”
Korneliussen wrote her debut novel in three weeks: “writing nonstop. Really nonstop. For three weeks, I slept and woke up and wrote until bedtime. I can’t really explain the process because it was so intense. I just threw up words, so to speak.”
“I had come out six years earlier and that’s when I was able to express what it was like to be a homosexual in Greenland. A lot was going on with regard to rights and discrimination against other sexualities or orientations. A lot was going on in society that I found very interesting to talk about. I was very determined to understand how society was structured. I could see how different groups are formed in society and how different the young are from the older generation. I found it interesting to regard and that’s when I decided only to write about the young because the older generation had had plenty of time to talk. Now it was our turn to tell our story, as a youth rebellion,” Korneliussen says.
“I imagine my main characters in ‘Crimson’ as all being ticking time bombs. They’re in a place where everything changes and turns upside down. They have to choose to go either this way or that. They have so many feelings and so many unanswered questions. And so many frustrations and so much desire. There’s a lot of sex in it. Everyone screws everyone in one way or another. that stage of life in your 20s when you’re in a state where it feels like everything is going out of control. You understand that at that age it’s your body that calls the shots. Sex is in control.”
“In every decade something has changed in our society. It’s natural and understandable. Each generation has a different mentality and way of thinking. Being a Greenlander is the only thing I can write about. I will always talk about Greenland. There isn’t any literature that explains what our lives are like today. I don’t do it with a view to changing society as a whole. But you always have a little desire to make a difference. I do.”
Korneliussen published her second novel ‘Flower Valley’ after a period of working as an activist trying to make local politicians aware of the sad statistic of suicides in Greenland, which is the worst compared to any other country in the world. Korneliussen felt young people “cry for help but they would not get any from the system.” Instead of being an activist, Korneliussen decided to make the topic the center of her novel, which received much praise when it was published in 2020. “It was important to me to find out how the system works and how it fails in order to write this book,” she says. “I very much hoped to start a debate in Greenlandic society. You can start other conversations. It’s an art form that has its own language, and it’s fiction so you can distance yourself from it but still recognize it, and that helps.”
Niviaq Korneliussen is born in 1990 in Nanortalik in South Greenland. She finished college in 2011 and started studying psychology at Aarhus University in 2014 before chose full-time writing. Her writing began in 2013 when she was one of the 10 winners of “Allatta!”, a short story competition for young people in Greenland. Her winning novel is “San Francisco” in the anthology “Young in Greenland, young in the world.” Korneliussen’s debut novel ‘Crimson’ (2018) was written both in Greenlandic and Danish in 2014 under the title ‘HOMO sapienne’ and translated into more than 12 languages. In 2015 ‘Crimson’was nominated for the prestigious Nordic Council Literature Prize. In 2020 Niviaq Korneliussen published her second novel ‘Flower Valley’ (‘Blomsterdalen’) addressing an urgent topic, suicide, parallel to telling a powerful love story. Niviaq Korneliussen lives in Nuuk, Greenland.
Excerpts read in the film from ‘Crimson’ are translated by Anna Halager. The excerpt read from ‘Flower Valley’ is translated by Martin Aitken. Permission to use the ‘Crimson’ translation is granted by Little, Brown Book Group Ltd as the UK publisher.
Niviaq Korneliussen was interviewed by Christian Lund in her home in Nuuk, via a digital Zoom-connection.
Camera: Aningaaq Pele Rosing Carlsen
Edit: Kasper Bech Dyg
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2020.
Supported by C.L. Davids Fond og Samling
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