Returning to the Old Country: Bill Holm’s Quest for an Icelandic-American Identity

  • Øyvind T. Gulliksen University College of Southeast Norway
Keywords: Icelandic-American history, Midwestern literature, cultural heritage, return migration, American literature, Icelandic Sagas


This article focuses on the Icelandic-American identity of Bill Holm (1943–2009), American poet and essayist. It explores the twofold identity of an American writer, who was a grandson and a great-grandson of immigrants in the Upper Midwest. Writing from his background in rural and small-town Minnesota, and from his return trips to Iceland, Bill Holm developed what historian Jon Gjerde (1953–2008) referred to as a “complementary identity.” Holm was especially interested in the farmer-poet and worker-intellectual, both in his local Icelandic-American community and in Iceland. As an Icelandic-American writer, Holm had the benefit of using his knowledge of, and his extensive reading of, both Icelandic and American literature in his own experiences and his writing. Both Snorri Sturluson and Walt Whitman providedhim with a useful past.

Author Biography

Øyvind T. Gulliksen, University College of Southeast Norway
Øyvind T. Gulliksen is Professor Emeritus (American Literature and Culture), University College of Southeast Norway, campus Bø i Telemark, and presently “Honorary Reseach Scholar in Nordic Studies” at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. Among his publications are: Twofold Identities (2004), Paradoksal trøst (2007) and Fra svar til undring (2014, with Årstein Justnes). He is also the editor of Norwegian-American Essays, volumes 12 and 13 and co-founder of the Norwegian “Forum for litteratur og religion” [Forum for the Study of Literature and Religion]. His memberships include the jury for “The International Ibsen Award” (2007–2012) and “Det norske språk- og litteraturselskap” [The Norwegian Literature and Language Association]. He can be reached at: