The Iceland connection


Jenn Crowell And Scott Stevens

April 22, 2001|By Joanne E. Morvay | By Joanne E. Morvay,Special to the Sun

Pale gray clouds swallowed the broad shock of flat, verdant moss that caressed the treeless terrain. Light rain misted a shaggy sheep perched on black rock. The occasional car passed by, dwarfed into a toy of the elements on its path along the Reykjanes Peninsula, while a farmhouse stood alone in the starkness like a small white miracle.

-- From "Letting the Body Lead" by Jenn Crowell

Jenn Crowell fell in love with Iceland long before she ever went there. Scott Stevens was drawn to the land of glaciers and volcanos after about "25 Baltimore summers too many," the Parkville native says with a laugh.

Neither Jenn nor Scott can find the exact words to convey what drew them to Iceland. They love the vistas and the beautiful, unforgiving terrain of the countryside. They love the people, the friends they have made there, and the pace of life in a country with just over a quarter of a million residents.

It was Jenn and Scott's shared passion for all things Icelandic that brought them together nearly six years ago. In 1996, Scott had just returned from his first trip to Iceland, a gift to himself after he graduated from Goucher College that year.

Jenn was a sophomore, enrolled in Goucher's Kratz Center for Creative Writing. At the time, she was awaiting publication of her first novel, "Necessary Madness." Written at age 17 when she was still living at home in York, Pa., the book caught the attention of Goucher writer-in-residence Madison Smartt Bell, who championed the story of a young American woman grieving the death of her British husband and trying to raise their child.

Jenn had set her first book in England without ever visiting the country. She gleaned the details of her setting from British television shows and books.

In the fall of 1996, while she waited for "Necessary Madness" to be released, Jenn was already researching her next book, "Letting the Body Lead," which she hoped to set in Iceland. This time, she definitely planned to travel to the country.

Jenn and Scott had exchanged e-mails on a message board for people interested in Scandinavian travel. They eventually decided to meet at a Goucher concert. Both were nervous and shy, and their first meeting was awkward.

"I'm thinking, someone who actually likes Iceland as much as I do, is a Goucher student and a wonderful writer. Wow!" Scott says.

Jenn says she assumed that because Scott is eight years older (he is 31 and she is 23) and was already out of school -- working as a computer-systems librarian under contract to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt -- that he had no interest in even a friendship with her.

The couple e-mailed a few more times, but then lost contact. By the spring of 1997, Jenn was in the midst of her book's first publicity tour. "I barely had time to breathe," she says.

She also traveled to Iceland for the first time, inadvertently carrying a map Scott had given her in her coat pocket. She thought about sending him a postcard, but didn't have his address.

In the fall of 1997, Jenn and Scott were brought together once more when they enrolled in an Icelandic language class in Columbia. Jenn didn't drive and needed a ride. The class instructor worked out arrangements for a ride, which, unbeknownst to Jenn, turned out to be with Scott.

They began to date, and in January 1998, they took a weekend trip to Iceland. The outrageousness of telling people they were going to Iceland for the weekend was great fun, Jenn says. (The flight is about 5 1/2 hours from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.) They continued to date, and after Jenn graduated from Goucher in 1999, she decided to stay in Baltimore, in part, to be near Scott.

"I have found a really gentle, kind human being who is incredibly intellectual. He's so funny and so incredibly generous and just really, really smart," she says. "It's very nice to have this [relationship] with this person who is so real."

Jenn and Scott married April 8 at the Cloisters in a ceremony with more than a few Icelandic touches. A string trio played romantic Icelandic folk songs. One of the bridesmaids, Sigridur Petursdottir, came from Iceland for the wedding, along with her 11-year-old son, Alexander Briem, who was the couple's guest-book attendant.

The day before she and Scott married, Jenn found out "Letting the Body Lead" was optioned by Putnam Penguin. The novel, set in Iceland, will be released sometime next year.


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