Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Swiss Literature Prize

I mentioned that I was invited to the Solothurner Literaturtage, which was a wonderful three-day extravaganza in a friendly Swiss town. Many, many impressions and ideas came home with me - some of which I shall elaborate upon in due course.

The festival started with the awarding of the new Swiss Literature Prize though. A quick recap of the previous state of the nation: although Switzerland has four official languages - German, French, Italian and Romansh - only books written in German are eligible for the Swiss Book Prize, which was first awarded in 2008, run by the LiteraturBasel festival and the Swiss booksellers' and publishers' association (which in turn covers German- and Romansh-speaking Switzerland and Liechtenstein). Confused? There's more to come.

So now the Swiss government has launched its own literary prizes for all four languages. They're quite complex too. There are the Eidgenössische Literaturpreise (which translates as confederate literary prizes), awarded to one prose and one poetry publication in each language every year.  Or that's what I thought until I looked up the winners and found that three of the books are in German: Irina Brezna's novel Die undankbare Fremde, Thilo Krause's poetry collection Und das ist alles genug and Martin Zschokke's novel Der Mann mit zwei Augen. But anyway, there are eight of them altogether.

And then there's the Schweizer Literaturpreis, which goes to three individuals for their life's work, plus one translator and/or cultural player/organisation. Or that's what I remember them saying at the ceremony, anyway. This year's winners were the Francophone novelist Jean-Marc Lovay, Italian-speaking poet Fabio Pusterla and the German-speaking writer and artist Erica Pedretti. I know next to nothing about the other two, as they were speaking languages I don't understand, but I know that Erica Pedretti was fantastic - a natural storyteller who looked like the grandmother in Red Riding Hood but I suspect is more of a big bad wolf. The translator/cultural mediation prize went to the literary/translation festival Babel.

The ceremony itself was long and at least trilingual. I was grateful that the German-speakers stuck to High German rather than Swiss German, which remains an incomprehensible wall of sound to me. While it all seemed rather complicated, I got the feeling the prize structure reflects the Swiss literary world. And I was pleased to hear that the jury had decided to honour outstanding quality rather than "readability". A good thing all round - although apparently the press were rather confused and opted to draw a veil of silence over the whole affair.

The event itself was followed by an Apéro riche, which is Swiss for a very generous buffet with drinks. They had these really nifty clips on the side of the plates, for holding your wine glass so you had one hand free. I don't know if that tells us something about the Swiss or not. I pocketed one to take home with me. Gotta live dangerously.

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