Our Offices Abroad

Dossier >

12 Swiss Books

12 Swiss Books

In order to raise international awareness of Swiss literature, Pro Helvetia has launched a magazine named «12 Swiss Books». It is published annually to coincide with the Frankfurt Book Fair and, with each issue, presents twelve newly published works of literature from all four linguistic regions in Switzerland. These works are especially recommended for translation by the Swiss Arts Council. Available in printed and web form, «12 Swiss Books» offers text excerpts, brief portraits of the authors and useful information on the possibilities of support for publishers, translators and agencies.




Freshly baked Book Food from Switzerland: nutritious, tasty and varied. Swiss food for the mind – that’s what we have to offer in our new season of Swiss literature. We’ve chosen twelve books from three of our language areas, which we’d especially like to recommend to you for translation, dear publishers, translators and agents. This year we’re not only offering you novels and stories but also, for the first time, a book of poetry and a book of essays. You can get a first look at all these books thanks to the excerpts we’ve provided for you; but we’re also happy to put you directly in touch with copyright-holders, translators and the authors themselves, should you so wish. And, not least, we’re always happy to consider an application from you for financial support for a translation!

Ultimately, the reasons a book travels beyond its own language out into the big, wide world are manifold. So the fact that we promote it here in our magazine is just one small piece of the jigsaw – but it may sometimes be the key piece. Nevertheless we are proud of the fact that numerous books featured by us in previous years have been translated thanks to our support: Lukas Bärfuss’s Koala, into Turkish, Bulgarian, Chinese, Belarussian, French, English, Spanish and Croatian; Jonas Lüscher’s Frühling der Barbaren (Barbarian Spring), translated into French, Italian, Belarussian, Russian, English and Finnish, as well as Croatian and Bulgarian, and – maybe because it’s set in the desert – also into Arabic. David Bosc’s La claire fontaine (The Clear Fountain) has, since we recommended it, appeared in German, Spanish, Polish and Romanian, and the English translation will follow soon; Roland Buti’s Le milieu de l’horizon (The Middle of the Horizon) has been translated into German, Danish, Latvian, Italian and will soon be made into a film – so the rumour goes!

We hope that this year too you’ll find something special in our selection of books that you’d like to translate into your own language. And with that thought in mind we wish our Swiss books Bon Voyage!

For the editorial team,
Angelika Salvisberg (Pro Helvetia, Head of Literature & Society Division)

Download the latest edition (No. 04)




portrait_interviewWriters’ Centre Norwich (WCN) is one of the best known regional literature and trans-lation houses in the UK. The UK literary and arts scene is often criticised for being over-centralized and London-focused but there is a new drive to encourage regional culture. WCN is barely a decade old but has already won high praise. The Chief Executive Officer Chris Gribble is the powerhouse behind WCN, successfully leading the bid to make Norwich England’s first UNESCO City of Literature and with plans to create the UK’s first National Centre for Writing. In 2015 WCN moved to its stunning new Norwich home, ‘Dragon Hall’, which is where Rosie Goldsmith interviewed Chris Gribble.

ROSIE GOLDSMITH: What’s your ‘mission’ at Writers’ Centre Norwich?
CHRIS GRIBBLE: We believe that literature, reading, writing and literary translation can transform individual lives, transform communities and make places better to live, work and visit. So we work with readers, writers and translators across a whole range of projects here in Norwich, the East of England, England itself and internationally.

RG: You yourself Chris actually ‘masterminded’ WCN this last decade but you are not originally from Norwich?
CG: This is furthest south I’ve ever lived – I’m from Newcastle-upon Tyne! I studied German Literature and Philosophy at university. I then did a Master’s Degree in European Literature and Theory and finally a PhD in German Poetry. I worked in poetry publishing, got interested in delivering festivals of all sorts and freelancing as a cultural strategy specialist. I was building a career running Manchester Poetry and Literature Festivals and working for a cultural strategy team at the City Council. And then, literally out of nowhere, this job in Norwich turned up on my radar. I’d never been to Norwich! Nine years later I’m still here and I’ve certainly fallen in love with the city, with its radical difference to most other places I’ve lived, its heritage and its esteem for literature.

RG: Norwich is now a UNESCO City of Literature. What makes Norwich a City of Literature?
CG: First of all there’s the literary heritage of the place, a thousand years of it. Fifty yards from here is Julian of Norwich’s Anchorite Cell and the Chapel of Julian. She was the first woman to be published in book form in English in the 15th century and she had a radical view of God. She was the first person to refer to God as a mother, which was fairly heretical at the time. Norwich also has a long history of publishing. We were the first city outside London to adopt the Public Libraries Act; the first city to commit to making public libraries free of charge to its residents. We are home to the busiest public library in the country. And we are a home to the University of East Anglia (UEA) which started the UK’s first Creative Writing MA programme and is still one of the most famous in the world. In 1973 it had one single student, Ian McEwan, so it was a fairly good start! I guess it was all uphill from there! UEA also has the British Centre for Literary Translation.

RG: That’s the heritage side of the Norwich story: what about today?
CG: The contemporary is the second strand: between 7-8 per cent of independent publishing in the UK happens in Norfolk, which is high given that this is a rural area. We’ve also got brilliant bookshops – independent, family and chain bookshops. We’ve got the country’s oldest City Arts Festival: the Norfolk and Norwich Festival is over 300 years old and literature is a strong and growing presence in it. There is a reading culture and a debating culture in Norwich, which you can see in the poetry readings, slam events and live literature-art crossovers. And the final thing which makes us a City of Literature, which sounds a little dry but is possibly the most crucial of all, is its civic and cultural commitment to literature as an art form, to understanding how important it can be for a place, its communities, the people who live, work and visit it. It’s different to theatre, visual arts and music in all sorts of ways: it’s perhaps quieter, there are fewer buildings involved, fewer high profile launches and parties and it may be economically harder to track the impact of reading and writing, but we know how fundamental it is to our lives. We want to be a city that cherishes that art form.

RG: You talk about literature as ‘a national art form’ but how do you fund it in this current financial crisis in the arts?
CG: We have to be very realistic about the limitations and the competition for funding. Recently I was at a meeting with a group of excellent regional businessmen and I was the only arts person there. There were the usual jokes about “fluffy arts” and “luvvies”. But I was thinking to myself, well, actually I employ 14 people, we have a turnover of nearly a million pounds, we’ve a huge impact on the city, so, hold on a minute! I’m not going to be called ʺfluffyʺ just because I don’t make a widget! We run a business that is economically important to the city and the wider region. In addition we have an artistic vision and mission which is more important in some ways than our bottom line. When the arts receive money from public bodies or government, it’s called ʹsubsidyʹ but when money is given to attract large factories or an Amazon plant, that’s called ʹinvestmentʹ. That’s rubbish! It’s all investment!

RG: Do you see Norwich as a model for other cities?
CG: I think what Norwich is doing with culture and literature might be useful as a model for other cities here and abroad, but only if it’s driven by the reality of each city and region. You can’t just transplant this – it must come ʹfrom withinʹ. But you can try some of the models we’ve created, such as our partnership schemes, means of engaging communities and writers. All these things have to be based on a truth and understanding about where you are.

RG: Are the different regions and cities in the UK very competitive? Big developments are going on in Norwich but also in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and so on. There’s been a big leap in the support of literature regionally. That’s a new development, isn’t it?
CG: The competition between cities, and the investment in literature across cities, is a really interesting thing to look at. Take festivals – there’s almost no village in the country today that doesn’t have its own literary festival. The good ones will thrive, the others will wither away. The industry will change, the caravan will move on and dogs will carry on barking. The cities work together; the infrastructure works well together. So in literature terms if we were too competitive it would be like two bald men fighting over a comb. There wouldn’t be much point because we are still a small sector in comparison to other art forms. Arts Council England is a brilliant supporter of literature but we get less than three per cent of ACE’s funding for the arts. That’s because of the dominance of commercial publishing primarily and the separate nature of the library networks – we are slightly segregated. I think the really exciting thing will be when we all start joining up with libraries, commercial publishers, the digital world and with broadcasters. Then we will see another step change in the progress of this art form.

RG: It’s often said in this country that we know little about international literature, that we don’t support translation enough: how international is your work?
CG: International engagement is key to our work. It’s not just about export of our writers and our stories round the world, but about import. It’s giving our readers access to really amazing stories. We have a series of long partnerships with countries particularly in South East Asia, India and China. We also work with the British Council and in 2016 we will be working in six countries on five continents, taking their Shakespeare-in-translation programme round the world as part of the Shakespeare anniversary. We are also developing the International Literature Showcase with the British Council, which brings together outstanding emerging writers and literary translators from the UK with amazing curators, programmers and festival managers from around the world. So, international working is absolutely key to opening the horizons of our literature. The writer Ali Smith described it as ʺoxygen in the bloodstream of our national art formʺ. Without understanding other countries, without sharing the stories, without feeling empathy and joining those people in the stories of their lives, we lose out on a huge amount. We become closed, stale and self-obsessed.

RG: Why do you think it’s got to this ‘crisis stage’ in the UK, where inter-national literature and translation are not developing as fast as they should?
CG: The reason is that English is a global language and it’s becoming more and more dominant. It’s making us lazy. It fosters the belief that we don’t have to go to the mountain but it will come to us. It’s also partly due to the dominance of English language publishing. And I think we’ve lost the notion of ʹthe talented readerʹ. We’ve lost confident, adventurous readers in our education system, because we are not asking young people to read for pleasure but for literacy. People want to read for stories, not for literacy – and great stories at that, not just any old stories.

RG: What do you at Writers’ Centre Norwich do to further literary translation?
CG: Each year we run a mentoring programme for emerging translators. 10-16 translators from a range of languages work with specialist translators who help them technically and professionally, introducing them to people, helping them find publishers to develop their careers as translators. We also publish ʹIn Other Wordsʹ in partnership with the British Centre for Literary Translation at UEA – a sort of trade magazine for literary translators with all sorts of articles about what’s going on in the world.

RG: How do you work with the rest of Europe?
CG: I was a bit slow in developing European partnerships because of other commitments. Now however we are really exploring our European partnerships. Recently we had Peter Stamm here, the Swiss writer; we’ve had fantastic writers from the Netherlands; we’ve been working closely with Norway, Scandinavia. It’s about finding some shared practical benefits for our partners in Europe, enabling their authors and translators to gain access to this English language market. Over the next few years Europe will be one of the most exciting areas for us.

RG: There is going to be an EU referendum in this country about Britain’s place in Europe: does that make it more important to encourage these literary contacts?
CG: It’s vital that we promote contacts with European literary culture to understand how we are seen and how we see our other partners. We are an island, but we are an island next to a major continent of which we are part. When we do our ʹBrave New Readsʹ programme – a series of seventy events across the library network in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire – it’s about encouraging ʹadventurous readersʹ and we ensure there are books in translation too so readers will go to a bookshelf, choose a story and say, “this is not a book in translation, it’s just a good book!”

RG: Does WCN have contacts with the Swiss? If not, what would you like?
CG: We don’t have a huge range of contacts with Swiss cultural agencies or literary contacts. It is something we welcome. We are all ʹtime poorʹ, but there should be a conversation, because Switzerland has a special literary culture, a confluence of four languages, and a physical and psychological space crucial for the rest of Europe to understand. The Swiss have a huge amount to offer in terms of understanding the tensions – linguistic, cultural and other tensions – in Europe that we must get a grip on to make Europe a success. The way Switzerland has managed those relationships, languages, cultures and borders is interesting for us to study. With globalization and the shrinking world in some senses ‘we will all be Switzerland’, having to balance minority languages and competing cultures. Countries like Switzerland are going to be beacons in the coming decade.

RG: What are your plans for the future?
CG: Our plan for the future is to develop the National Centre for Writing. So WCN will become NCW! We want to create a place of exchange, experiment and discussion. What I love about Dragon Hall is that it was a market place in the 15th century. We want to make it a market place again, a literary market place for the exchange of stories, ideas, passions and enthusiasms. We will build a new wing to Dragon Hall, a set of connected education spaces, offices and places for writers to work. We hope to have publishers-in-residence as well as artists-in-residence here. We have this amazing 120-seat venue in the Great Hall itself for events all year round as well as festivals. We want to have a digital presence that allows our Talent Development Programmes to grow, gain new partners and provide remote access to writers who otherwise wouldn’t have the support that they need to develop their talents. We want it to be a place both of in-bound exchange, where we welcome people from around the world, but also a portal for partners round the world. It’s a tremendously exciting time for our art form, despite the challenges. I believe that literature as an art form is flexible, diverse, democratic and powerful and that it can contribute to a whole range of objectives. We’ve got a chance in Norwich to show how you can use literature in those ways. That’s what I want to achieve at the National Centre for Writing. If I achieve a third of that, we will be lucky and happy!

WRITERS’ CENTRE NORWICH is a literature development organisation interested in both the artistic and social impact of creative writing, and work with writers, readers and diverse communities. WCN is supported by Arts Council England, the University of East Anglia, Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council in addition to a number of trusts and foundations for specific projects. In 2015 WCN took on responsibility for the British Centre for Literary Translation’s public programme of activity. In 2017 a specialist venue for literature – the National Centre for Writing – will open on the grounds of Dragon Hall. WCN has fifteen members of staff.
Translators can benefit from a range of career development opportunities through WCN’s Summer School programme and its Emerging Translators Mentoring Scheme. Publishers can submit their titles for inclusion on Brave New Reads, a shared reading programme which promotes bold new writing.



Resurrection of Words



All that’s most important takes place in a wordless dimension. Love, birth and death exist beyond words. Any language is, in and of itself, a translation of life into words. Such translation is already impossible – banal, clapped-out words cannot express what’s felt by lovers. To this end, we need the writer – one who takes dead words and resurrects and re-animates them.
Each time I see one of my books translated into some other language, I’m gripped by an odd sensation, more akin to apprehension than joy. Words I resurrected with such difficulty escape from my grasp into an alien linguistic domain, a universe of dead, alien words. Will the translator be able to breathe life into them?
Generally speaking, translations of my books into languages I can check myself – German and English – tend to spawn feelings of panic and impotence at the realisation of how much is lost. What panics me isn’t even the fact that the translator is compelled to select just one of the multiple meanings and nuances with which every word is endowed, or that translation is ultimately interpretation, simplification, standardisation of a limitless living palette; no, it’s rather the disappearance of a pressure exerted not by words themselves, but by the spaces between them – a pressure that binds them together. But this pressure requires a generator – a reader, my Russian reader. And it is precisely my Russian reader who is lost in translation.
On the other hand, readers the world over are not, in their human depths, all that dissimilar, each of them seeking warmth and love, each naked and mortal. Which is exactly what makes translation of living words possible. And if the miracle of translation succeeds, then my words, unearthed during bouts of torturous insomnia, will take root in people on the other side of the world, will germinate and spring into life.
Untranslatable is only that which sunders us from one another. Everything that makes us a single humanity, everything that’s most important in life, is translatable indeed: birth, love, death, immortality.

MIKHAIL SHISHKIN is a Russian writer, journalist, and translator. He started writing in 1993, when his short story Calligraphy Lesson was published in Znamya magazine. Shishkin’s books have been translated into more than ten languages. After many years in Zürich, he now lives in the canton of Solothurn, Switzerland.

PHOTO © Evgeniya Frolkova


Maverick in Brooklyn and Bloomington



In October 2014 the Swiss writer Arno Camenisch (b.1978) travelled to the USA. It was his first visit to the States. If it’s possible to talk of contemporary Swiss literature having godfathers, Arno is certainly one of them. Writing in his native languages of German and Rhaeto-Romanic, this bilingual author stresses sound and rhythm in both his live performances and his written stories. A strong live performer, he has risen through the ranks of Swiss literature, establishing himself as a star of the Swiss-German and Grisons spoken-word scene.

Before I got to know Arno in person on his America trip, my knowledge of authors from the Sursilvan mountains language and culture was limited to another bilingual author, Iso Camartin, a highly appreciated orator and essayist, who, like me, divides his life between Zürich and America. When I heard Arno perform in Brooklyn (and he too is a powerful performer!), I felt the stark contrast with Camartin’s classic gravity. Arno is a rather wild guy on his own alp. Like the cheesemaker who mixes milk from all kinds of cows, Arno throws together spoken and written registers of his mother tongues, stirs his cheese vat filled with German, Swiss German and Sursilvan with a great intuition for rhythm and rawness and smirks about the holes. Don’t they make the cheese?
Arno came to New York to promote the English translation of Sez Ner – The Alp, translated by Donal McLaughlin with a very fine ear for its tonality. On October 12th, it was my privilege as moderator to introduce him to an audience in Brooklyn that gave him a warm welcome. It was his third performance that weekend in New York City. Then we left the urban cliffs behind us and travelled to the Midwest. I had invited Arno to a Swiss Afternoon without Heidi at Indiana University in Bloomington (the programme included the film Sister by Ursula Meier).
Would my students of German literature at Indiana University react to Arno’s energy like the consistently restrained East Coast urbanites? It’s true that the bilingual Camenisch phenomenon is not easily conveyed in a third language, in this case English. The Alp is straightforward in terms of its plot, but its narrative structure takes the form of a multilingual loop.
For his part Camenisch had nothing to fear. Having held his own as a smart mountain dweller in the rest of Switzerland, now he was like Maverick in New York and Bloomington. The students were immediately enthralled by the dynamic between Arno’s Rhaeto-Romanic culture and the raw charm of his Grison dialect. Camenisch lit the fire, piled on wood, played with the flames in every tongue he had, pushed the English translation till it groaned, and stood ready to weather any storm like a pine on a mountain cliff-edge. The lecture theatre will never be the same again. Camenisch’s fumes are still sweeping over the campus today.

HILDEGARD ELISABETH KELLER is a literary critic, author, and filmmaker, who teaches German literature at Indiana University in Bloomington and at the University of Zürich. Since 2009 she has been a jury member at the Ingeborg Bachmann Competition and since 2012 a member of the team of critics for the Literaturclub on Swiss television.



The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia awards grants for translations of contemporary literary works from Switzerland, with an eye to promoting cultural and linguistic diversity and helping Swiss authors reach larger audiences, both within the country and around the world.


Pro Helvetia supports the translation of:
— literary works by Swiss authors (fiction and poetry)
— books for children and teenagers (it may also cover part of the licensing fees)
— non-fiction books by Swiss authors on cultural and artistic topics relating to
— plays by Swiss dramatists (including theatre surtitles)
— samples of up to 15 pages upon request

Additionally, Pro Helvetia can also help promoting recently published or translated books by contributing financially to literary tours of Swiss authors in foreign countries or Swiss linguistic regions other than their own.


How to proceed:
Applications must be submitted by the licensed publisher. Signed copies of the licence agreement and the translation contract must be included in the application. The application should also include the final edited manuscript or a substantial extract from same (minimum 30 pages), as well as a draft promotional plan for the book. Translation fees will be paid directly to the translator by Pro Helvetia upon publication. Translation fees are based on the translation contract and calculated according to the current rates in the country of the language of translation.


We accept applications at any time, but they must be submitted at least three months before printing, to allow time for Pro Helvetia to proof-read the translation.

All applications should be submitted at the application portal:

Please contact us if you have any further questions. We look forward to receiving your application.


Angelika Salvisberg
Head of Pro Helvetia’s
Literature and Society Division
T +41 44 267 71 26


PHOTO © Cortis & Sonderegger, 2011

Pro Helvetia
Swiss Arts Council
Hirschengraben 22
CH-8024 Zürich
T +41 44 267 71 71
F +41 44 267 71 06


Other Dossiers