A conversation on research grants

Dirk Koy
© Dirk Koy

Pro Helvetia has been awarding research grants to authors since 2023, with Annette Hug, Lou Lepori, Begoña Feijóo Fariña and Laura Di Corcia among the recipients to date. Here, they reveal how their research turned out:

What did the research grant allow you to do?

Annette Hug: To start with, the artist Anna Wiget and I spent a week together reading, drawing, talking, writing and reflecting. Being able to focus like this as a pair, without any of the usual meetings and day-to-day distractions, was a real gift. I got something from it I never expected: freedom from certain fixed ideas regarding content and form. That’s what I’d hoped for.

Lou Lepori: It allowed me to travel where the (non-fictional) characters in my novel had gone. It was a major challenge because Vincenzo and Carlo – my grandfather and his “secret” lover – found their space for freedom by crossing the Atlantic. For the first time, entirely consciously (albeit while crippled with guilt), my grandfather crossed a border which was at once sexual, geographical and linguistic in nature.

Annette Hug
Annette Hug

Laura Di Corcia/Begoña Feijoo Fariña: Without the research grant, our work, which involves writing about our visits to museums and other places of interest in Valposchiavo, would not have been possible. Because of the grant, we had the freedom to visit these places in a leisurely manner and that’s so important when you’re writing.

At what stage of your creative process did you make use of the research contribution?

Laura Di Corcia/Begoña Feijoo Fariña: We really felt the benefit of the grant during the research phase of our work, when we were out visiting museums, as well as when we were meeting to discuss the work we wanted to do and how we could go about it. We would not have been able to take our time and pursue these ideas without this support.

Begoña Feijoo Fariña and Laura Di Corcia
Begoña Feijoo Fariña and Laura Di Corcia

Lou Lepori: It was an intermediate stage in the process. As the book is a work of “autofiction” (semi-autobiographical fiction), part of the scaffolding of the story was there, but it needed fleshing out. Life – a life I hadn’t lived – needed to be breathed into the writing. It was crucial to be able to “live” these places – their places – to restore that forgotten story.

Annette Hug: I had long been thinking about starting with a passage in a book by the Filipino author José Rizal and linking one of his observations with a relief in Zurich’s Grossmünster church. But I didn’t want to do it alone. The research contribution enabled me to develop this idea into something bigger. In other words, it helped me turn it into the beginning of something.

How concrete was your project when you applied for the funding?

Lou Lepori: It was at a very advanced stage, as this project has been following me around for a good decade now, since my mother died. But this work, based on memory, was still too cerebral. I had to immerse myself in urban America to give life to these ghosts. I had already received a small writing bursary from the Canton of Fribourg for this novel, but it felt difficult to pursue the work without a real geographic and physical shift. You can’t write “cold”. You must stir a secret power and find the right balance between the controlled tension that ignites the story from the inside, and the written word itself. The aim isn’t to “tell” the story in the sense of just communicating it, but to take the reader with you, leaving them their space and their imagination. The question of the body becomes essential: your own body, the body of the text, and the body of the reader themselves.

Lou Lepori © Matthieu Gafsou
Lou Lepori © Matthieu Gafsou

Annette Hug: The idea was there; Anna Wiget and I had already spent an afternoon on it together. We’d submitted the research to a different body, too, but they didn’t give us any funding. We were on the scent of something and wanted to turn this into a joint project.

Laura Di Corcia/Begoña Feijoo Fariña:

Yes, the project was already underway, although certain aspects of it have been changed as work has progressed, and today it’s slightly different from how it was at the outset, especially in terms of what the final composition of the texts will be.

Laura Di Corcia

Laura Di Corcia was born in Mendrisio in 1982. She works as a teacher and arts journalist and contributes to various print publications and radio programmes as a literary and theatre critic.   In 2015 she published her first book, the poetry collection Epica dello spreco, which was followed by In tutte le direzioni (LietoColle, 2018 finalist for the Maconi poetry prize) and Diorama (Tlon, 2021), for which she won the 2022 Terra Nova Prize (awarded by the Schiller Foundation) and was also shortlisted for several Italian literary awards (including the Premio Tirinnanzi and the Premio Montano). In addition to writing radio plays for the public broadcaster Radiotelevisione della Svizzera italiana, she is a member of the organising committee for the Giornate letterarie di Soletta literary festival.

Begoña Feijoo Fariña

Begoña Feijoo Fariña, 38 born in 1977 in Vilanova de Arousa, north-west Spain, she moved to Switzerland at the age of twelve. A graduate in Life Sciences, she is an author and cultural promoter. She has authored several novels, including Per una fetta di mela secca (Gabriele Capelli Editore, Mendrisio, 2020), and is one of two co-founders of the inauDita theatre company, as well as the creator of both the I monologanti theatre series and the Lettere dalla Svizzera alla Valposchiavo literature festival.

Annette Hug

Annette Hug was born in Zurich in 1970. She studied History in Zurich and Women and Development Studies in Manila. Following stints as a lecturer and trade-union secretary, she has been working as a freelance author since January 2015. Lady Berta and In Zelenys Zimmer [In Zeleny’s Room] were published by rotpunktverlag in 2008 and 2010 respectively, while Wilhelm Tell in Manila [William Tell in Manila] and Tiefenlager [Deep Repository] were published by Das Wunderhorn in 2016 and 2021 respectively. Annette Hug received a Swiss Literature Award in 2017. Her column ‘Ein Traum der Welt’ [‘A dream of the world’] is published biweekly in WOZ, a weekly newspaper. She recently started translating contemporary Filipino literature into German. In April 2023, Edition Tincatinca published a volume of poetry entitled Offenes Meer [Open Sea], written by Luna Sicat Cleto and translated from Tagalog (Filipino) by Annette Hug.

Lou Lepori

Lou Lepori was born in Lugano in 1968 and works in Lausanne for Swiss Italian-language radio. He holds a doctorate in Theatre Studies and mentors writers at the Haute École des Arts de Berne. He founded the queer journal Hétérographe and the Tome Trois Théâtre company. He writes in French and Italian and translates between both languages.