NBG talks to Dani Landolf, managing director of the Swiss Booksellers and Publishers Association

NBG: The Swiss Book Prize was awarded for the first time in 2008. Why was it seen as necessary to establish an individual Swiss Book Prize – aren’t there a multitude of prizes already?
Landolf: Yes, there are quite a few literary prizes in Switzerland, but their recognition and impact outside a very restricted area is minimal. Often they receive no more than a brief mention in the local press. With the Swiss Book Prize our aim from the outset was to create wide and general publicity for excellent Swiss writing. And it is off to a remarkably good start: the level of interest in the press, radio and television was truly formidable, and having the radio station DRS2 on board meant we had the most important cultural channel in Switzerland as our media partner.
NBG: Is the Swiss Book Prize in some degree in competition with the German Book Prize (dbp) established in 2005? Was there a sense that Swiss works were not receiving adequate attention?
Landolf: A lack of attention – yes. Competition – no. We consciously conceived the Swiss Book Prize as a complement to its German predecessor – anything else would be inappropriate for the small Swiss market. The dbp is an excellent product, well implemented and with top-notch organisation. We were lucky enough to profit from their experiences; the Börsenverein (German Publishers Association) were a great support. But although there were two Swiss writers on the 2008 German long-list, Lukas Bärfuss and Rolf Lappert, the response to their books in Germany was not huge. Conversely the dbp hardly features in the Swiss media. A lamentable situation perhaps, but one that can’t be changed – except through the staging of one’s own event.
NBG: Will the jury change each year?
Landolf: To bring a certain continuity to this early phase we have elected the jury for three years. We’ll decide from that point how to proceed.
NBG: Are you satisfied with the results and the reception in this first year?
Landolf: Very. We were able to show how many talented writers there are in Switzerland at the moment. The number of strong contenders was high, the selection process for the long-list no easy ride for the jury. And in Rolf Lappert we had a worthy winner. The fact that his novel Nach hause Schwimmen leapt immediately to the top of the Swiss-German bestseller list and remained in the top ten for almost three months was a fine side effect. This is first and foremost thanks to the book itself, but of course – as mentioned earlier – through the prize it received heightened media exposure.
NBG: Was the prize generally welcomed by writers and reviewers?
Landolf: We didn’t only meet with positive responses, and during our campaign had to overcome a certain level of resistance. However, the successful launch silenced many critics. One of the points of contention was that literature is not a competition, another that French or Italian Swiss books were excluded. The latter is a theme that always rises quickly to the surface in Switzerland – and is also a reason many projects fail. The variety of languages renders the organisation of any such prize very complicated. That’s why we said to ourselves: let’s start with Germanspeaking Switzerland. But it is our aim one day to see all three national languages participating in the prize.
NBG: What are your hopes for the future development of the prize?
Landolf: I hope that the second year of the Swiss Book Prize can build on the success of the first. It is our aim to consolidate the prize, to fine-tune the organisational aspects, to polish the marketing, to have an even stronger presence in the bookshops and to find a sponsor able to carry the burden without strain.
Dani Landolf
is Managing Director of the Swiss Booksellers and Publishers Association (SBVV)