Swiss Literature Feature

Independent Publishers in
German-Speaking Switzerland

Invite someone of Irish- Scottish background to write about independent publishers in Switzerland, and certain comparisons are bound to follow. The position of, say, Blackstaff, in Belfast, vis-à-vis the major London publishers. The similar challenges facing a publisher such as Polygon in Edinburgh. Thoughts will inevitably turn to major writers who have published their first books with such houses before moving on to Secker or Cape.
But wait – the comparison is flawed. ‘In bed with an elephant’, maybe; but the small, committed publishers who contribute so much to an ever more exciting Swiss literary scene do not seem to be losing their authors to bigger houses in bigger neighbouring countries. What’s more, with the help of Pro Helvetia’s ‘Moving Words’ programme, and of coverage in New Books in German, more titles from Swiss independents are making their way into English. Keen to explore more?
The obvious place is – the website of the umbrella organisation, SWIPS (short for ‘Swiss Independent Publishers’). There you can access the catalogues of all twenty-six members. The members of SWIPS work in different areas and cover different genres, but they have common interests. And so, in 2007, a platform was created with a view to increasing their visibility for readers, the book trade, the media and cultural institutions. The first president of SWIPS was the legend that is Ricco Bilger – the founder, also, of the Leukerbad International Literature Festival.
Justice cannot be done to the output of twenty-six publishers in these few words. For a fuller impression, you might consult the four New Swiss Writing anthologies published by the Solothurner Literaturtage from 2008 to 2011, which present extracts from books by over a hundred German-Swiss writers, as well as by colleagues writing in the other languages of Switzerland. But here are some top tips from just a few of the SWIPS publishers and their outstanding literary lists:
Highlights include Pedro Lenz’s hilarious spoof guide to provincial literature, Das Kleine Lexikon der Provinzliteratur; Simon Froehling’s gay love story, Lange Nächte Tag; Christoph Simon, whose Zbinden’s Progress has made it into English (And Other Stories); and Ricco Bilger’s latest find, Ursula Timea Rossel.

Authors include Sandra Hughes, Jens Steiner (longlisted for the German Book Prize in 2011) and Jolanda Piniel, nominated for the best independent book of 2012 published in German (
Edition 8
Hot off the press, the anthology Globale is a perfect introduction to the incredible diversity of current Swiss writing. Look out too for books by younger colleagues such as Maurizio Pinarello and Sverin Schwendener.
Der gesunde Menschenversand
A new imprint specialising in ‘Spoken Word’ or ‘Spoken Script’, also known for its audio books. Writing, often in dialect, by Beat Sterchi, Pedro Lenz, Ernst Eggimann and (coming soon!) Franz Hohler.
Lenos Verlag
Basel-based ‘Publisher of the Year 2012’, with a focus on Swiss literature (e.g. E Y Meyer and Gerold Späth) as well as writing from Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia (in German translation).
Limmat Verlag
Back-list reflects all four literatures of Switzerland. Publisher of young writers such as Isabelle Stamm and Roman Graf. Look out for Katharina Tanner’s short novel Da geht sie.
Hot tip: Franco Supino, a son of Italian immigrants who writes in German, and whose Trilogie der Rückkehr (‘trilogy of return’) includes Musica Leggera, a beautifully written tale of first love, and Ciao amore, ciao, a novel written around the Sanremo Song Festival of 1967.
Some independent German-Swiss publishers are not members of SWIPS. Diogenes – based in Zurich, and the largest ‘purely belletristic’ publishing house in Europe – is the obvious example. A second example would be Engeler Verlag, the publisher of Arno Camenisch, whose trilogy has just been snapped up by Dalkey Archive (USA). Engeler has a reputation in the trade for beautiful editions of quality writing (see also www. New kids on the block, Traversion – founded in 2011, and interested in the interface between text, music and images – also deserve a mention. As does Secession – the ‘Newcomer-Verlag des Jahres 2011’.
There is more to discover, Reader. Much more. Google and ye shall find.

SWIPS members:
bilgerverlag • Christoph Merian Verlag • DÖRLEMANN • Edition 8 • edition clandestin • Edition Howeg • edition pudelundpinscher • edition taberna kritika • elfundzehn verlag • Der gesunde Menschenversand • KaMeRu Verlag • Lars Müller Publishers • Lenos Verlag • Limmat Verlag • NIMBUS • orte verlag • Rotpunktverlag • Verlag Scheidegger & Spiess • Seismo Verlag • Unionsverlag • Verlag Das Fünfte Tier • verlag die brotsuppe • Verlag Martin Wallimann • Walde + Graf Verlag • Waldgut Verlag & Atelier Bodoni • Zytglogge Verlag.

© private
Donal McLaughlin
Author and translator Donal McLaughlin
features as both in Best European Fiction 2012 (Dalkey Archive).