Perched at the foot of the Jura mountains, the Maison de l’Écriture rises as a strident intrusion of modernity with its vaulting, white pillars, panoramic windows and perforated roof. Yet this is not the first time that a New Age phenomenon has imposed itself on the area. Back in the 1890s, when the Morges to L’Isle railway (BAM), was being built, the locals feared it would scare the cows and ruin the laundry. Hence, Montricher station lies a good two kilometres from the village.
Taking four years to build, the Maison opened in June 2013 with its vast oak library, high-tech auditorium and stunning view. Its purpose is to serve as a cultural hub for global writing by offering residential fellowships, concerts, readings, exhibitions and workshops, as well as hosting the annual Jan Michalski Literary Prize.
Founded by Swiss publisher Vera Hoffman in the memory of her late husband, Jan Michalski, it was designed by two Swiss architects, Vincent Mangeat and Pierre Wahlen, to become “an ever-expanding ‘city’ for creativity, inspiration and debate”. Resident writers will live in cabins hanging from the canopy. “The idea is that we will add more activities with the public very much part of this international initiative,” said Hoffman, who also supports the Morges Literary Festival.
Writing, of course, is nothing new to the region, which has long attracted literary giants such as Goethe, Byron, Shelley, Somerset Maugham, Hemingway, Nabokov, Simenon and Greene. Today, the tradition continues with initiatives designed to inspire veteran and aspiring authors, poets, playwrights and screenwriters with tools and ideas for publishing, reading and writing.
Among the best known is the Geneva Writers’ Group, which hosts a conference every two years along with monthly workshops, and also collaborates on other gatherings and readings. “Sometimes, writers find themselves alone, so we’re trying to help put them in touch with others to share contacts and experiences, plus keep up with a fast-changing industry,” noted GWG founder, Susan Tiberghien.
For author Jason Donald, who recently ran his first retreat in Saanenmöser, the region hosts an exceptional variety of global writers. Many are seeking ways of connecting, explained Donald, a Scotsman raised in South Africa where he attended an American school. “There’s no home-grown writers’ scene as in Glasgow, but Geneva is a bit like an airport with people coming and going, so there’s a real urge to come together.”
Selected Writers’ Initiatives
- Morges Literary Festival (5-7 September): 40,000 visitors, 300 writers last year.
- Zurich Writers’ Workshop: eg. how to make a living as an author, writing fiction.
- Geneva Trade School: Free writers’ learning exchange
- Universities of Geneva and Bern. Both promote writing
- Geneva English Language Library: monthly workshops
- Chateau de Lavigny: Annual writers’ retreat
- Lavaux Literary Salon: ad hoc wine and words event
- World Radio Switzerland: Book Banter, weekly show with local authors
- Literary gatherings: Gstaad, Leukerbad, Zinal; other Swiss and French resorts.