Literature

All four language regions of Switzerland have their own rich literary tradition. The undisputed giants of Swiss literature are Max Frisch, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Woman reading a book by Friedrich Dürrenmat
© FDFA, Presence Switzerland

Switzerland has not one but four distinct literary traditions, playing host to authors who write in German, French, Italian and Romansh.

The most famous German-language authors are Max Frisch, author of “Homo Faber”, and Friedrich Dürrenmatt, who wrote “Besuch der Alten Dame” (The Visit). Their work is characterised by a satirical take on post-war Swiss society. In the 19th century, Jeremias Gotthelf and Gottfried Keller were the leading lights of Swiss literature. The famous children’s novel “Heidi” was written by their contemporary, Johanna Spyri.

Hermann Hesse, the author of the philosophical novel “Siddhartha”, became well known in the early 20th century. Contemporary Swiss authors include Peter Bichsel, Martin Suter, Urs Widmer and Franz Hohler. Among the new generation of German-language authors are Thomas Hürlimann, Melinda Nadj-Abondji, Peter Stamm and Lukas Bärfuss.

In the French-speaking community, the writer and philosopher of the Enlightenment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, published a number of seminal works in the 18th century, including “Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse” (Julie, or the New Heloise) and “Du contrat social” (The Social Contract). The early 19th century saw the publication of works by Madame de Staël and Benjamin Constant, followed by Blaise Cendrars in the inter-war years. Charles Ferdinand Ramuz was also writing around this time. His most famous works are “La grande peur dans la montagne” (Terror on the Mountain) and “Derborence”, both of which document the harshness of day-to-day life in rural French-speaking Switzerland. 20th century French-language authors include Jacques Chessex, Maurice Borgeaud, Maurice Chappaz, S. Corinna Bille and Alice Rivaz. In more recent times, a number of young authors like Joël Dicker, have chalked up major successes.

The literature of Italian-speaking Switzerland is dominated by writers like Francesco Chiesa, Piero Bianconi, Ugo Canonica and Giorgio Orelli. The leading Romansh authors are Selina Chönz, Cla Biert, Gion Deplazes, Clo Duri Bezzola and writer and composer Linard Bardill.

Every year the Federal Office of Culture awards two “Grand Prix de Literature”, and five to seven Swiss Literary Awards. The annual Solothurn Literary Days in June provide a forum for Swiss writers to present their work to the public, while the International Literature Festival in Leukerbad, which is held in July, attracts authors from around the globe.

Additional information