Creative Bliss Among the Swiss: Postcard From Geneva

Linda Lappin

On February 2, over 170 writers, editors, agents, and publishers from five continents attended a two-day writers conference in Geneva, Switzerland—an intensive weekend of workshops, readings, panel discussions, and networking.

The conference was organized by the Geneva Writers' Group and sponsored by the International Suisse Romand PEN Centre, the WICE Paris Writers' Workshop, the International Women's Writing Guild, Webster University, and other international institutions. Now in its third year, the conference was founded to provide a forum for English-speaking writers living in Europe. Writers' groups in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and France sent numerous representatives. Other participants-many of them multilingual-hailed from as far away as the U.S., Japan, Australia, India, and Israel. The atmosphere of international exchange was heightened by the coincidence that the conference convened on the 120th anniversary of the birth of James Joyce, the dean of expatriate writers.

The conference faculty included poet Mark Roper (The Home Fire), fiction writers Jane Alison (The Love Artist), Russell Celyn Jones (The Eros Hunter), and Thomas E. Kennedy (Realism and Other Illusions), creative nonfiction writers Larry Habegger, Susan Tiberghien (Looking for Gold), and Wallis Wilde-Menozzi (Mother Tongue), and screenwriter Stephen Belber (Tape).

The teaching staff was flanked by a panel of writers, editors, agents, and publishers who discussed the business of writing from different perspectives. The panel consisted of David Applefield, editor of the Paris-based journal FRANK, who stressed the need for alternative forms of publishing and presented "Foldable Frank," a four-page literary bi-weekly in .pdf format available from; John Jenkins, editor of World Wide Writers; Zoe King, Web publisher of BuzzWords; agents John Saddler (UK) and Dean Cooke (Canada), who explained what agents do and offered advice about recent trends in trade publishing; and Canadian fiction writer Lauren Davis (Rat Medicine and Other Unlikely Curatives), who offered advice on online writing programs. After the formal discussion, panelists answered questions during three separate periods of time set aside for networking.

The conference concluded with a surprise award ceremony. The first "Expatriate Writers' Award," sponsored by FRANK, was given to Thomas E. Kennedy, in recognition of his outstanding work as writer and editor. In his long career as an editor of several U.S. literary magazines, including the Cimarron Review and The Literary Review, Kennedy-an American based in Copenhagen-has encouraged hundreds of younger writers and introduced American readers to writers from abroad.

In his closing remarks, Adolfo Neufeld, a member of the Geneva organizing committee, underlined the role writers play in furthering global understanding, and reminded us that gatherings such as the Geneva conference promote communication among nations. We left the shimmering white peaks of Geneva to return home with fresh ideas, useful tools, and a warm sense of belonging to a greater community.