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Grand Prix Literature 2024 – Highest Swiss literary award for Klaus Merz – Culture

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Grand Prix Literature 2024 – Highest Swiss literary award for Klaus Merz – Culture


The Aargau author Klaus Merz is a master of calm tones. Now he is receiving the Grand Prix Literature of the Confederation for his life’s work. Finally.

With Klaus Merz, a “rather quiet, but all the more forceful and weighty voice” is being honored, writes the Federal Office of Culture. Every year it awards the Grand Prix Literature, worth 40,000 francs, for a complete work. It is the highest literary award in Switzerland.

Klaus Merz’s work is characterized by “introspection and linguistic condensation”. In fact, in last year’s poem “In the Mountains” he needs four verses to describe the scenery of the approaching mountain spring:

“When the cornice awakens, / a boy named Lenz grows out of its warm / snowy sex.”

Who is Klaus Merz?

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Legend: SRF

Klaus Merz was born on October 3, 1945 in Aarau and grew up in Menziken, Aargau. He completed secondary teacher training and then worked part-time for language and culture at a secondary technical school.

Klaus Merz has been living in Unterkulm as a freelance writer for years – interrupted by longer stays abroad. Before the Swiss Grand Prix Literature 2024, Klaus Merz has already received several awards – including the Gottfried Keller and Friedrich Hölderlin Prizes.

You can read and hear more from Klaus Merz on the SRF literature platform «Views».

That’s typical: you can feel that someone is at work who is crossing out at least as much as he is writing. And thereby gives the texts that unmistakable floating tone.

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Read and get involved

The lyricist and poet often deliberately omits supposedly important information. To irritate readers. Or perhaps better: to encourage them to fill the empty spaces themselves using their own thoughts. This is what it says in the poem “Zum Graduation” from 2019:

«Before you life / as a widely ramified / siding. / Another rail / network is not / available to us. / And the buffer stop / as the last resort. / Forgive me.”

With a minimum of words, the poem poses the question of the possibilities and limitations of human endeavor. And about transience.

And what do the verses trigger? Confidence or resignation? As with all strong poetry, various interpretations are usually possible in Klaus Merz’s texts.

Poetry as the supreme discipline

His first publication was the volume of poetry “With Collected Blindness” from 1967. He returned to poetry again and again.

A selection of his works

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  • Klaus Merz: “Edition of works in seven volumes”, ed. v. Markus Bundi, Hamyon 2015.
  • Klaus Merz: “Jakob is sleeping. Actually a novel”, 4th edition, Haymon 2014.
  • Klaus Merz: “The Argentinian”, 4th edition, Haymon 2016.
  • Klaus Merz: “firma”, Haymon 2019.
  • Klaus Merz: “Still light in the house”, Haymon 2023.

The older the author became, the more consistently he used it as a playing field to linguistically reduce material to its innermost being. And to get to deeper philosophical meanings.

Writing poems, Klaus Merz once said in an interview with SRF, was “like cutting a diamond so that as much light as possible gets into a small stone.”

Lyrical prose

Klaus Merz’s prose texts are also lyrically condensed. For example, the 2009 novella “The Argentinian” about a Swiss man who sets out to seek his fortune in South America after the Second World War.

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Special Prize for Translation and Swiss Literature Prizes 2024

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The special translation prize, worth 40,000 francs, goes to Dorothea Trottenberg, born in 1957. She is “one of the most productive freelance translators in German-speaking Switzerland,” writes the Federal Office of Culture.

Today, Dorothea Trottenberg translates classic and contemporary Russian literature. She also works at the University Library of Basel as a specialist in Slavic studies and Eastern European studies.

The Federal Jury for Literature also awarded the following works published between September 2022 and October 2023 a Swiss Literature Prize worth 25,000 francs each:

  • Bessora: “You, the ancestors.” Paris, JC Lattès
  • Jérémie Gindre: “Tombola”. Geneva, Zoe
  • Judith Keller: “Wild maneuvers”. Munich, Luchterhand
  • Dominic Oppliger: “giftland”. Lucerne, The Healthy People Dispatch
  • Claudia Quadri: «Childhood and bestiary». Bellinzona, Casagrande Editions
  • Ed Wige: “Milch Milk Latte Mleko”. Lausanne, Paulette editor
  • Ivna Zic: «Probable origins». Berlin, Matthes and Seitz

Or the short novel “Jakob Sleeps” from 1997. The book – based on autobiography – tells, among other things, the emptiness that a stillborn child leaves in a family.

The first section of the book already captures the stressful psychological situation in a strong image: there is a cross in the family garden in memory of the deceased. It has a “rotten base” and the “copper roof is covered with a very thin layer of verdigris.” And dust “swirls” in the air.

The search for yourself

Merz has repeatedly dealt with autobiographical material and with people from his environment. For example with his disabled brother. Or with his father, who suffered from epileptic seizures. Illness and death are recurring motifs. As he grew older, Klaus Merz increasingly associated her with a light cheerfulness.

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Klaus Merz has won prize after prize. Now also the highest Swiss literary award, the Grand Prix. He was overdue.

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