From 25 to 27 June the Saanenland was host to the inaugural WoW Gstaad: World of Words Literature Symposium. A newcomer to the local cultural scene, the star-studded programme invited guests to get up close and personal with acclaimed writers and bright new lights of the literary world, as well as an Oscar-winning director.
It was touch and go during the months leading up to the inaugural WoW Gstaad: World of Words Literature Symposium. The pandemic made it doubtful whether the event could take place this year until shortly before the planned date. But that did not deter Thomas Gommes, founder and literary director of WoW Gstaad, who started developing the concept for the event just over a year ago. During the months and weeks leading up to the symposium he “encouraged everyone involved to stay calm and focused on our goal, and to remain optimistic.[…] As we’ve seen, the faith paid off.” With restrictions eased shortly ahead of the event, a pared down, but nonetheless enriching event went ahead.
Motivated by his love of the written word, Gommes, who is also an aspiring writer, felt there were other kindred spirits in the region who would appreciate celebrating literature along with him. And it appears he was right. From the moment the event began in the Salle Baccarat of the Palace Hotel, there was a buzz in the air. The exciting speaker line-up and the sense that this event marked the start of something new for the region captivated the audience from the outset.
Being newcomers to the cultural scene, Gommes says “we were limited by who would accept our invitation”. In hindsight, the invitation was well-received. Indeed, guests heard from a diverse bench of literary talent: internationally acclaimed Swiss novelist Peter Stamm, Swiss cartoonist Patrick Chappatte, French historical writer and screenwriter Ève de Castro, Swiss novelist Simone Lappert, writer and screenwriter Thomas Meyer, and legendary writer and film director, Oliver Stone. Speakers read from their work, discussing it as they went along and sharing insights into their motivation for writing, their process, and what keeps them going in a profession that appears romantic from the outside, but where the reality is at times less rosy. There were several highlights over the course of the weekend, but watching the Oscar winning director being interviewed on stage at the iconic Gstaad cinema by Tyler Brûlé, editorial director and chairman of Monocle, following a screening of a scene from Stone’s JFK film, is one of those “Gstaad moments” that will not be forgotten. Certainly, the sprinkling of stardust that coated the symposium enchanted guests and ensured discussions over lunches and dinners at the Palace, Posthotel Rössli, and Hotel Olden remained lively.
Plans are already being drawn up for next year’s symposium, which, Gommes says, will be “bigger, and if such a thing is even possible, better”. Writer Louis de Bernières, who had to postpone his attendance this year, has already committed to speaking next year. There are also plans to record all future presentations so that they can be posted online. Certainly, if the 2021 event is anything to go by, the 2022 edition will also be “WoW”.
ANNE CHRISTINE KEMPTON