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Literary archive The legacy of Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Switzerland owes its literary archives to the renowned Swiss author and dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990), who bequeathed his legacy to the country on condition that a national literary archive be founded. However, that is only half the story. 

The idea actually came from the author Peter von Matt, who, while dealing with the literary estate of playwright and novelist Max Frisch (1911-1991), became convinced that the works of deceased authors belonged in the public domain. 

In 1988, von Matt, together with Dürrenmatt’s lawyer, tried to persuade Dürrenmatt – author of works including Romulus the Great, The Visit and The Physicists – to go to the government and say "you’ll get my entire estate free of charge if you create a national literary archive". 

It worked: 25 years after its founding, the Swiss Literary Archive looks after more than 250 estates of dead and living authors. 

(Text: Sibilla Bondolfi, Images: Simon Schmid, Swiss National Library, picture department: Christoph Balsiger)

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