The History of the Geneva Writers’ Group
by Jo Ann Hansen Rasch
On January 23, 1993, a group of seventeen English-language writers gathered for a workshop on the first floor of the long-established Café du Soleil in Petit-Saconnex. Some of these writers had been with Susan Tiberghien in a writing workshop at the American Women’s Club; others had met with her in an evening workshop open to men and women. Geneva is a city of transitions and traditions, a lonely place for writers who have been up-rooted, and Susan, a born leader, wanted to share her passion for writing.
For the next three years she taught workshops on different aspects of creative writing to this small group of writers who named themselves the Geneva Writers’ Group. In September 1996, a more formal structure was established. By then, Susan, already a mother of six and a grandmother, had become an inspiring writing instructor as well as a published author. She gave a morning workshop, with handouts and writing exercises, and led a critiquing session in the afternoon. Thirty members now belonged to the GWG with seven of them forming a steering committee. Workshops took place once a month, from September to June, and were open to all who wished to develop their writing skills in English. Both beginning and published writers were welcome. Membership was eligible to those who attended three workshops a year.
In 1997 the anthology Offshoots Vol. IV was published, a joint venture by the American Women’s Club and the GWG. The authors, writing in Geneva, were from fifteen different countries. The anthology, a biennial collection of prose and poetry, had originated at the American Women’s Club. In 1999, the GWG published Offshoots V alone. This was the beginning of bookstore readings, radio competitions and reading invitations from different associations including the US Embassy. Master classes, the first on poetry given by Wallis Wilde Menozzi, were also initiated.
Communication was going electronic and by 1998, when the group held its first international writing conference at Webster University, professionals on the business of writing were already offering panels on new and different aspects of editing, publishing, promotion and production. The weekend conference also gave high-level instruction in fiction, play writing, creative non-fiction and poetry.
In September of that same year, in need of bigger premises, the GWG moved to the Geneva Press Club. The elegant old building, La Villa Pastorale, which housed the Press Club, was not far from the Café du Soleil so writers could still return there for lunch.
A new millennium offered an affirmation of life and the GWG seized this moment to consolidate its core goal of sharing a love of writing. On May 15, 2004, by-laws were written and approved by members and the Geneva Writers’ Group was registered as a non-profit association. Other amenities followed: a service that co-ordinated small independent groups, a mentoring service, literary salons, play production, and a biennial Meet the Agents weekend. As of today there are 170 members from 30 countries. There have been seven international writing conferences and in 2009 the twentieth anniversary of Offshoots was celebrated. Published novels, memoirs, poetry collections, non-fiction books, articles, short stories and blogs are tangible results of the group’s success.
Throughout the GWG’s development Susan Tiberghien has remained firmly at the helm. Thanks to her remarkable capacity to network she has brought fine instructors to Geneva. She has generously and intelligently encouraged countless writers to get their words out, to believe in their potential. I have been a member of the GWG since its embryonic gestation and I have seen how Susan’s love of the beautiful art of writing helps diminish that which is ugly, shabby, or vulgar. Though writers should not be guardians of morality, nevertheless they search for their truth in full-blown solitude. The Geneva Writers’ Group not only offers them professional instruction and assistance but it also offers them a home to befriend others who share their passion for words. As Susan says, “the continuing expansion and creative spirit of the GWG is due to its family of members, the old-timers who welcome the new ones, and to its steering committee that expands to twelve every other year for the Conference.”