As the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival enters its 17th edition, JEAN-PAUL BORG speak with Lara Zamit on what the annual event has in store for us.
LZ: InizjamedThe upcoming Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival will mark its 17th edition this year. What can you tell us about the history of the festival and what it wanted to achieve?
JPB: The festival began thanks to the conviction of Maria Grech Ganado that Inizjamed joins the Literature Across Frontiers network thanks to her belief in Maltese literature.
Adrian Grima says that the formula at the very beginning was simple, almost elementary, offering a space for authors from different languages and literatures to meet and translate. This led to enriching everyone’s work as the original work developed in a creative process.
The success is that this process has led the festival to be a space where people from different places, from different walks of life, meet, discuss and create something beautiful together. The very beginning of the festival may have started in closed spaces, but since its early years the public has become an integral part of it.
Literature needs readers, a festival needs an audience. Sometimes you can forget the importance of audiences, but the pandemic has been a stark reminder of that – online events could never replace the joy and magic of sharing a physical space with others and experiencing the tension of being witnessing something happening in front of your unfiltered naked eye.
The fact that the Palk æielesthe Open Mic has now become a staple of the festival is further proof – last year we had to play it safe and scale down our festival, but the Palk Ħieles, which allows everyone to share their work with other others, was not sacrificed.
Ultimately, the festival is a celebration of different literatures, different languages, different cultures in charming Fort St Elmo, allowing the public to drink, snack, buy books, listen to live bands and to discover together the works of different authors.
LZ: What makes this 17th edition so special? What literary events/activities do you have in store?
JPB: Each edition is unique, the different composition of the authors guarantees it. This year we will have Adrian Grima, one of the co-founders of the festival, who will be on stage for the first time as a guest author, and this is very special for us. It feels like the festival has come full circle.
We will also welcome for the first time a Ukrainian poet – Julia Musaskovska. We had to recognize the courage of this poet who will be traveling from a war-torn country by asking fellow Ukrainian artist Ira Melkonyan to create something special to accompany her and she came up with the idea for an intervention music-sound-performance with his poetry. , featuring a Ukrainian singer and translated Maltese poetry.
We will have a discussion at the theater of Spazju Kreattiv called On the edge of conflict moderated by James Debono and with a panel of three of the guest authors.
The tongue is a fierce creature that refuses to be tamed and always has the last word-Abdelfattah Kalito
On the same evening, Spanish EUPL winner Jacobo Bergareche will be interviewed by David Schembri. For the first time, we will be hosting a live masterclass – Masterclass on the poem Golden Shovel be led by one of the guest authors, Bella Cox.
The public is more and more at the heart of the festival, and on the same day we will have the Palk æieles. Everything will then conclude at Fort St Elme on Friday and Saturday, with the participation of four authors each evening presenting their work to us, and their translations, we will have on stage different languages which will intertwine, and literature will flirt with music.
Beyond all this, the participation of different authors that we will see for the first time will ensure that we see things from a new angle. I’m sure these authors will defamiliarize even the mundane and give us new perspectives and feelings.
LZ: Translation seems to have been a central part of the literature festival over the years, especially since the festival draws on literature from across the widest expanse of the Mediterranean. Can you comment on the practice of translation and its place in the festival?
JPB: Claudia Gauci, InizjamedThe president of , pointed out in her program message that translation is what connects all the ends of the festival – the bridge between different points.
It is a technique that pushes language to its limits since, as Abdelfattah Kalito remarks, language is a ferocious creature that cannot be tamed and that always has the last word. In a translation, the languages tug at each other and quarrel, but this is ultimately what makes foreign literatures accessible and allows us to understand each other better.
The translation workshop is at the heart of the festival, for a few days different authors live together and finalize their translations for each other face to face. It’s a pleasure not offered to many translators, and a process that allows friendships and relationships to flourish that go beyond the festival.
As much as we bring foreign literature to our shores, Maltese literature beats the limits of our smallness.
This year is also special since we will publish Xtaqt li kont merkurju (Wishing I were a mercury) – an anthology edited by Kit Azzopardi, Claudia Gauci and Justine Somerville – all core members of Inizjamed – featuring poetry translated into Maltese throughout the festival.
The Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival takes place August 26-27 in Fort St Elmo, Valletta. The festival is supported by the Malta Arts Council and also collaborates with Creative Europe Desk – Malta, the National Book Council, Heritage Malta and Literature Across Frontiers. For more information, visit inizjamed.org.
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