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Festival Mediterranju tal-Letteratura ta Malta / Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival
‘The many voices of the Mediterranean’ – Jean Paul Borg interviewed on the Times of Malta

‘The many voices of the Mediterranean’ – Jean Paul Borg interviewed on the Times of Malta

Jean Paul Borg. Photo by Virginia Monteforte
Jean Paul Borg. Photo by Virginia Monteforte.

As this year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival comes onto the scene, Jean Paul Borg speaks to Lara Zammit about the festival and the place of literature in Malta.

The Mediterranean is a melting pot of diverse yet deeply connected cultures and artistic expressions. The upcoming 16th edition of the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is set to use the Mediterranean as its common ground. Can you speak about the festival’s ethos and how this is translated though literature with each edition? 

The Mediterranean means different things to different people. The Mediterranean can be a melting pot, but it can also be an area of conflict. For some it is this bluest variant of the sea that makes them feel alive, for others it is a cemetery.

For Almadhoun, one of our invited authors who hails from Syria, the Mediterranean is “a sea that has drowned”. As Inua Ellams, another guest author, claimed in a recent interview, “There are as many worlds as there are people”. Equally, there are as many Mediterraneans as there are people.

As Inizjamed, we believe that the Mediterranean, at least during the festival, is an open space where people from different places, within and outside the closed sea itself, meet.

An important ethos of Inizjamed that naturally extends itself to the festival is that cooperation and partnership are far more effective in the long term than competition. Through literature and translation, the invited authors can narrate to each other, to their readers, and to us the public their own worlds.

During the festival, thanks to the translation workshop, we can live and relive the stories that the authors narrate to each other and to us. We can then hopefully understand each other better and move better to each other’s different rhythms.

The festival provides a platform for all this. As the word ‘festival’ itself implies, we celebrate all this. The festival is a celebration. The fortress of St Elmo becomes a home, a space that we happily share, rather than as a space of hiding from the other.

The six authors invited to take part in this 16th edition will come together from diverse regions and contexts. What can we expect from the authors and writers participating in the upcoming edition of the festival? How would you describe what each will bring to the table?

As discussed before, the magic of the festival is that we will provide a space where authors from different spaces can meet, narrate their own stories, and present their own worlds to each other and subsequently to us the public. They will all do it in their own way.

Some will afford us intimacy and sensuality. Others look at the body from new perspectives and challenge the limits of every word and their usual stance to describe it. Some others will present to us their restlessness. Some have lost a lot, and so will present us their losses and their life in exile.A space where authors from different spaces can meet and present their own worlds

Some use metaphors to get to us, others use irony. In a way, I believe all the authors will present to us their vulnerabilities, which through their own craft, they will sublimate to art. They won’t hide behind pages but will face us on a stage without borders. And for a moment, their words will be all that matter.

A notable feature of the festival is the participation of two local singer-songwriters. The Maltese music scene has flourished in the past decade, teeming with lyrics in the local idiom, speaking directly to the core of a generation of listeners. How would you say our brimming music scene is contributing to the Maltese language in particular?  

We invited two local singer-songwriters because we believe they are providing another form of literature, and therefore they fit perfectly within our Festival.

This year, we will have with us Michael Azzopardi and Kym Pepe. In the past we had bands like Brikkuni, Brodu and Djun. I remember a time when Maltese songs were admittedly severely limited, in Immanuel Mifsud’s words “songs of I love you and I am going to die without you”.

Nowadays we have songs brimming with poetry which surely the singer-songwriter invested a lot of craft and emotions into. We still have songs of heartache, but they’re transmitted in a completely different way.

This elevated the Maltese language in the same way that romantic poetry in the early 20th century did to Maltese when it was only considered as a dialect. It is a proof that the Maltese language is not limited, but the way we use it limits it. Singer-songwriters have stretched the limits of language. They made Maltese cool. At least in my ears.

How would you characterise the literature scene in Malta? What can be done to improve it?

Some say there is no literature scene in Malta, or at least they are oblivious to it. Inizjamed has been organising the festival for the past 16 years so surely there must be one. Like anything else it goes through fluctuations, but I believe it is resilient.

To improve itself, authors need to write more and equally throw away more so as only the very good material is published. There is to be more investment in editors, and collaboration.

Authors need to mix with foreign authors more, and translation has to be more widespread, since that’s how Maltese literature can beat its natural limitations. We also need more readers. We need more discussions. We need more book clubs. At the end of the day, literature depends a lot on the reader.

The Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival organised by Inizjamed will take place on August 27, 28 at Fort St Elmo, Valletta. Tickets can be bought from

This article originally appeared on the Times of Malta:

22 August, 2021