The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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Behind the fiction, there are real stories

Saturday, 26 August 2023, 07:13 Last update: about 12 months ago

Leanne Ellul, Inizjamed’s artistic director, interviews NADIA MIFSUD, literary translation workshop coordinator. The Mediterranean Literature Festival is held at Fort St Elmo, Valletta, between August 24 and 26.

How long have you occupied the role of a literary translation workshop coordinator with Inizjamed? And how has Inizjamed contributed to your career?

I think it would be fair to say that Inizjamed launched my career as a writer and a translator. The first time I was invited to take part in the Malta Mediterranean Festival was back in 2010, right after the publication of my first poetry book, żugraga. I had never done any public readings before or tried my hand at literary translations. The following year, in 2011, I joined the Inizjamed team as a volunteer, and have been more or less actively involved in the coordination of the literary translation workshop ever since.

What part does Inizjamed and the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival play in the literary translation scene in Malta?

I feel that Inizjamed and the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival are instrumental when it comes to the literary translation scene in Malta. Translation is crucial for Maltese authors to have exposure and visibility abroad – without translation, it would be impossible to export our literature. Thanks to their participation in the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, many local writers have had their work published in online literary journals/anthologies abroad, or used the translations done during the workshop for subsequent festivals overseas. Inversely, our Maltese audience gets to hear/read Maltese translations of literary works that are not readily available in local bookshops. Over the years, Inizjamed has published a number of anthologies, the most recent one being xtaqt inkun merkurju. This anthology comprises 122 poems (60 authors and 25 translators) which were translated into Maltese during the Festival’s first sixteen editions. It goes without saying, the Festival and the translation workshop very often help to strike up friendships, and/or trigger collaborative projects, amongst our guest writers. In truth, Inizjamed’s impact on the local literary scene is so farreaching that it extends well beyond translation. Although the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival remains our flagship event, it is far from being the only one. This year saw the birth of another festival in Gozo, linja ħamra, jointly organized by Inizjamed and the Gozo Regional Council. Throughout the year, Inizjamed regularly holds other smaller events. Our open mics, for instance, are a safe space where young, emergent writers can present their texts and hone their performative skills. At Inizjamed, we also pride ourselves on promoting and celebrating writers coming from war-torn countries, or countries in which dictatorship and discrimination are still, sadly, very present. The same goes for minority authors, be they linguistic, religious, racial, sexual or gender minorities. Equally important to us are new forms of writing. In recent years, we have given particular attention to spoken word poetry and LGBTQ+ issues. A case in point : one of the highlights of this year’s Festival is the participation of the renowned British poet, playwright and performer Joelle Taylor, winner of the TS Eliot poetry prize for her book, C+nto & Othered Poems.


I feel that the literary translation workshop is an essential part of the Festival and this shows on stage. The writers would have built a connection between them and that is transmitted to our audiences. Do you agree with this?

I fully agree. As a poet, I have taken part in several festivals abroad. And whilst every festival is special in its own way and can help build networks, I am convinced that the literary translation workshop helps build an even stronger connection amongst our guest authors. Our writers start exchanging & discussing texts before they meet in Malta. Translating someone’s work requires close attention to little details – it is, as is often said, the deepest form of reading. Because our guest writers get this unique opportunity of discussing their texts face to face, they also get to know each other better. Very often, while discussing stylistic choices, they end up comparing their individual writing practices. Most importantly, they get to share the stage, which is a rare thing in festivals, but which undoubtedly conduces to this beautifully contagious energy that I am sure comes across when they are reading/performing.

Is there an anecdote/an encounter/a story that left a mark on you during these past eigtheen years of the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival?

There have been many – so many, in fact, that it would be impossible to talk about all of them here. Each edition has its own dynamics, its own magic. In 2014 we had Tanzanian novelist, Abdulrazak Gurnah, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2021. For many people (including myself), this was their first encounter with Gurnah’s work, and a memorable one indeed thanks to his charisma. I very clearly remember the American born British-Libyan writer, Hisham Matar, relating to a stunned audience, back in 2015, the disappearance of his father, a prominent political dissident of the Gaddafi regime. Two years later, in 2017, Matar’s memoir, The Return, won the Pulitzer Prize. One of the most impactful memories I have is my encounter with Turkish author, journalist and thinker, Aslı Erdogan, who I had the privilege of interviewing in the 2018 edition. What mostly remains of these encounters is the realization that behind the writing, behind the fiction, there are real stories and real flesh and blood people.

What are you looking forward to most during this year’s edition?

As was already the case in previous years, this edition boasts yet another fantastic line-up, so I am confident that I’m going to enjoy every single minute of it. Claudia Gauci and Simone Inguanez, besides being dear friends, are also two poets I look up to. I am also very much looking forward to Immanuel Mifsud’s interview of Maria Grech Ganado, whose work has had a huge influence on my own creative development. Maria was actually the person who set the ball rolling eighteen years ago – it was her collaboration with Alexandra Büchler of Literature Against Frontiers that started off the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival. Last year I had the opportunity of seeing Joelle Taylor perform in Finland, and I can guarantee that our audience are in for a huge surprise. I am also very eager to hear Tanja Bakić and Karin Tidbeck read their work in Montenegrin and Swedish respectively. Adrian Grima will be talking to Adania Shibli about her fiction and how it ties in with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their conversation will, I am sure, be another highlight of this year’s Festival.

How do you envisage the workshop and Festival to grow and maybe change?

At Inizjamed, we regularly have brainstorming sessions and I must say that we never seem to run out of ideas – quite the contrary. Of course, we would love to have more and more authors in the coming years – local and international, emergent and established names. Sad but true, our funds have been cut by half this year, which means that we are strongly counting on donations and the help/support of volunteers. The core team of Inizjamed has literally been working 24/7 in the past days and weeks in order to ensure that the Festival retains its professional feel. Despite the financial strain, we will continue to do our utmost because we truly care about our literature and our writers. Yet we are also aware that continued lack of funding could seriously jeopardize not only the future of the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival but also, consequently, the various opportunities that help promote Maltese writers and Maltese literature.

Why should someone, anyone, attend the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival?

Simply because it is the coolest place to be this weekend. Jokes apart, as far as literature is concerned, there is no other event happening in the Maltese Islands that can compare to the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival. The festival is, of course, a great opportunity for literature aficionados to see, hear, meet and discuss with local and international writers. I believe, however, that you don’t necessarily have to be a literary connoisseur to enjoy our events. If I had to sum up the festival in a few words, I’d say it is an amazing mix of excellent performances, excellent music, excellent food and excellent company. I’d encourage everyone to come and have a look for themselves. I can guarantee that once you’ve tried it, you’ll get hooked.


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