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'Malta is the Mediterranean bridge'

Nadia Mifsud (Foto: Inizjamed / Facebook)
Nadia Mifsud, the international coordinator of Inizjamed, presents the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival that takes place in Valletta from 25. to 27. August. The talk is a part of the project Literary Europe Live.

From 25. to 27. August, Inizjamed will be celebrating the11th edition of the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival. What events have you prepared for this edition?
Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival brings together active authors from Malta, the Mediterranean and beyond, to showcase contemporary writing and thinking, to promote interaction across languages, geographies and artistic genres, and to discuss some of the major issues of our time. For the second year running, the festival will be taking place at Fort St Elmo in Valletta. 
Once again, we have a wonderful line-up consisting of a total of 12 writers coming from 8 countries and representing a variety of genres: poetry, performance poetry, short story, novel. The authors taking part in the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival this year are Samantha Barendson (Fra / Arg / Ita), Roja Chamankar (Iran), Joe P. Galea (Malta), Rodolfo Häsler (Cuba / Spa), Elias Khoury (Lebanon), Ciwanmerd Kulek (Turkey), Daniel Massa (Malta), Marc Nair (Singapur), Abderrahim Sail (Morocco), Rita Saliba (Malta), Mark Vella (Malta), Abigail Ardelle Zammit (Malta).
During the MMLF week, fringe events such as talks and seminars will feature some of the foreign authors. One of these will be the launch of a Kurdish Literature website promoted by Literature Across Frontiers with the participation of Ezel Yilmaz from the Diyarbakir Arts Centre and the Turkish and Kurdish writer Ciwanmerd Kulek. 
Whilst keeping literature at the core of the MMLF, Inizjamed is committed towards the regeneration of culture and artistic expression in the broad sense of the term. It encourages writers to collaborate with local visual artists, musicians and/or dancers during the festival. In February 2016 we organized a workshop of poetry films for directors led by Yasmin Fedda. 
Does your festival cooperate with local writers? Could you briefly describe the literary scene in Malta?
I think I would agree with the local poet Maria Grech Ganado when she says: "If we look at the Maltese scene now, we can state with conviction that never has there been so much ferment in the Maltese islands since the sixties. " 
These past few years have been particularly exciting for women writers who now occupy a prominent role in the Maltese writing scene. However, the biggest challenge that Maltese literature has to grapple with is the fact that Malta is a small country and Maltese is a lesser-known language. Although the local literary scene has become increasingly vibrant in the past decade and has produced some very fine voices (Clare Azzopardi, Claudia Gauci, Pierre J. Mejlak, Walid Nabhan and many others), it is not always easy for local writers to have the international exposure they deserve. Through the MMLF and all its other activities, Inizjamed gives local writers the chance to meet foreign writers and ensure that what we are producing in Malta is on a par with literature from abroad. 
Since 2006, the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival has showcased over 30 Maltese writers to a local and international audience. In each edition, the MMLF usually features two or three established Maltese authors, and two or three highly promising writers yet to be discovered and appreciated by the general reading public. 
How do you cooperate with foreign writers and organisations? 
The Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is the only international literature festival in the Maltese cultural scene. As such, it plays a very important role as it gives Maltese authors a unique opportunity to interact directly with foreign writers. Together, they discuss, translate and publicly read each other’s works, thus engaging in a constructive dialogue that encourages collaboration while facilitating and strengthening networking. Of course, it also gives writers from abroad the chance to discover Malta, the Maltese language, Maltese literature and the Maltese cultural geography. 
Traditionally, the Mediterranean rive nord and beyond have been the political, economic, and also cultural reference point and benchmark for Maltese society. The Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival wants to challenge that stand by placing Maltese literature and Maltese arts within a Mediterranean as opposed to a merely European context, thus broadening the outlook and perspective of Maltese readers. In this way, it acts as a natural cultural bridge between the Mediterranean rive nord and rive sud. In previous editions, we have had authors from Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey … The MMLF will continue to broaden its geographical coverage in the 2016 edition by featuring authors from as far as Iran and Singapore.
International cooperation is crucial for us, both logistically and artistically. For the past eleven years, Inizjamed and its Festival have benefited from the help and support of various international entities, such as LAF (Literature Across Frontiers), the European Union’s Culture and Creative Europe programmes, the British Council, Fondation René Seydoux, and Institut Ramon Llull, and the European Commission Representation in Malta. Thanks to these collaborations, the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival has invited and welcomed over 70 authors from the Mediterranean and beyond. 
Maltese writer Clare Azzopardi has been selected as one of the New Voices from Europe, ten of the most interesting writers working in Europe today. How important is this selection for writers not writing in English?
Inizjamed is very happy and proud that Maltese poet, playwright, novelist and short story writer Clare Azzopardi is among this year’s selection of New Voices from Europe. What is exciting about this selection is not only that it helps to promote some of the best voices in the contemporary European scene, but that it is also giving visibility to a wide variety of genres. 
It is budding Maltese writers to aspire to gaining exposure abroad and reaching out to a wider audience. It is also a wonderful way of celebrating the linguistic diversity of Europe and of acknowledging those languages that are still not officially recognized even though they may be spoken by millions, as is the case of Kurdish language: Kurdish writer Ciwanmerd Kulek is another author figuring in this year’s selection and in the 2016 edition of the MMLF.
How important are literary translations for Maltese writers and readers? 
Literary translation is crucial not only for Inizjamed but for Maltese literature and the Maltese readership at large. Translation is what makes it possible for Maltese literature to ‘travel’ to foreign countries and be appreciated by an international audience. Conversely, it also permits Maltese readers to discover new literatures and authors beyond the geographical and / or linguistic perimeters that usually define their reading habits. 
As such, literary translation is gaining more and more importance in the local literary scene, and this is why the MMLF is preceded by a week-long translation workshop which Inizjamed organizes in collaboration with Literature Across Frontiers. 
The workshop offers writers a space in which they can translate and discuss each other’s works. During the festival, the writers are on stage together, and it is together that they present their texts in the original version and in translation. This literary dialogue naturally leads to the birth of international collaborations in the form of translated publications, press and radio interviews, appearances at festivals, workshops and seminars, and potentially the creation of new collaborative works. 
The translation workshop also helps to expand the volume of literature in Maltese and export Maltese literature through the various translations. Għaraq Xort’Oħra (a collection of gay and lesbian poems and short stories by Slovenian writers Brane Mozetič and Suzana Tratnik) and Klijenti Antipatiċi u Kappuċċini Kesħin (a collection of short stories by international writers who have taken part in the festival over the years), published in 2012. and 2013. respectively, are two tangible results of this literary dialogue that is at the core of the MMLF and the translation workshop. 
Inizjamed is currently working on another anthology that will include poems in the Maltese translation of authors that have taken part in the MMLF since its beginnings.

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