May we have a word 1? | Stanley Borg, Adrian Grima, Suzana Tratnik, Marina Espasa, Selma Dabbagh, Brane Mozetic, Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival
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Stanley Borg   

The Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival was held from the 30th of August to the 1st of September. This year’s edition focused on the economic and social crisis. Series of interviews held by Stanley Borg for the Times of Malta with some of the festival’s participants coming from different Euro-Mediterranean countries.

 


 

//Adrian GrimaAdrian GrimaAdrian Grima, coordinator

For last year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, we introduced the idea of having a theme – inevitably it was the Arab Spring of Freedom and Dignity.

This year’s theme is the economic and social crisis, so we went for Dieta kontra l-Kriżi (Crisis Fare), with an allusion to the easy discourse about the Mediterranean diet. Like last year, the theme gives some identity to the edition but it doesn’t dominate it.

For this year’s edition, we had a number of firsts. For the first time we had a writer from Libya, Ghazi Gheblawi. Another first was our choice to commission three video clips promoting the festival and engaging with its theme from Shadeena and directed by Martin Bonniċi. The first video clip has already gone viral. It includes snippets from two interviews I made with writer Leli Psaila and Miguel Buttigieg, who works in the social field, about how the economic and social crisis has (or has not) hit Malta.

Readings were mainly in Maltese and English but we also insist on providing a good taste of the many literary languages our guest writers bring with them.

Food made of local and organic produce and fair trade products from the world shop L-Arka were provided by the volunteers of the Third World Group and we had a well-stocked bookstand.

Every year we get larger audiences of Maltese people and foreigners on each of the three nights of the festival. We have every intention to reach out to more people, but we won’t compromise on the literature – ultimately, this will be, we promise,each year, a festival of pure, unadulterated literature.

 

//Suzana TratnikSuzana TratnikSuzana Tratnik

Slovenia

Writer, translator and publicist

 

The theme for this year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is ‘Crisis Fare’ – what are the crises that you suffer and that, in turn, inspire you?

As a freelance writer in Slovenia, one crisis that I constantly face is survival. It was always very difficult to be a freelance artist and it’s not getting any easier nowadays. Unfortunately, this is not inspiring – when you have to worry about your everyday life all the time, you hardly find the time and will to be creative.

Another crisis is the inequality and the widening gap between rich and poor – this makes me anxious and angry and inspires a lot of my writing.

 

How does your activism fuel your writing?

Activism makes me rich and tired – it occupies me but it also lifts me up. Every activist experience, word or engagement gives me a lot of knowledge, energy, satisfaction, and stories I would never have seen or felt had I remained a passive observer.

My focus on lesbian issues gives me a chance to understand the complicated relations between majority and minority, between those who are privileged and others who aren’t. Differences and inequalities influence our emotions, attitudes, behaviour – this is what I expose in my writing.

 

What will you be reading at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival?

I will be presenting some of my very short stories from the collection In My Own Backyard (Na Svojem Dvoriš

u, 2003). These stories are about family relations, partnerships, social relations, minority issues – they are like B-sides of family albums.

I will also be reading two of my longer stories which depict the life of a woman prisoner who returns home, and three women from different countries and backgrounds who meet at a gay conference and have a private discussion on their past experiences.

 

//Marina EspasaMarina EspasaMarina Espasa

Catalonia

Philologist, freelance journalist, literary critic and translator

 

The theme for this year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is ‘Crisis Fare’ – what are the crises that you suffer and that, in turn, inspire you?

Crisis’ is one of those words which appears every five minutes in our life – we read about it on the newspapers, listen to it on the radio, watch it on TV, and use it in conversations with friends. We’ve almost got used to it. It has become a topic, one which is too serious to joke about.

As a freelance journalist, literary critic and translator, I have to say my job offers have declined in the last years, so the first crisis I have to face is an economic one: my own survival. On the other hand, the concept of crisis has interesting sides – the feeling that everything must be rethought and restarted is challenging, at least for me. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to be going in this direction, but it will. Crisis can help creativity – there is some truth that was hidden under the mattresses of comfort.

As a Catalan writer, you are on the frontline of the economic and social crisis – how are you living the crisis?
The economic crisis is helping to convince more people in Catalonia that the territorial tensions with Spain have been existing for too long – it’s hard to predict the future, but the feeling that something big might happen is taking roots.

The crisis is affecting writers, journalists and people related to the books industry in a very strong way. Book sellers and publishers are desperate – but again, I feel that there is something that we writers can do, and it is to be the voice of the people, to think and write about what is happening, about the people who seem to be responsible for it, and the moral crisis that lies underneath everything.

 

What inspired you to write La Dona Que Es Va Perdre?
La Dona Que Es Va Perdre was a slowly-cooked book. The protagonist, Alice, is an architect who has almost no work. She lives in a city that resembles Barcelona, where the mayor has been elected because he offered the most particular thing to the young voters to compensate for the desperation and boredom into which society has fallen. Of course, the novel plunges into the fantastic world, but there is a strong social critique behind it.


What does being a Mediterranean writer mean?

Right now, I’m sitting down in front of the Mediterranean – the blue sea, the rocks and the pine trees are my everyday food. I don’t think I would be able to live without being close to the sea. Being a Mediterranean writer, or simply Mediterranean, means everything to me. The Mediterranean is Mare Nostrum – it binds us together. And that affects my way of writing.


//Selma Dabbagh (by J. Ring)Selma Dabbagh (by J. Ring)Selma Dabbagh

UK

Writer

 

The theme for this year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is ‘Crisis Fare’ – what are the crises that you suffer and that, in turn, inspire you?

The question of Palestine informs most, but not all, of my work to date. My characters are often struggling with their consciences as to if and how they should respond to situations of crisis that they are connected to.

The Guardian described your debut novel, Out of It (Bloomsbury) as having an “unerringly precise sense of place”. As a British-Palestinian writer, is your writing a bridge between the two states?
There are a couple of issues here. I do believe that being of mixed parentage and having moved around as much as I have has enabled me to see both Arab and British worlds as an insider and an outsider. London and Gaza in my novel, Out of It, were both written about from afar. I was living in the Gulf at the time and had not been to Gaza for many years. It was more important for me to develop the feel of places through the characters than to recreate them in a technical, realistic fashion. The café in Gaza Part I of Out of It does not exist, and neither does the hotel in London in Part IV. In Gaza it was particularly important for me to create as state of war and a strong sense of siege. In London, the climate is easier, more fluffy but harder for the characters in terms of their sense of alienation from strangers.

I hope my writing is seen as being a bridge between the two places. Particularly with this novel, I was keen to convey compassionately the suffering of the Palestinians of Gaza without depicting them as victims of their fate, but as people struggling against the harsh nature of the oppression they are forced to live with.

What hope is there for Palestine?
I sometimes think that if women were allowed to take control of the situation there would be far more hope.

In terms of the drive, belief, intelligence and sense of community that the young people have there, there is an amazing amount of hope among the people in Palestine. But the nature of the occupation should not be understated – the continuing process of dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians by Israel is vicious. The hope of finding a middle ground when both Palestinians and Israeli societies are becoming increasingly militarised and influenced by religious extremism is decreasing. The root of the problem is the religio-ethnic exclusivity of the Israeli state, which goes against international norms of non-discrimination and equality under the law. However, there seems to be little political will among governments to confront Israel on this as the careless blurring of the lines between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is encouraged by Israel.

Many people are giving up hope though. In Gaza, for example, there is a worrying development in the number of young adults taking drugs like Trimadol smuggled through the border with Egypt.

How ‘Mediterranean’ do you feel?
I feel very at home in Mediterranean countries although I have mainly lived in the UK and the Gulf. I put it down to my mixed parentage. I find the balance in these countries between the planned and the spontaneous closest to my way of being. The Mediterranean is such an incredibly beautiful and historically rich part of the world – who wouldn’t want to feel Mediterranean?


//Brane MozeticBrane MozeticBrane Mozetic

Slovenia

Poet, writer, translator, editor


The theme for this year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is ‘Crisis Fare’ – what are the crises that you suffer and that, in turn, inspire you?

As a publisher, I am living the crisis through the decline in book sales and the country’s decreased budget for culture. Of course, that also means that I’m also earning less money.

However, I hope society will recognise the reasons for this crisis. People have less money but they are also responsible for this crisis – in Slovenia, they supported and voted for criminals who robbed and ruined the country.


What is the role of an author in a crisis?

Maybe a writer shouldn’t analyse the reasons for the crisis, but rather describe it. Also, a writer should be committed so that the crisis will not become an excuse for discrimination and violence.

The crisis is not only one of banks and the economy, but also of the system – society should work towards bringing a change in the capitalist system and democracy. Without such changes, the crisis could be a long one.


Your works have been widely translated – what do they lose and gain in translation?

If you write in English or Spanish, you don’t need translations – you are already translated. On the other hand, I write in a language which has only two million speakers, so I need translations.

When translated into Latin languages, I think my poetry acquires more harmony. In other languages, I think this musicality is lost.


What will you be reading at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival?

I will be reading some of the poems from my autobiographical cycle – these will be translated during the translation workshop.

 


 

First published in The Times TV Guide, Times of Malta


he Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival was held from the 30th of August to the 1st of September. This year’s edition focused on the economic and social crisis. Series of interviews held by Stanley Borg for the Times of Malta with some of the festival’s participants coming from different Euro-Mediterranean countries.