On Tuesday 13th April 2022 I was invited to give a lecture on Contextualising Contemporary Maltese Literature to Ph.D students of English at the University of Jordan. The lecture was part of a study unit on World Literature delivered by Prof. Yousef Abu Amrieh. It was my friend and colleague Dr Giuliana Fenech from the Department of English at the University of Malta who put Prof. Abu Amrieh in touch with me.
Before the lecture, Prof. Abu Amrieh’s students had already read and discussed two of Pierre J. Mejlak’s short stories from his second collection, Dak li l-Lejl Iħallik Tgħid (Merlin 2011), which appeared in English in Having Said Goodnight (Merlin 2014), with translations by Antoine Cassar and Clare Vassallo.
The stories were “The Pomegranate House” and “I Want to Call Out to Samirah”, and the students were interested in a host of issues, including the intersection of memory and space, the depiction of an uneasy but ultimately successful meeting of cultures, Malta’s colonial legacy, romance and romanticism in “The Pomegranate House”, and the film adaptation of this story. The student also wanted to know what the pomegranate means to people in Malta, whether it somehow represents the “identity of the Maltese people”.
What Prof. Abu Amrieh asked me to do in the first part of my lecture was to outline the main periods and genres of Maltese literature from its birth in the mid-19th century. My main argument, I suppose, was that up until the arrival of a new generation of writers in the 1990s, Maltese literature was essentially “framed” by Romantic nationalist ideals, which included the significant milestone of Independence which Malta gained in 1964.
While the Modernists started to break away from preoccupations with the national imaginary and a literary universe that was predominantly Maltese, it was the generation born after Independence, facilitated by easier international travel, the internet revolution, and Malta joining the EU, that started to speak more consistently about issues that went beyond the nation with an audience that was both Maltese and non-Maltese. The two short stories by Mejlak, which I discussed with the students in the second part of the lecture which took the form of a Q & A session, are a good example of the new spaces explored by Maltese postmodernist writers like Mejlak.
I would like to thank Prof. Yousef Abu Amrieh for choosing to discuss Maltese literature in his unit on World Literature and for his impeccable organisation of the online lecture. It was all down to his initiative.
I’m grateful that some of his colleagues from other departments in the Faculty of Foreign Languages attended the lecture.
I would also like to thank his Ph.D students for reading Pierre J. Mejlak’s stories so perceptively and passionately. I look forward to continuing this discussion with them and to seeing Maltese literature consolidate its place in studies of World Literature.