NEWS | Sunday, 14 October 2007

Book award moves to PM’s office

In a move that author and Inizjamed coordinator Adrian Grima deems “rather unusual”, the National Book Prize awarding ceremony, taking place at the end of November, will be changing venue from the Mediterranean Conference Centre to Auberge de Castile.
There has been a tradition, discontinued over the past two years, of holding the ceremony at the same time as the Book Fair. The fair will take place between 14 and 17 of November at the MCC this year and a literary soirée will take the slot normally reserved for the Book Prize ceremony, according to Sergio Grech of the National Book Council.
While some authors are wary of the possible implications underpinning the move to Castile, there is a general sense of relief in the hope that literature will now be placed at the cultural forefront where it belongs.
“I remember such times when the National Book Award was a non-event,” says Trevor Zahra, nine-time recipient of the award. “Participants were assembled somewhere in the ministry buildings, the committee chairman read a brief report, results were announced and the minister presented the prizes and delivered a short speech. A drink and a sandwich and the curtain went down. Most local papers didn’t report it, and those who did, dedicated only an inconspicuous box squashed between adverts. The National Book Award was not celebrated but merely tolerated. During these last years, thanks to the National Book Council, the National Book Award has gained in stature and developed into a major annual event within the literary scenario. This year, the event will be taking place at Castille, under the auspices of the Prim Minister… a welcome compliment to writers, publishers and people in the book trade in general. Let’s hope the judges will not disappoint and that only excellence will be rewarded.”
“Books deserve to be on the nation’s agenda,” says Grech. “This is an important development in the history of the award. For the first time, the ceremony will be held under the auspices of the Prime Minister. The cultural functioning of the Auberge de Castile has always been a highlight of the country’s administration. It was there that, in the late 1990s, Dr Sant commemorated Professor Guze Aquilina, and last year Dr Gonzi commemorated Guze Chetcuti. The prize deserves maximum attention. This is the only Book Prize in Malta. Lm10,000 are donated annually in prizes.”
Guze Stagno, author of gritty novels Nbid ta Kuljum and Xemx,Wisq Sabiha thinks that there are more pressing issues at hand for the Maltese literary scene to consider than a venue change for the book award.
“If you ask me, the discontinuation of the Poetry Festival is far more disturbing. Also, we as authors are often confused as to who we should turn to for help – because we’re never sure whether literature falls under The Ministry for Tourism and Culture or the Ministry for Education. I am always hoping a Literature Information Centre would be set up, like there is in most countries. As regards the award: while Castile represents what it represents, it’s a more prestigious venue and ultimately anything that gives Maltese literature more exposure is bound to be healthy.”

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