HELA – the hub for excellence in the literary arts – recently launched its new website, helamalta.com, which includes a directory of Maltese writers. This depository currently includes information about 40 writers, but the website aims to continue growing to shed light on local writers in Malta and abroad.
Speaking to Times of Malta about the directory, HELA president Glen Calleja says the launch of the depository of writers indicates a new phase along the foundation’s path.
“HELA’s website aims at increasing awareness about and access to Maltese literary heritage in the widest possible sense of the word. From its inception, this has been the prevailing ethos of all the work carried out by the HELA Foundation,” says Calleja.
“This website is not the organisation’s first but with the launch of the depository to the public, we are announcing a new phase of our commitment to the local literary sector.”
Calleja maintained that the driving motivation behind this ambitious project was the need for a reliable reference tool that represents the visions, work and efforts of local writers, translators and publishers.
“As yet, there have not been any structured tools in the local scene,” he says.
The website helamalta.com is set to be promoted both locally and internationally with the hope of attracting interest from publishers, literary organisations, research institutions and festival organisers to forge professional relations with Maltese players.
Calleja says that, to achieve this aim, HELA has started implementing an awareness campaign with global stakeholders that will go on in parallel with the other work on the site, which mostly involves updating of content.
“The depository is designed as a highly navigable catalogue of articles and lists in both English and Maltese. Search and filtering facilities are central to the depository so that visitors can look for specific writers, works or themes and genres according to their interests and needs,” he explains.
“The articles provide site visitors with a glimpse into the intellectual biography of the writers while bibliographies give details about their individual works including translated works.”
HELA considers the depository to an important tool to help readers, researchers, festival organisers, local and foreign publishers to learn more about Maltese literature and familiarise themselves with local writers. It is also meant as an informal research tool for educators and students both locally and internationally.
In tandem with this depository, the foundation is also currently working on providing a depository of works in audio format where writers themselves or actors read excerpts of their work aloud.
Asked to speak about the criteria by which writers are included in the directory, Calleja maintains that the platform aims to represent all literary sector stakeholders and not just writers.
“Although we are calling this a directory of writers, we see it as being much more than that and we hope and expect that the impact of this platform reaches well beyond the interests of individual writers,” he says.
“The foundation aims to represent the interests of all stakeholders in the literary sector, not just writers. This includes writers, publishers, translators, editors, reviewers and cultural journalists and, of course, readers. There are also the interests of professionals such as designers, illustrators, printers and proof-readers, without whose services books would not reach their audiences.”
Foundation aims to represent the interests of all stakeholders in the literary sector and not just writers
Insofar as criteria are concerned, Calleja describes how HELA’s editorial board first looks at the impact that a writer may have had on Maltese literature along with their relevance and appeal to past and current readers, their development and professional promise.
“As a voluntary organisation whose mission would be unachievable were it not for a group of generous, committed and stubborn individuals giving of their personal time, energy and resources to advocate for the sector, we also value writers who share this vision and commitment. It matters very little to us how many literary prizes or publications a particular writer has received.
“Such decisions are, however, at the editorial board’s discretion and the depository’s priorities may eventually shift to suit a new vision,” he says.
The project has been years in the making and required the input of several people, not least because each entry includes the author’s biography and bibliography.
“The first steps were to determine what we really needed and wanted. We knew that whatever we built would have to be within a long-term maintenance plan so that the platform can be kept updated and active and really grow into a strong reference tool.
“We looked at different possible models, and at some stage determined that it was going to be a bilingual depository incorporating various filters. We also wanted a platform that had the potential to include more media and formats as it grew, including audio and video,” he explains.
Speaking about the local literary sector, Calleja says that this has been steadily enjoying greater respect within the larger creative industries, and while still facing difficulties, especially when it comes to dedicated public funding,
literature remains a resilient discipline and practice, and keeps finding its way into people’s houses, schools, places of work and leisure.
“This is the effect of an ethos of cross-disciplinary curiosity and collaboration within the arts in general where new professional relations between writers, fellow artists, researchers and audiences are continuously changing.
“Literature does not need saving. What we mean by advocacy for the sector is that we believe that in improving current practices that contribute to this sector automatically translates to value to all stakeholders. The foundation does not exist solely for writers or voracious readers,” he said.
Fondazzjoni HELA (VO/1822), the Hub for Excellence in the Literary Arts, is anautonomous organisation working to foster excellence across the literary sector in Malta. Visit helamalta.com or info @helamalta.com for more information.