National Book Prize: Judges do not award prize for top novel

National Book Council chairman Mark Camilleri says awards could not be organised under PM’s auspices after implication in Caruana Galizia assassination

There will be no award for the best novel in Maltese and English, the highest honour awarded in the National Book Council awards, after the judging panel felt none of the three short-listed novels possessed the ‘exceptional’ quality required to win the prize.

The three short-listed books were Castillo (Merlin) by award-winning writer Clare Azzopardi, The Reluctant Healer (Horizons) by Lou Drofenik, and John P. Portelli’s Kulħadd Barra Fajża (Horizons).

This is not the first time the top award is not given out. In 2004 the First Prize in Fiction (today’s novel category) was not awarded. Only the second place was given and it was awarded to Guze Stagno’s Xemx Wisq Sabiha. According to present NBP rules there is only a one award per category, following a shortlisting process.

NBC chairman Mark Camilleri
NBC chairman Mark Camilleri

The award-giving ceremony of the 2019 edition of the National Book Prize was held at San Anton Palace under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Malta, George Vella. The ceremony was hosted by TVM news anchor and journalist Keith Demicoli.

In his opening speech, National Book Council (NBC) Executive Chairperson Mark Camilleri noted that this was the first time the National Book Prize Ceremony is being held under the auspices of the President of the Republic.

Albeit not a writer of books, Daphne Caruana Galizia was one of us, a fellow writer, and her being killed because of her writing is an unacceptable state of affairs to say the least. Mark Camilleri, NBC chairperson

“While the NBC and the book industry have received unprecedented support from the Office of the Prime Minister over the past years, the latter’s implication at the end of 2019 in the investigation into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and the Council’s duty to the safeguard the interests of its stakeholders, have led to the decision for the NBC to distance itself from the institution.”

Camilleri remarked that, albeit not a writer of books, Daphne Caruana Galizia “was one of us, a fellow writer, and her being killed because of her writing is an unacceptable state of affairs to say the least.”

In such challenging times, Camilleri appealed to President George Vella to take up the very important role of a patron and champion of writers’ and publishers’ interests through the President’s support to the NBC. “The book industry and its writers remain a bastion of hope to address the challenges of fear, censorship, and political degradation, and therefore all the more of a reason to protect them. 

“In tandem, the NBC will keep on working to support the book market and foster a love for reading. Year after year, the Council has striven to raise the monetary value of the National Book Prize, as well as the rigorous process of its adjudication, and will continue to do so.”

The NBC Chairperson celebrated the high level of fiction and academic works competing for this year’s Prize, congratulating all of those shortlisted. In closing, Camilleri invited writers to look beyond the competition and recognise their strength in influencing society to overcome its present challenges.

Minister for Education and Employment Owen Bonnici congratulated all shortlisted and winning authors and remarked on the positive developments in the Maltese literary sector, particularly the growth of the Malta Book Festival. Bonnici encouraged writers to keep practicing their craft, stating that they play a crucial role in the development of society, at once reflecting it, and in the process, shaping its future.

President George Vella expressed his appreciation for the efforts made by Maltese authors and their talent and expressed satisfaction that publishers are supporting Maltese writers, while remarking that there has never been a time when so many Maltese books were being published as there are now. While congratulating the National Book Prize winners, he wished upon them that they keep on writing in freedom and provide readers with more information about the Maltese culture and identity through their books.

Winning authors and publishers received their awards from the President.

These included prizes for books (published in 2018) shortlisted across eight respective categories.

The Prize for ‘Novels in Maltese and English’ was not awarded.

The winner in the category ‘Short Stories in Maltese and English’ was Trevor Żahra’s 365 (Merlin Publishers).

The winning title in the ‘General research’ category was Il-Maltin: Għemilhom, Drawwiethom, Ġrajjiethom; It-Tieni Volum by Steve Borg, published by Klabb Kotba Maltin.

Fortress Colony: The Final Act 1945-1964; Vol. 4 1961-1964 by Joseph M. Pirotta (Midsea Books) won in the ‘Biographical and historiographic research’ category.

Marie Brigulio and Steve Bonello won the category for Literary Nonfiction with No Man’s Land: People, Place & Pollution (Kite Group).

Parallel Existences. The Notarial Archives: A Photographer’s Inspiration published by Kite Group won the Prize for Best Book Production.

Maria Grech Ganado won the first prize for Poetry with her collection Framed (Merlin Publishers). Having previously won the Prize for poetry in 2000, 2006 and 2015, she is also the first recipient of the Poet Laureate Award.

The Award for Best Emergent Writer went to Gioele Galea.

The Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of an accomplished literary career and long list of publications including plays, short stories, novels, and non-fiction, was conferred to Dr Alfred Sant.

The National Book Council thanked the members of the jury who served on the adjudication board for the National Book Prize 2019: Prof. Yosanne Vella, Mr. Mario Ellul, Ms. Maria Giuliana Fenech  for the categories ‘General Research’, ‘Biographical and historiographic research’ and ‘Literary Nonfiction’; Mr. Kevin Saliba, Dr. Slavomir Ceplo and Mr. David Hudson for the categories ‘Novels in Maltese and English’ and ‘Poetry in Maltese and English’.