Apart from rewarding books published in the previous year, the National Book Prize bestows two special prizes upon two writers in recognition of their significant contribution, whether past or ongoing, to the local literary scene. One of these prizes is conferred to young writers who have already distinguished themselves through their writing and their artistic work. The Prize for Best Emergent Author acknowledges a writer who is doing their utmost to hone their craft of writing as well as their creative skills.
In this year’s edition of the National Book Prize, the Prize for Best Emergent Author was awarded to Lon Kirkop, who also won the Prize for Drama during the same awards ceremony with his book Fil-Ħajja li Jmiss u Drammi Oħra tat-Triq (Merlin Publishers).
Different disciplines forge his work
Lon Kirkop (1991) graduated with a BA Hons degree in Fine Arts from MCAST in 2017, and he read for a Masters in Printmaking at the Cambridge School of Arts in 2022. In the past few years, Kirkop exhibited his visual work in Malta as well as other European cities. Most of his creative work explores different disciplines, including the visual art of printmaking, the Maltese language, music and performance art.
Commenting on his solo art exhibition, Kirkop claimed that he loves to experiment with different media and techniques, and his work changes aesthetically according to the themes and topics he is dealing with. Nevertheless, Kirkop stated that he is fascinated by the concept of an artistic work that is constructed out of multiple layers and different materials.
Exploring subjects through a social lens
Kirkop’s writing demonstrates the different layers which his artistic work is capable of building. He does not shy away from exploring themes like sexuality, identity and politics through a social lens, taking the reader on an emotional journey so as to start important conversations.
In his literary column on Fil-Ħajja li Jmiss u Drammi Oħra tat-Triq, Mark Vella writes that Kirkop’s plays exemplify a living theatre that is close to the people, and that they can also be read as written narratives. According to Vella, Kirkop is able to effectively capture a theme, such as the debate on gender and identity, and treat it with the necessary seriousness and irony. Thanks to this balance, he renders this discussion accessible without devaluing it.
In his debut novel Mitt Elf Isem Ieħor (Merlin Publishers), Kirkop explores the realm of influencers as well as the challenges adolescents face in a world obsessed with social media platforms. The protagonist is a thirteen-year-old girl, Manda, who finds herself torn between two unfathomable worlds – her family on one hand, and on the other hand, her desire to be ‘one hundred other selves’, as the title of the novel suggests, according to the needs of the cybernatic world. Notably, when Mitt Elf Isem Ieħor was published, it was not only popular among young adults but it also captured the attention of adults and parents.
In his review of Mitt Elf Isem Ieħor, Vella reiterates that Kirkop deals with difficult subjects in an innovative and readable way, and credits Kirkop with introducing him to the “new monsters that are cropping up in adolescents’ lives”.
The importance of literary contests which give voice to new talents
Kirkop debuted his writing at the Cospicua Short Play Festival 2019 after submitting three plays. He won the prize for best script with one of these plays, Elektra.
Following this success, Kirkop decided to write the story that eventually became the aforementioned novel. However, Kirkop confessed in an interview that he lacked the courage to approach a publisher with his manuscript, leading him to submit it for the Novels for Youth Literary Contest, run by the National Book Council and Aġenzija Żgħażagħ. The manuscript won him the 2020 edition of the contest.
Kirkop’s trajectory has also taken him to song lyrics, with which he won the 46th edition of L-Għanja tal-Poplu with the song Fil-Kexxun. In the subsequent edition, Kirkop won a prize for best social theme with Għadu Ma Sarx, a song for which he wrote both lyrics and music. Kirkop was also a finalist in the 2022 edition of the contest Mużika Mużika: Festival tal-Kanzunetta Maltija with his song Fittixni, and earlier on this year, he announced that Ġenna, a song penned by himself, is a semifinalist in the 2024 edition of the same contest.
In the speech he gave at the National Book Prize awards ceremony, Lon Kirkop observed that when a writer is at the beginning of his career, formal acknowledgements such as the Prize for Best Emergent Author or winning national contests help him recognise the value and validity of his work.
The winners of the National Book Prize 2023 were announced on Friday 24 November, which can be found here. The National Book Council would like to urge the general public to take note of all the winners and finalists since these provide a gauge of the best books published in 2022.
Fil-Ħajja Li Jmiss u Drammi Oħra tat-Triq , 2022 – A collection of plays
Mitt Elf Isem Ieħor: HappyVeganGirlJules , 2021 – YA novel
Lura F’Ġuf Ommi, 2022 – lithography, music, poetry, projections and live performance
Ċella ta’ Wieħed, 2022 – iteration of Lura F’Ġuf Ommi
Fil-Ħajja li Jmiss), 2019 – short play
Limbu, 2019 – short play
Elektra, 2019 – short play
Liżar Roża, 2021 – short play
‘l Alla ta’ Wara l-Ħġieġa, 2021 – short play
Passi mill-Kuritur, 2021
Fil-Kexxun, 2022 – music and lyrics
Fittixni, 2022 – lyrics
Out of Focus, 2022 – lithography