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A literary baseline

This week marks Gibraltar Literature Week, an annual event organised by Gibraltar Cultural Services which includes discussions with local and international authors. Today the Minister for Culture Dr John Cortes opens the week, reflecting on Gibraltarian literature.

There are, currently and happily, many Gibraltarian authors. I will not mention any of them by name in this piece – which will be hard to do – as I am bound to leave some out if nothing else through lack of space. But they know that I know who they are.

Many years ago, nearly forty in fact, when I returned from University and took a temporary job as a Supply Teacher in Bayside, I remember asking myself about Literature in Gibraltar. Although my degrees had been in the Sciences, I had always had a love of the Arts. Indeed, most of my closest friends at university were students of Literature or Performing Arts, and thinking back now, I suspect that was no coincidence. Whether it was Dante, Shakespeare, or Steinbeck, I often found myself taking part in discussions on their works at least as much as I discussed biogeography or genetics.

And so my curiosity about the state of Gibraltarian Literature was a logical consequence. If truth be told, there wasn’t much around. A great deal of it was historical, and I was very familiar with the works of Ayala, Portillo, Thomas James, Kelaart, Irby, Wolley-Dod and others who through the centuries had written on history and natural history, directly in books about Gibraltar, or within works on the wider region.

Gilbert White’s ‘The Natural History of Selborne’ and George Henry Borrow’s ‘The Bible in Spain’ are two notable examples of the latter. Written by visitors, travellers, from correspondence from Gibraltar, or often by military personnel, stationed and therefore resident on the Rock, these were already, one could argue, the makings of a Gibraltar literary baseline.

By then of course, more works were appearing, with books on more recent history, natural history (to some of which I contributed), and later, and increasingly, fiction, which had largely been lacking in our literature.

But there can be no doubt whatsoever that the last decade or two have seen the number of books on Gibraltar, inspired by Gibraltar, or written by Gibraltarians and other residents, grow tremendously, I would say as never before. While publications on history and heritage have continued – and no surprise there, given our rich past and varied heritage – works of fiction, and works of reflection, have probably expanded more than the other genres.

The widespread use of digital technologies has of course increased the opportunity for writers to write and share their work, be it via social media or through blogs, and we cannot but include these in our definition of Literature.

Literature Week illustrates the diversity of our literary world, by promoting our writers while interspersing the programme with contributions by writers from abroad, to serve as further inspiration, cross-pollination almost.
And what of the future?

I have no doubt whatsoever that our Literature will continue to grow in volume, and develop in variety and in its collective maturity, and to do so quickly and continuously. There is a wealth of people who want to say things and of things that want to be said. Gibraltar inspires us, and Literature is such a powerful way of reflecting the inspiration, of capturing who we were and who we are, and in defining who we will be.

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