Ebejer’s works have been translated into Italian, French, German, Spanish, Polish, Japanese and Flemish. He also wrote children’s books in English and Maltese, which were translated into German. Some of his work was published in New York between 1980 and 1992.
Ebejer was born in 1952 in Dingli. While studying medicine at the University of Malta, he left the course to work as an English-Italian interpreter for the British Forces in Tripolitania (North Africa) during World War II. After the war he became a teacher, completing his training in England. Back in Malta, he was appointed headmaster of a primary school, a position he retained for most of his career. As a teacher he regularly contributed to ‘Teacher Magazine’. While in the 1950s Ebejer wrote most of his plays for the radio, in the 1960s and 1970s he wrote and produced works for the National Theatre. In 1961 he became a Fellow of the English Centre of PEN International, and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to the US.
Ebejer received the Malta Literary Award four times, as well as the Cheyney Award for best producer in 1964, and the Phoenicia Cultural Trophy twice (1982; 1985). In 1985 the Municipality and University of Avignon (France) presented him with La Médaille d’Honneur de la Ville d’Avignon for his contribution to literature and theatre.
Ebejer’s works tackle universal themes in a symbolic way. Many times he ponders on the notion of time – how the past affects and almost pursues both present and future – through his characters. While he was interested in the Maltese identity, he was careful not to generalize the experience of what it means to belong to a certain place. There is so much more that goes into being – we are made up of so many contradictions – that it would be pointless to settle on one form of identity. This fluidity is very present in his work, as is his “quest for that elusive nodus by which one becomes aware, however dimly, of, that meeting point of contradictions – yet another paradox, inherent of action and reaction – inside one’s self as in life, and with luck, accepts it as nuclear to the complete life. The search for truth... That is the most subjective search of all, it simply has to be personal”. His picturesque and rugged hometown of Dingli features often in his works – especially in the image of the cliffs – raw as they are. The cliffs, like the characters that seek them out in Ebejer’s novels, come to symbolize a search for one’s roots (and routes) – a form of homecoming. Such workings of individual conscience can be seen in the play The Cliffhangers (1973) and L-Imwarrbin (The Outcasts) (1985).
While Ebejer wrote mainly in English, he started writing in Maltese in the 1950s with Ċpar fix-Xemx (Mist in the Sun), which won the first prize of the Malta Drama League. In 1958, one of his short stories was transmitted on the BBC. Shortly afterwards, his first book A Wreath for the Innocents (1958) was published in London. It was later published in Malta under the title A Wreath of Maltese Innocents (1981). Evil of the King Cockroach (1960; published in Malta as Wild Spell of Summer, 1968) and In the Eye of the Sun (1969) were also published in London. The latter was translated into Maltese by Oliver Friġġieri as Għajn ix-Xemx (1971). It brings out the timeless teachings of nature – as is also seen in Leap of Malta Dolphins (1982). Ebejer explains his process and his works in The Bilingual Writer as Janus (Mediterranean – Maltese and English) (1989).
Ebejer’s three greatest successes were the three plays Vaganzi tas-Sajf (Summer Holidays) (1962), Boulevard (1964) and Menz (1967). Vaganzi tas-Sajf won the first prize at the Manoel Theatre Management Committee competition. Boulevard and Menz were taken overseas and performed in Japan in 1971, as well as in Spain and Venice. In these three plays, Ebejer touches upon themes like the absurd, stability and instability, freedom in the context of traditional rigidity, and the idea of finding peace within oneself. Ebejer also wrote various plays for television. His TV documentary An Eye to Reckon With (L-Għajn Għatxana) tied for third place with Russia’s entry at the 1971 Golden Harp International TV Festival held in Dublin.
Ebejer’s writing tackles the concepts of time and space, and of course their opposites – where everything and nothing exists, and all is connected; everything can be at once both a blessing and a curse. His main quest may well have been that of revealing the ability of work to become play. For the artist mirroring life, nothing is trivial; the mundane becomes as important or as necessary as the absurd – it is all part of one reality, and it all connects us. The trick is that of stretching the imagination and the intellect, admitting that the journey need not lead anywhere in particular; the search carries on beyond the grave, as exemplified by Is-Sejħa ta’ Sarid (Sarid’s Calling). Ebejer’s is a writing of and with presence.
Biography written by Ruth Bezzina
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul