Frans Sammut was born in the small village of Żebbuġ on the 19th of November 1945. He trained as a teacher at the St. Michael’s Teacher Training College and subsequently read for a degree in Sacred Theology at the University of Malta, followed by a Master’s Degree in Education. Closing his career in education as Head of School, he then became Cultural Consultant to the Prime Minister of Malta.

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His skill as a writer was evident early on when, as a teenager, he won first place in a contest organised by the Għaqda Kittieba Żgħażagħ (Association of Young Writers) with a story called “L-Istqarrija” (“The Statement”). He later also picked up the second and fourth prizes in the same contest.

In the late 1960s, together with fellow writers Victor Fenech, Oliver Friggieri, Raymond Mahoney and Mario Azzopardi, among others, Sammut co-founded the seminal Moviment Qawmien Letterarju (Literary Revival Movement), a movement whose ethos was to revive and modernise Maltese literature. The Movement wanted to distance itself from the Romantic mindset of previous generations, both stylistically and thematically. This desire was inspired by an increase in the general access to foreign literature and art, which exposed local writers to contemporary artistic reforms and cultural developments.

The backdrop to this radical stance was Malta’s endeavour to gain independence from the United Kingdom, an effort which reached its culmination on the 21st of September 1964. Following Malta’s attainment of political freedom from the coloniser, questions regarding the essence of personal, intellectual and spiritual freedom came to the surface.

Sammut wrestled with this predicament in his two seminal novels, Il-Gaġġa (“The Cage”, 1971) and Samuraj (“Samurai”, 1975). In the former, which was adapted into a film in the very year it was published, protagonist Fredu Gambin grapples with what he perceives as entrapment within Maltese society. Despite his physical freedom, he is embroiled in existential angst within the confined space of the island, highlighting how freedom often collides with mindset rather than geography. Fredu is not restrained from enjoying freedom but deliberately refrains from exercising it, enmeshed as he is in the inner prison of his soliloquies.

We find a more nihilistic and claustrophobic take on freedom in Samuraj. Samwel, a modest young man whose life revolves around the tiny village he lives in, experiences a shattering of reality when his entrenched idyll is disrupted. The foundational pillars of religion, societal structures and everyday existence collapse like a chain of falling dominoes. Samwel finds himself struggling to navigate the wreckage of these once sturdy foundations. Sammut artfully hints at an infernal presence undermining the apparent bliss of this nostalgic past and pristine way of life, untarnished as it is by modern woes. He suggests that what Samwel goes through is essentially a spiritual crisis. Sammut perceives society as the source of inner crises and the soul’s yearning for expression leads to clashes with societal norms and values.

Frans Sammut unquestionably stands among Malta’s finest writers. He left an indelible mark on the national literary landscape through his significant contributions to the psychological novel. Sammut died on the 4th of May 2011 at the age of 66.

Biography written by Noel Tanti



Supported by

Arts Council Malta

Creative Industries Platform

Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi

With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt

Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul

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