Hili Vassallo’s career, experiences and personal values are often at the centre of her literary works, with notions of social justice and honesty, children and refugee rights frequently coming up.
She was born in 1968 in Żurrieq. She studied Law at the University of Malta, completing two Master programmes at the same University, in EU Law and in Migration Law. Hili Vassallo served as a diplomat in New York and as a Director within the Ministry for Social Policy and Children’s Rights. She is currently Director of Policy and Programmes with the Ministry for the National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government (MHAL). She is also a visiting lecturer on family law and child protection at the University of Malta.
Interestingly, the Imeldina series – which is made up of three books: Imeldina (2013), Imeldina u l-Imbarazz (Imeldina and the Clutter) (2016), and Imeldina u l-Uċuħ (Imeldina and the Faces) (2017) – is inspired by stories Hili Vassallo told her own children when they were young. The series was illustrated by Beatrice Costamagna. The second book was shortlisted for the National Book Prize for Young Children. The stories stand out because of the way they tackle very important complex social and cultural issues: fear of difference and newness, accepting and facing our fears, individuality and our personal impact on the collective. Another vibrant book, illustrated by Susanna Rumiz, is that of Mikelin (2019), which won the National Book Prize in 2020. It has been translated into Italian, and thanks to the diplomacy fund of the Maltese Ambassador in Ankara, also into Turkish and Arabic, thus reaching Syrian refugee children in Turkey.
Both Il-Komponiment tal-Malti (The Maltese Composition) (2018) and Il-Kaxxa tal-Memorji (The Box of Memories) (2020) are stories inspired by children in care and in foster care. They delve into the different and at times problematic circumstances that children find themselves in, to spark discussions on elements such as identity, family and roots, privilege, as well as individual and collective memory. These stories are not only there for us to sympathize; they also seek to reach out to children going through such realities – to know they are not alone, that they are seen and heard, and that their experience matters.
Hili Vassallo’s stories for Leħen il-Malti have allowed her to explore uncensored adult fiction. "Daħna" (Cloud) (2016), "Speċi Rara ta’ Kamaleonte Żeffiena" (A Rare Species of Dancing Chameleon) (2017) and "Taħt it-Tinda" (Under the Tent) (2018) speak to serious issues related to mental health, such as suicide and the re-invention of self, whilst going back to that essential reminder of the beauty of kindness.
In the very near future we will have the second addition to the Mikelin series to look forward to. Given her goal of educating through empathy and the intuitiveness of the Maltese language itself, it is no wonder that Hili Vassallo’s books resonate with adults and children alike. Her work is not just didactic; it is about the beauty of nourishing our imagination, reaching deep within to find our inner child, sharing our thoughts and being able to question and be critical in the best of ways for ourselves and for society.
Biography written by Ruth Bezzina.
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul