Having cut his teeth as an educator and broadcaster, Żahra then published his first poetry collection, Eden in 1972, though his poetic works had previously appeared in magazines such as Children’s Own and Il-Berqa. Apart from his creative works, Żahra also published the first Maltese workbooks for young students, securing his position as an advocate and beacon for the national language.
Though his spate of works for younger readers suggests an effortlessness of output, poignancy and pain are hardly ever out of the author’s purview. His moving memoir detailing the loss of his beloved wife Stella, Stella, Jien u Hu (Merlin Publishers, 1990) is a case in point, as is, to a far jauntier degree, the bestselling Il-Ħajja Sigrieta tan-Nanna Ġenoveffa (The Secret Life of Nanna Genoveffa, Merlin Publishers, 2008). The latter melds a plethora of the author’s talents: marinated in the nostalgia for a past Malta whose colonial and clerical trappings are appropriated for their aesthetic and confectional value, the slim novel can now be read as a sex-positive fictional biography that joyfully expresses feminine erotic desire. That universal underpinning – aided along by the specifics of its period setting and a melancholy edge that prevents it from dovetailing into triviality – is arguably what helped it find eager translators on both page and stage: Ġenoveffa has been published in English, French, Russian and Norwegian, and its theatrical adaptation – written by Żahra himself and produced by Unifaun Theatre with Marta Vella in the title role – opened (and closed) to packed houses in 2013.
And the raunchiness that’s filtered through nostalgic sepia tones in Ġenoveffa comes through even more explicitly in Żahra’s other collaboration with Unifaun Theatre, Minn Wara ż-Żipp (2014), which indulges in a frank and hilarious examination of (Maltese) male sexual mores. Meanwhile, his 2018 theatrical foray Il-Madonna Tiegħi Aħjar Minn Tiegħek – a musical produced under the auspices of Teatru Malta – further cemented Żahra’s position as the island’s foremost storyteller, tapping into the raucous religious tribalism of Malta’s village feasts and their band clubs.
Now retired as a teacher, Żahra continues to dedicate himself to his literary work on a full-time basis, having consolidated his long and fruitful relationship with Merlin Publishers with a regular series of short story collections and anthologies from 2010 onwards.
Trevor Żahra has been awarded the National Book Prize eighteen times over, and was in 2004 granted the Medal of Merit by the President of the Republic. He was also named the Johnnie Walker Man of the Year in the Arts and Entertainment category in 2008, and was awarded the Gold Medal by the Academy of Arts (2012) and Ġieħ l-Akkademja by the Akkademja tal-Malti (2018).
Written by Teodor Reljić
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul