Isurunie Anuradha Mallawaarachchi, Chiranthi Rajapakse, Shirani Rajapakse, Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

The evening of the Prestigious Gratiaen Prize Shorlist announcement was made in the company of literati recognizing prose & poetry of shortlisted authors Isurinie Anuradha Mallawaarachchi for ‘Flowers Teach Me to Let Go’, Chiranthi Rajapakse ‘Keeping Time & Other Stories’, Shirani Rajapakse for ‘Samsara’ and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne for ‘The Wretched and the Damned’ alongside longlisted authors at The British Council, Colombo on Wednesday, the 17th of May. As Prof. Neloufer de Mel, Chair of GT said, Sri Lankan Literature in the recent past has captivated readers and critics alike worldover, thus encouraging Sri Lankan writers to pursue their craft.

Isurunie Anuradha Mallawaarachchi stated that her book of poetry was inspired mostly by the passing of her father as well as confrontations behind closed doors over what is socially accepted and what is not. Shirani Rajakse's book of poetry talks about, as the title of the book aptly states, Samsara, or the cycle of death and rebirth, about each person's own individual journe, meeting and passing each other, sharing the sorrows and joys of each moment which is Samsara. Chiranthi Rajakase, shares with us a book of short stories. All her characters are eternally on the edge of crisis, just like the country in which they live, each character moves through the many changes in their lives, whether it be a man worried about a job interview he about to have or a watch repairman who measures his life, yet gets caught into a conflict which turns his world upside down. Yudhanjaya Wijeratne (who was unable to attend the occasion) has written a spellbinding novel, not yet published, about the future of Sri Lanka with ever growing superpowers whose common sense is lacking, to say the least. The novel is about reels trying to overthrow the government which is full of corruption and nepotism. The story is defined through the dreams, violence and the fruitlessness of it all.

This year the Gratiaen Prize marks its 30th year and an unbroken record of recognising and promoting Sri Lankan writing in English. This year the jury for the prize is chaired by Romesh Gunesekera, an internationally acclaimed writer who has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature; Sukanya Wignaraja, a psychotherapist by profession, a former editor at Oxford University Press, New Delhi, and an avid reader of literature; and Kaushalya Perera, a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Colombo whose research interests span linguistics and literature. The composition of the panel reflects the GratiaenPrize’s longstanding tradition of representing three perspectives: a creative writer, an informed general reader and an academic.

The H.A.I.G. Goonetileke Prize for Translation, a biannual prize for translation from either Sinhala or Tamil into English is also being awarded. The judging panel for the translation prize includes Prabha Manuratne, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English, University of Kelaniya and a well-known film and literary critic who writes both in Sinhala and English, Dr Ponni Arasu, an activist, historian, theatre practitioner, lawyer and translator who works in Tamil, and Kaushalya Kumarasinghe, a Sri Lankan Sinhala language novelist and translator. The H.A.I.G. Goonetileke Prize for Translation has no shortlist and the winner will be announced at the main Gratiaen Prize event scheduled on the 17th of June 2023 at Westminster House, Colombo, the official residence of the British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka.

Neloufer de Mel, Chairperson of the Gratiaen Trust, said, “These Prizes in this milestone year are very special to the Trust. They mark 30 years of concerted, voluntary effort to enhance and support English creative writing in Sri Lanka. A year when Shehan Karunatilake won the Booker Prize 30 years after Michael Ondaatje, marks a time in which Sri Lankan literature in English is increasingly gaining traction on the world literary map. To continue supporting these writers, the Trust has expanded its work with Masterclasses and workshops, and we thank all our sponsors, particularly our principal sponsor John Keells Foundation, for enabling us to hold these events”. This partnership falls within John Keells Foundation’s (JKF) focus area of Arts and Culture aimed at nurturing the livelihoods of artists, enhancing skills and opportunities and showcasing Sri Lankan talent towards safeguarding and promoting Sri Lankan arts and culture under its overall vision of "Empowering the Nation for Tomorrow". In addition to JKF, the Trust also gratefully acknowledges the support of the Wijeya Group of newspapers and the Marga Institute, which is its Secretariat.

As its latest initiative, The Trust has introduced the “GratiaenYoung Writers Club”  to promote and provide a platform for “next generation” writers to emerge and build a peer group network. This an exciting new initiative to bring together young people who share a passion for writing. The club seeks to create a community of young writers who can support, help and inspire each other to achieve literary distinction. The Club will provide a platform for writers from diverse backgrounds to meet, collaborate, share their work, receive feedback, and explore writing in various genres and styles of creative writing. 

Marking the thirtieth year of collaboration with the Trust, the British Council, Sri Lanka hosted the shortlist event as it has done from the very beginning of the Gratiaen Prize. The Trust has also embarked on an exciting program in collaboration with the British Council to bring down writers from the UK to conduct literary workshops, a children’s literary event, a masterclass and several other initiatives throughout 2023 extending into early 2024. Held in various parts of the country, this program will facilitate access for different communities to access literary events, discuss and practice creative writing towards building a strong base for English literary creativity in Sri Lanka.


19th May, 2023 Written Art | Personalities