Celebrating 20 years of recognizing and awarding the best work in English by resident Sri Lankan writers the Gratiaen Prize opened awards season with the announcement of its 2012 shortlist at Park Street Mews on Friday 22 March 2013.
It’s not in the Stars by Rizvina Morseth de Alwis. This unpublished novel was described by the judges as an insightful rendering of the distressing impact the seminal events of contemporary Sri Lanka have had on its many ethnic and religious communities.
Kalumaali by Ruwanthie de Chickera and Nadie Kammallaweera. In the judges’ view this unpublished drama script is an innovatively structured play which works at the level of magical story for children and as powerful theatre for adults exploring the identity crisis of a working woman and a mother.
Playing Pillow Politics at MGK by Lal Medawattegedera. This unpublished novel was described as a thematically and formally innovative work mixing realism with the allegorical. It provides a daring perspective on contemporary urban, social and political realities.
Open Words are for Love-Letting by Malinda Seneviratne. This published poetry collection was seen by the judges as an engaging collection of poetry that demonstrates poetry as a word-scape, patterns of tone and images of sound.
The Professional by Saroj Sinnetamby. This unpublished novel was described as a highly engrossing, imaginatively presented novel, focusing on the hard choices confronting down-at-heel migrants from mainly the Third World in the impersonal ‘Big Cities’ of the First World.
The judges explained that the submissions this year were very strong and that while it was difficult to limit the shortlist to five works of literature, their ultimate decision was unanimous. The judging panel consists of: Jayantha Dhanapala (Chair), a distinguished former career diplomat and currently President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; Lynn Ockersz, a senior journalist, a published poet and a lecturer in journalism; and Sumathy Sivamohan, a writer, dramatist, filmmaker and academic who is currently head of the Department of English at the University of Peradeniya. For further information on the judges and past winners with extracts of their work, see www.gratiaen.com.
When the Gratiaen Prize was instituted two decades ago by Michael Ondaatje, Sri Lankan writing in English had already begun to gain a global profile but this was almost exclusively by writers domiciled outside Sri Lanka. In the ensuing years a number of Sri Lanka-based writers, recognized by the Gratiaen, achieved critical and popular success regionally and internationally. The first winner, Carl Muller was published by Penguin India, Elmo Jayawardene by Marshall and Cavendish in Singapore and poets such as Vivimarie VanderPoorten and dramatists/film makers such as Ruwanthie de Chickera and Viskesa Chandrasekaram have produced and performed internationally, with perhaps the most iconic “Gratiaen success” being achieved by Shehan Karunatilaka for his Chinaman which won both the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the Commonwealth Book Prize in addition to being published by Random House India and Jonathan Cape, UK.