2 July, 2022


Thiyagaraja Arasanayagam Wins 2015 Gratiaen Prize

White Lanterns: Wesak 2011 by Thiyagaraja Arasanayagam is the winner of the Gratiaen Prize 2015, for the best work of creative writing in English by a Sri Lankan writer living in Sri Lanka.

Thiagaraja Arasanayagam

Thiagaraja Arasanayagam

Arasanayagam’s writing was commended by the judges for the beguiling simplicity with which it speaks of “regret, rage, shame and impunity…of the darkest moments in our recent, shared history.”

Thiyagaraja Arasanaygam is a past winner of the State Literary Award for the best original play script in English for his play “The Intruder”.  He has also previously been shortlisted for the Gratiaen for his poetry collection “The Singing of the Angels”. Arasanayagam is currently based in Kandy and belongs to a family of writers and artists.

The Gratiaen Prize was founded in 1993 by the Sri Lankan-born writer Michael Ondaatje after he won the Booker Prize for The English Patient. The Prize is awarded each year to the best submitted creative work in English, written by a Sri Lankan writer resident in Sri Lanka. Both published works and unpublished manuscripts are accepted as submissions.

The judging panel for the Gratiaen Prize 2015 was made up of: Captain Elmo Jayawardena, retired airline captain, humanitarain and writer (chair); Tracy Holsinger, theatre practitioner and Dr Dinali Devendra, an academic at the Open University of Sri Lanka. The judging panel commended the creativity and innovation of the work submitted for consideration this year and explained the multiple challenges faces when judging across different genres of literature. They also stressed that writers need to subject their work to a rigorous editorial process and to opt for publishing through a professional publisher than self publish as that would raise the quality of the final product.

The Gratiaen Prize 2015 is the first to be presented under the Gratiaen Trust’s new partnership with Sarasavi Bookshops. Speaking at the event Chairman, Sarasavi Group of Companies, H. D. Premasiri said, “We have always been present at the Gratiaen Award through our book stall where the award winning and short listed books have been sold at the event. But from this year onwards, we come to the award ceremony as proud partners of the Gratiaen Trust. We have every hope that this collaboration will be a fruitful one and will last for many years to come.”

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    Its funny how the judges are now commenting on the need for English writers to submit their literary pieces through Publishing Houses and to avoid self Publishing for better quality literature. While this is good advice it is woefully impracticable as one has only got to ask the number of budding English authors of the frustration they are faced with when going to Publishing Houses

    Additionally I recall how about eight years ago Capt Elmo Jayawardena wrote a long article in the Sunday Times ( if my memory is correct) saying how Publishing houses in SL were fighting shy about accepting new writers literary pieces for publishing, for obvious reasons. He advised new writers,at that time, whose works were constantly being rejected,not to be put off by such rejections but to do their own publishing and even go to the extent of doing so on sheets of foolscap paper, photocopying them and then distributing/selling such pieces to as many people as possible as that was also a way of publishing. On that occasion he also suggested that such writers form an association calling themselves “the Annassi and Kadalagottu” Association of English writers.

    I wonder why the change of heart now? If at all new writers have increased four fold today, while Publishing houses have remained stagnant and the existing few have become even more reluctant to accept New writers works. Maybe Capt Elmo in his wisdom could float a Publishing House and start accepting new writers literary works Ad Lib.

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