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English prize goes begging at Fairway National Literary Awards

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Winner of Tamil Category – Fernando Seeman Pathinathan for ’Thottu Ponavarkal’

Winner of Sinhala Category - Aruna Premarathne for ’Tharu Visula Raya’

By Madushka Balasuriya 

‘Tharu Visula Raya’ by Aruna Premarathna and ’Thottu Ponavarkal’ by Fernando Seeman Pathinathan took home the Sinhala and Tamil language ‘Best Novel’ prizes at the Fairway National Literary Awards (FNLA) in Colombo on Monday, but there was drama as, for the first time in its short history, no English language award was handed out.

“We don’t want to give an award for the sake of giving an award, and as judges we have a responsibility to set our own criteria, so we did,” Prof. Dushyanthi Mendis told Daily FT when asked about the decision.

GCEO – Fairway Holdings – Imal Fonseka

Chief Guest Prof. J.B. Dissanayake

For this year’s competition entries were called in June 2018 and there was a remarkable response with over 120 books being submitted. 14 novels in total were shortlisted by the panel of judges, five each in the Sinhala and Tamil category, and four in the English category. Each shortlisted novelist in each language category received a cash prize of Rs. 100,000, while the eventual winner of each language category received a cash prize of Rs. 500,000. 

Mendis was one of three judges, alongside Dr. Ramya Chamalie Jirasinghe and activist/writer Tassie Seneviratne, entrusted with deciding on both the shortlist and a winner in the English language category. Together they came up with four criteria – Language, Memorability, Creativity, and Literary Merit – to aid in their deliberations. However in what was eventually a unanimous decision, the judges felt none of the books checked all the necessary boxes. “Of the four – and I think I reflect my fellow judges feelings – we felt that language was important and so was literary merit – not to say the other two were not. So what we were looking at was for a work which would have all of these qualities. Unfortunately what we found was, in all of the shortlisted novels, they had some of these only,” explained Mendis. “Yes, we were setting the bar high.”

When suggested to her that the decision might have come across as harsh, especially as judging literature can be such a subjective process, Mendis was unequivocal in expressing their desire to uplift the overall calibre of English writing in Sri Lanka. And while there’s no guarantee that judges at future festivals will uphold the same benchmarks, Mendis said her and the rest of the judging panel had no qualms about their decision making process.

“Why shouldn’t the winner here go for an international award? Why shouldn’t that happen? That’s what we’re arguing.”

“Our shortlisted four novels were unanimous and our final decision was unanimous. It didn’t come easily, in fact we met a lot of times to make absolutely sure that our conscience was clear in the decision we were going to take.”

Event history 

The FNLA was hosted by Fairway Holdings, one of the leading conglomerates in Sri Lanka, for the fourth consecutive year – the other three were held in Galle – in its continuous bid to encourage and promote excellent creative writing in all three languages; Sinhala, Tamil and English. 

Launched as a fringe event for the Fairway Galle Literary Festival in 2015, when the company took over the title sponsorship of the biggest international literary festival in the country, FNLA has seen the emergence of some of the best creative writers in Sri Lanka. 

The significant cash prizes as well as the due recognition given to both the writers and publishers have made the Fairway National Literary Awards one of the most highly anticipated events in the literary calendar of Sri Lanka.

This year’s event was graced by Emeritus Professor J.B. Dissanayake as Chief Guest. The shortlisted novels this year were:


Aththani Kanu by Sepali Mayadunne

Warana by Padmini Senevirathne

Tharu Visula Raya by Aruna Premarathna

Deshadrohiyage Nirmala Hardaya by Tharangani Resika Fernando

Balawa Kandulu Gini Gani! by P.B. Jayasekara 


Kattupol by Pramila Pradeepan

Thottu Ponavarkal by Fernando Seeman Pathinathan

Irattak Kuliyal by Musdeen

Idipadum Kodaikanal by Nawayanee Yohendranathan

Panichaiadi Munmaariyum Sattakkinarum by A.M.S. Velalaganz


Rao’s Guide to Lime Pickling by Sandali Handagama

The Chameleon by Seheni Hisara Kariyawasan

Stories by Charulatha Abeysekara Thewarathanthri

Zeelam by Navin Weeraratne

Pix by Krishan Ranasinghe

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