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Gratiaen Trust workshop for writers in partnership with Commonwealth writers


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This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Gratiaen Prize. The prize was founded in 1993 by the writer Michael Ondaatje, with the winnings from his own Booker Prize for The English Patient. Administered by the Gratiaen Trust and adjudicated by an independent panel each year, the Gratiaen Prize celebrates the best work of creative writing in English, submitted to the prize by writers and publishers. 

The Gratiaen shortlist is hosted by the British Council and the annual prize event is sponsored by Sarasavi, the Bookshop. In this 25th year, the Gratiaen Trust is planning a number of special events, both to reflect critically on the prize and to further its commitment to writers in Sri Lanka.

One of these activities will be the convening of a special writers’ workshop, in partnership with Commonwealth Writers, aimed at offering sustained support to a group of prose writers over the course of a year. The workshop will comprise two segments – one taking place 11-14 May and the next, with the same group of writers, 18-21 October. 

At the workshop writers will have a chance to work in detail on their own manuscripts with two experienced practitioners ―one local and one visiting ― enjoying both one-to-one attention and work as a group. After the session in May, writers will have five months to progress their work on their own before returning for further mentoring in October. 

Michael Ondaatje, the Gratiaen founder, says: “I am thrilled that the Gratiaen Trust is doing this. It feels to me that this series of workshops for writers in Sri Lanka can be invaluable and essential. This is what the community of a culture depends on.”

Behind these workshops is the belief that writing is a matter of dedication, rigour and revision as much as it is of inspiration or natural talent. Over a number of years, the question has been raised both within the Trust and by judges, friends and critics of the Gratiaen Prize, whether prizes are the form of support most needed by writers in Sri Lanka. 

The Gratiaen Trust celebrates all efforts made for writers in Sri Lanka, believing there is a role both for encouragement and critical rigour. While the Trust is only mandated to administer the Prize, it is fortunate to have forged a partnership with Commonwealth Writers to deliver this year’s workshop.

Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation, has many years’ experience of delivering creative writing workshops, developed and run in partnership with local organisations and responsive to the specific needs of different regions. This year, as well as supporting the Gratiaen Trust workshops, Commonwealth Writers will be delivering workshops in Africa and the Caribbean as part of further craft development work focused around the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. 

As Janet Steel, Programme Manager, Commonwealth Writers says: “Writing is predominately a solitary craft. Bringing writers together with experienced workshop leaders provides a safe space for them to share their work, knowledge and concerns. The workshop focuses on the development of the participants’ manuscripts, both current and future, and organically creates a local writing support network.”

To the workshop in Colombo, Commonwealth Writers contributes both financial support and expertise bringing a visiting practitioner to design and lead each workshop in partnership with the Gratiaen Trust; the first to take up the role will be the writer and editor, Jacob Ross. The Gratiaen Trust necessarily plays its part in kind: Sunila Galappatti, one of its Trustees will coordinate and co-lead the workshop on a voluntary basis, with other Trustees undertaking personally to support aspects of its delivery. The workshop is kindly hosted by the Post-Graduate Institute of English of the Open University of Sri Lanka. 

Professor Walter Perera, Chairman of the Gratiaen Trust, says: “This workshop follows in a long tradition of connections between the English literary community in Sri Lanka and the Commonwealth Foundation. We are grateful that Commonwealth Writers is joining the Trust to deliver one of its long-held plans.”

While the Gratiaen is a multi-genre prize, this particular workshop will focus on prose writing and be open to writers of both fiction and non-fiction; including writers of short stories, novels, essays and memoir. With a limited number of places available on the workshop, entrants will be selected through an open call for submissions on www.commonwealthwriters.org.

While places will also be offered to any prose writers among the Gratiaen shortlist of 2018, this workshop remains entirely independent of the submission and judging process for the Gratiaen Prize. It is open to any Sri Lankan writer resident in Sri Lanka, whether or not they have ever submitted to the Gratiaen Prize. The deadline for applying to join the workshop is 5 p.m. Sri Lankan time, on 28 February.

The May workshop will be run by Jacob Ross and Sunila Galappatti

Jacob Ross is a novelist, short story writer, editor and creative writing tutor, born in Grenada and based in the UK. His latest book, ‘The Bone Readers,’ marks a new departure into crime fiction, and won the inaugural Jhalak Prize in 2017. His literary novel ‘Pynter Bender’ was published to much critical literary acclaim and was shortlisted for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Regional Prize and chosen as one of the British Authors Club’s top three Best First Novels. 

Jacob is also the author of three short story collections, ‘Song for Simone,’ ‘A Way to Catch the Dust,’ ‘Tell No-One About This,’ and the editor of ‘Closure,’ contemporary black British short stories. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has been a Judge of the V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize, the Olive Cook, Scott Moncrieff and Tom-Gallon Literary Awards. He was a judge of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2017. Jacob is Associate Fiction Editor at Peepal Tree Press.

Sunila Galappatti has worked with other people to tell their stories as a dramaturg, theatre director, editor and writer. She began her working life in the theatre, at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Live Theatre, Newcastle: commissioning and advising professional playwrights, working as a production dramaturg and later developing and directing documentary theatre pieces. 

Sunila has designed writer-development programmes and run writers’ workshops for the last 15 years, including for Commonwealth Writers, Kali Theatre and (on behalf of the RSC) at Soho Theatre, Columbia University and Cambridge University. Sunila was non-fiction editor of www.addastories.org for its first year. 

In Sri Lanka, Sunila has been a Director of the Galle Literary Festival (2009 and 2010), worked with Raking Leaves on its Open Edit project and was a Fulbright Visiting Fellow from Sri Lanka to Brown University. Currently, Sunila is a Visiting Lecturer at the Open University of Sri Lanka and is a judge of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2018. She is the author of ‘A Long Watch,’ retelling the memoir of a prisoner of war.

For more information contact Sunila Galappatti 0722589489 or sunilawriters@gmail.com.


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