It’s that time of year when literary attention is directed towards the annual Gratiaen Prize, in affiliation with the Standard Chartered Bank, which is awarded to the best work written in English – published or unpublished – by a resident Sri Lankan. The prize, initiated in 1993 by Booker Prize-winner Michael Ondaatje – so now in its 19th year – is intended to encourage creative English writing in Sri Lanka.
In January, the three-judge panels for each prize started their deliberations. There were 47 entries for the Gratiaen Prize, a mixture of novels, short stories, poetry, plays and memoirs, 13 of which have been published, and seven entries for the HAI Goonetileke Prize, four of which have been published. On 2 April, the first stage of the Gratiaen Prize – the panel of judges’ decisions regarding those entries shortlisted – was held at the British Council Auditorium. There is no shortlist for the HAI Goonetileke Prize this time. The shortlisted entries for the Gratiaen Prize are as follows:
Autumn Leaves (unpublished novel)
Charulatha was educated at Visakha Vidyalaya, obtained a degree in Civil Engineering from University of Moratuwa, and taught Physics and Mathematics to nine generations of London A/L students, first year at British School in Colombo and the rest at S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia.
Teaching gave her the time and peace of mind needed to engage constructively in her favourite hobby – writing. Both her parents being authors, she was introduced early to creative writing. She has been writing poetry since childhood, but Autumn Leaves is her first novel. She is a mother of four, and is now a happy homemaker.
Sarasu… amidst slums of terror (published novel)
Lucky is currently doing all the things he enjoys doing; writing, reading, travelling, gardening, enhancing his collection of coins, stamps, and picture postcards, and watching cricket, rugby, and soccer. ‘A Tigress of Kilinochchi’ and ‘Poseidon’s Wrath’ were his first two novels.
He is retired, after 43 years in corporate managerial positions, ending as MD/CEO of Lanka Walltile PLC. Lucky is wedded to Bernadette, and has three sons, three grandsons and a granddaughter. Royal College, Colombo, was his Alma Mater where he completed his studies, appointed Head Prefect, and awarded the prestigious Dornhorst Memorial Award for outstanding merit.
There’s Something I Have to Tell You (unpublished novel)
Madhubhashini Disanayaka-Ratnayake currently works as the Head of the English Language Teaching Unit at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. She has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from New York University which she attended on a Fulbright Scholarship.
She was awarded the State Literary Award for the Best Collection of Short Stories in English in 1991 and has previously been shortlisted twice for the Gratiaen Award. She currently edits the 100 Word creative writing page which she started in 1997 in The Sunday Times newspaper. She is a violinist and a sitarist who has left both instruments aside since marrying a musician.
Cry For Me A Little: Stories of the Souls (published short stories)
Mariam Riza is an internal auditor by profession. She enjoys writing fiction for a purpose, and strongly believes that even if one person is inspired or educated by her work, her efforts are justified. Her work has previously appeared in First Flight, a British Council publication in 2007, Channels annual publications and the WriteClique website.
Mariam was awarded a prize for her short story in the Channels Publication Vol. 17 in 2011. During her childhood, she also won several awards from the British Council and other establishment, like the “Let the Words Flow” competition in 2006. She is also a member of the English Writers’ Cooperative in Sri Lanka and is currently reading for her Masters in Business Psychology.
Some Texts are Made of Leaves (unpublished poetry)
Malinda Seneviratne is a journalist who is currently the Editor-in-Chief of The Nation. His formal training, however, was in sociology, having completed his bachelor’s degree at Harvard University, and all coursework for a PhD from Cornell University, before deciding he had had enough of school.
His poetry was twice shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize (‘Threads’ in 2007 and ‘The Underside of Silence’ in 2008). His first collection of poetry, ‘Epistles: 1984-1996’ was published in 1999. He has translated into English Simon Navagaththegama’s ‘Sansaraaranyaye Dadayakkaraya’ and Martin Wickramasinghe’s ‘Upan Da Sita’ (both to be published shortly), as well as several Sinhala short stories.