Celebrating Sri Lankan Literature: Ramya Jirasinghe wins 31st Gratiaen Prize

Saturday, 8 June 2024 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

From left: Gratiaen Trust Co-Chairs Nafeesa Amiruddeen and Nisreen Jafferjee 

From left: 31st Gratiaen Prize Jury Angeline Ondaatjie, Gratiaen Trust Co-Chair Nisreen Jafferjee, 31st Gratiaen Prize Chair of the Jury Dr. Anthony Joseph, 31st Gratiaen Prize Winner Ramya Jirasinghe, Gratiaen Trust Co-Chair Nafeesa Amiruddeen, JKH President, Executive VP, Head-Legal and Secretarial Nadija Tambiah and British Council Sri Lanka Country Director Orlando Edwards

From left: Gratiaen Trust Co-Chair Nisreen Jafferjee, 31st Gratiaen Prize Chair of the Jury Dr. Anthony Joseph, 31st Gratiaen Prize Jury Angeline Ondaatjie, Shortlist Contestant Lal Medawattegedara, Shortlist Contestant Selvi Sachithanandam, Winner Ramya Jirasinghe, Shortlist Contestant Pasan Jayasinghe, Shortlist Contestant Vihanga Perera, JKH President, Executive VP, Legal and Secretarial Head Nadija Tambiah, British Council Sri Lanka Country Director Orlando Edwards and Gratiaen Trust Co-Chair Nafeesa Amiruddeen

31st Gratiaen Prize Winner Ramya Jirasinghe

By Michelle Therese Alles

The Stables at Park Street Mews was abuzz with literary excitement as the Gratiaen Trust, in collaboration with the John Keells Holdings Foundation and supported by the British Council, announced Ramya Jirasinghe as the winner of the 31st Gratiaen Prize. Her novel, Father Cabraal’s Recipe for Love Cake, captivated the jury with its evocative storytelling and intriguing historical layers. 

Jirasinghe’s novel stood out among five powerful shortlisted works, each showcasing the diversity and talent of Sri Lankan writers. The other finalists included Pasan Jayasinghe with his travelogue, A Passing Return, Selvi Sachithanandam’s biography, Gnanam, Vihanga Perera’s novel, Students and Rebels, and Lal Medawattegedara’s novel, When Ghosts Die. Each of these works offered unique perspectives and narratives, highlighting the vibrant landscape of contemporary Sri Lankan literature.

The jury, comprising Dr. Anthony Joseph F.R.S.L., a T.S. Eliot award-winning poet and novelist, Dr. Ruvani Ranasinha, a professor of postcolonial literature at King’s College London, and Angeline Ondaatjie, a renowned hotelier and academic, praised Father Cabraal’s Recipe for Love Cake for its sensory detail and exploration of themes such as home, belonging, and place. They described the novel as an “ambitious, tightly structured and perceptive” work that traces intriguing aspects of Lankan history, particularly the role of African traders. 

In their joint statement, Nafeesa Amiruddeen and Nisreen Jafferjee, Co-chairs of the Gratiaen Trust, expressed their delight at Jirasinghe’s win. They noted the wide range of genres and creative writing styles submitted this year, reflecting the growing confidence and richness of Sri Lankan storytelling. The Co-chairs also highlighted the increasing opportunities for local writers to develop their craft through workshops and literary events. 

One such opportunity is the upcoming masterclass led by Dr. Anthony Joseph, titled Approaches to Form, to be held at the British Council Library. Supported by the British Council Sri Lanka, this masterclass will explore the poetic interplay of words and sentences that create compelling narratives. This event is a testament to the Gratiaen Trust’s enduring commitment to literary excellence.

The evening was not just a celebration of literary talent, but also a feast for the senses. In a delightful touch, the food served after the ceremony was inspired by the themes of each nominated book. This added an extra layer of engagement, allowing guests to savour the flavours that mirrored the narratives they celebrated.

The Gratiaen Trust, with John Keells Foundation as its primary sponsor since 2019, continues to play a crucial role in nurturing Sri Lankan literature. This partnership aligns with JKH’s vision of Empowering the Nation for Tomorrow. Additionally, the British Council’s sponsorship of Dr. Anthony Joseph’s visit and several workshops and masterclasses is part of the Creative Literature series organised to mark the 75th anniversary of UK-Sri Lanka diplomatic relations. 

As the evening drew to a close, attendees left with a renewed appreciation for the rich tapestry of Sri Lankan literature. Ramya Jirasinghe’s victory with Father Cabraal’s Recipe for Love Cake is a testament to the power of storytelling and its ability to connect people across time and space.