Write to Reconcile anthology – Shyam gearing to do it all over again
On January 6, Write to Reconcile’s second edition kicks off with a call for applications. At the helm once again is internationally acclaimed author Shyam Selvadurai. Shyam undertook the project for the first time in 2013 in conjunction with the National Peace Council and with the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the American Centre who will be returning as sponsors this year. Together, they recruited young, emerging Sri Lankan writers interested in exploring ‘the issues of conflict, peace, reconciliation, memory and trauma’ through literature and writing. Through residential workshops, cultural tours and dedicated mentoring, they produced the first Write to Reconcile anthology – and now they’re gearing up to do it all over again.
To be conducted in English, the programme is open to all Sri Lankans, dual citizens or members of the Sri Lankan diaspora between the ages of 18 – 29 years who have at least one parent of Sri Lankan origin. The age stipulations will be waived away for all secondary school and university teachers who live and teach in Sri Lanka. Shyam knows what he’s looking for in candidates and it’s not a perfect grasp of English. “I can help participants, with that aspect easily. What I want to see is that they can tell a story, build characters and have a certain ear for language,” he tells the Sunday Times in an email, adding that the primary qualification is simply: “talent as writers but also a commitment to writing about war, peace, trauma, memory and reconciliation as they relate to Sri Lanka in its war and post war phase.”
While writers from the diaspora are eligible for the first time, Shyam also admits that he thought the first anthology suffered from a dearth of stories from the southern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. “I am hoping to redress this in the second year of Write to Reconcile by a greater effort to solicit applications from these areas but also by exposing participants to the history and culture of these areas in the hope it will stimulate work about these areas, as exposing participants to Jaffna in the first Write to Reconcile, stimulated work about Jaffna,” he says.
Beginning in late March with an eight-day residential creative writing workshop in Kandy and Batticaloa, participants will continue to generate and then hone their pieces of writing throughout 2014 till their efforts culminate in an anthology to be launched in February 2015. Shyam will lead the workshop, combining-class exercises to generate creative work with sessions on the tools and techniques of editing. Participants can expect their evenings to be occupied with screenings of relevant films and visits from local artistes. There will also be two cultural tours, one of Kandy, one of Batticaloa, which are intended to showcase the diverse cultures in these regions as well as the impact of the war on its peoples.
Two online forums will build on what was accomplished in the workshops. Shyam is focused on creating a group that are able to support and critique each other constructively, and so participants will discuss each other’s creative pieces under his guidance. Come July, Shyam will work with each participant to select one or two pieces and begin the process of refining it and editing it over email exchanges. Participants needn’t worry about the cost – all internal transport, accommodation, food, supplies and even a stipend during the residential workshops and the book launch will be provided by the organizers.
In the meantime, Write to Reconcile’s first edition has found its way into the hands of readers across Sri Lanka. 2,000 copies were distributed to various libraries and schools across the island, and an e-book was made available for download on the site www.writetoreconcile.com. Looking back on the project, Shyam says “the greatest challenge was that it was a completely new project and we had never done it before. I found the teaching part and the mentoring online part relatively easy to do as I have a lot of experience with it. The part that was truly challenging was to see the anthology through to publication.”
Seeing a manuscript through to print in a relatively short time involved Shyam having to go back and forth many times with the participants on their drafts; to copy edit and line edit the manuscript; to get the design of the cover and pages done and to proof read the PDFs of the final version of the manuscript. However, working with these young writers proved an encouraging experience and they exceeded his expectations. “I have been thinking a lot about how good they were, as I had a position at the University of Toronto this fall and did some work with students and was reminded of how on par the participants I worked with were in their knowledge and facility with plot, character, and, more important, a good knowledge of literature.”
He also found his faith in writing as a means of furthering reconciliation was reaffirmed. The anthology offered a “great diversity of stories, poems and memoir on the lived experience of the war and post-war phase by the people who don’t make history (i.e. the political players on all sides) but those swept along by it,” says Shyam. “There is no single story of what happened and continues to happen to people in Sri Lanka. There are multiple stories and the more of those that are heard the more tolerant a country we will build.”
Visit www.writetoreconcile.com for more information on how to apply.