The literary buzz for the Gratiaen Prize begins

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in affiliation with the Standard Chartered Bank, which is awarded to the best work written in English – published or unpublished - by a resident Sri Lankan.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 shortlisted entries for the 2011 award will be revealed to the public at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 2, at the British Council Auditorium, 49, Alfred House Gardens, Colombo 3. The event is open to the public.

The Gratiaen prize, initiated in 1993 by Booker Prize-winner Michael Ondaatje and affiliated with the Standard Chartered Bank, now in its 19th year - is intended to encourage creative English writing in Sri Lanka.

This year’s Gratiaen Awards includes the HAI Goonetileke Prize for translation, initiated in 2003 and awarded every other year to strengthen the Gratiaen Trust’s mandate of promoting original writing in English by recognizing those who provide English readers access to the rich literature of Sinhala and Tamil. The value of each prize is Rs. 200,000.

In January, the three-judge panels for each prize started their deliberations. There were 47 entries for the Prize, a mix 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. There is no shortlist for the HAI Goonetileke Prize. The award of the prizes will take place on Saturday, May 26, 2012.

The judges for the 2011 Gratiaen Prize are Gill Westaway, (Chairperson), Director of the British Council until August 2010, who espoused the cause of promoting Sri Lankan creative writing in English; Harshana Rambukwella, Senior Lecturer at the Postgraduate Institute of English, The Open University of Sri Lanka and Honorary Assistant Professor at the School of English, University of Hong Kong; and Delon Weerasinghe, whose play Thicker than Blood won the 2005 Gratiaen Prize and has been performed internationally. He has also written commissioned work for The Royal Court Theatre, London.
Standard Chartered’s Chief Executive, Anirvan Ghosh-Dastidar, commenting on the Bank’s support of the award, said, “The Gratiaen Prize recognizes the best work by a Sri Lankan author and Standard Chartered has been involved since its beginning. We are delighted to support the award with literary excellence as its sole focus.”

The first winners of the Gratiaen Prize in 1993 were Carl Muller (The Jam Fruit Tree) and Lalitha Withanachchi (Wind Blows over the Hills). Subsequent winners include Prashani Rambukwella (Mythil’s Secret), Shehan Karunatilaka (Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew), Vivimarie VanderPoorten (Nothing Prepares You), the late Nihal de Silva (Road from Elephant Pass), Elmo Jayawardene (Sam’s Story), the late Tissa Abeysekara (Bringing Tony Home) and Punyakante Wijenaike (Amulet). For further information on the judges and past winners with extracts of their work, see

Among them, Shehan Karunatilaka’s cricket saga, Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, unpublished when it won the 2008 Gratiaen Prize, deserves special mention. Shehan used the Gratiaen Prize money to self-publish the first edition in March 2010, and then left Sri Lanka to work in Singapore. From there he contacted Random House India, who responded with enthusiasm, and in February 2011 published it in the Subcontinent and launched it at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival. Subsequently Chinaman was published in the UK and US, was selected by the major book retailers, Waterstones, for inclusion in Waterstones’ 11, “Our pick of the best first novels of 2011”, and long-listed, and has now won the 2012 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, worth $50,000.

The HAI Goonetileke Prize is named after Ian Goonetileke, Sri Lanka’s most renowned librarian, national bibliographer, and researcher extraordinaire. His Bibliography of Ceylon (1970-1983) is undoubtedly the most important work on the history of English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka. Initially, the Gratiaen Prize was administered by Ian Goonetileke.

Previous winners of the HAI Goonetileke Prize were Nandithiya as the Chameleon, author Sunethra Rajakarunanayake translated by Vijita Fernando; The Hour When the Moon Weeps, Liyanage Amarakeerthi translated by Kumari Goonesekere; and Sedona by Eva Ranaweera translated by Edmund Jayasuriya.

The Chairperson of the 2011 HAI Goonetileke Prize panel of judges is Ariyawansa Ranaweera, a retired senior public servant, who has written many collections of poetry, translated Greek drama and prose, and won 13 State Literary Awards. The other judges are Sandagomi Coperahewa, a Senior Lecturer in Modern Sinhala and Sociolinguistics and also Director of the Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies (CCIS) at the University of Colombo, and Shravika Damunupola Amarasekara, a Lecturer in English at the Department of English, University of Colombo, whose primary research interests are in childhood studies, postcolonial literature and Sri Lankan writing in English.

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