In Jaffna, literature to take new meaning in today’s context
It’s time to head to Jaffna with the Gratiaen Trust bringing new literary light to the reawakening peninsula.
After their very successful day programme in 2020 (with overwhelming response and the performance event flooded by a truly diverse audience from America to Colombo though mostly Jaffna) they will have this year a more comprehensive line-up, with sessions happening all day at the Kalam on March 25.
Dr. Thiruvarangan Mahendran, Trustee, Head of the Dept. of Linguistics and English in the University of Jaffna and main organiser, says the event, Jaffna: A Day of Creative Literature, marks 30 years of the Gratiaen, ever since Michael Ondaatje made that touching pledge to his motherland and to support creative writing in English.
“We consider it a moment for reflection on how literature and arts and other creative forms have triggered in us a critical understanding of our societies, cultures, political and economic systems. We take this opportunity to not just encourage literary creativity among young people but also examine how literature and arts have interrogated dominant social practices and shown pathways to re-imagine ourselves and our societies in inclusive, egalitarian terms.”
It’s timely for the Gratiaen to be talking of reimagining, having given birth to such writers and past winners such as Shehan Karunatilaka going on to win the Booker; having explored Sinhala-speaking writers as with Jagath Kumarasinghe and breaking LGBTQIA taboos with Arun Welandawe-Prematilleka.
Adds Dr Thiru:
‘Even as we organise this event, we want to be mindful of the economic crisis in the country and how it has affected thousands of people on the margins of our society. We frame this event as an opportunity to think about how literature and arts have responded to this crisis and various other crises that Sri Lanka went through in the past decades.’
The day will start off with a creative writing workshop by Shyam Selvadurai titled The Art of Detail, followed by Poetry to Music, Music to Poetry where Vivimarie Vanderpoorten and Aathmaa Jafir will perform their poetry to Shankaranathan Vimlashankar on tabla and Gopalkirushnan Sathiyan on the shahi baaja.
One of the aims is to foster “an expanding group of youngsters in Jaffna who show interest in creative writing in English,” Dr Thiru says.
This small group with significance needs to share and discuss their work with writers from outside, he adds.
“There is a need for dialogue not just about literature but also about the various social, political events that are happening in our country. Writers from different regions coming together and reflecting upon how they can make their work meaningful to their readers and their communities and others is important.”
The greatest draw however would be the round table discussion, where artists, film makers, theatre performers, writers and literary critics from different parts of the country will engage in a conversation on the role that arts and literature have played during times of crisis in Sri Lanka.
The panelists will be Shyam Selvadurai, Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, Nilani Joseph and Aathmaa Jafir, moderated by Dr Thiru.
Finally a note of the sassy is infused with the open mic event for youth (15-25 years) to share poetry, short fiction, and extracts of plays in the language of their choice.
Says Dr Thiru:
‘Anybody can participate in the open mic event. Those who are interested just need to turn up at the event with a poem or a short prose! The mic will be theirs!’
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