Authors have their say

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“Nothing is as exciting for us as to find our own place, or our own stories, in a book. When that happens the self is doubled, we are no longer invisible.”

— Michael Ondaatje, founder of the Gratiaen Trust

This is that time of the year; full of excitement and anticipation we eagerly wait to know the winner of the Gratiaen Prize. Having announced the shortlist for the Gratiaen Prize 2021 on 23 March 2022, in an event hosted by the British Council and primarily sponsored by John Keells Foundation, the excitement is almost unbearable for everyone.

The judges of the Gratiaen Prize have shortlisted four works out of the six works that were in the long list; The Unmarriageable Man by Ashok Ferrey, The Lanka Box by Ciara Mandulee Mendis, Talking to the Sky by Rizvina Morseth de Alwis and A Place Called Home by Uvini Atukorala. Speaking to Ceylon Today, the shortlisted authors shared their thoughts. The first to share her thoughts was The Lanka Box author Ciara Mandulee Mendis.

“For capturing with depth and poignancy the world of the young in Sri Lanka with the clear-eyed perspective of today’s youth; for dialogue and language which so adeptly captures the unique way we Lankans think and talk; for the adept use of laugh-out-loud humour; for vivid descriptions of experiences which are self-consciously Lankan.”

— Citations from the Jury for The Lanka Box by Ciara Mandulee Mendis

“I never had the plan of writing a book. I started sending my stories out to international journals once I was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize in 2020. Since then I’ve had quite a few stories published digitally in international journals. So this year, since I had quite a few stories in my hand towards the middle of the year, I decided to enter this year as well,” shared Ciara.

Ciara who serves the Sri Lanka Administrative Service, currently as Assistant Secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, shared her journey of being nominated for the Gratiaen award 2021. Further, Ciara recollected how, “It felt surreal and was overjoyed,” last year, when she was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize for the first time for her debut collection of short stories. “I’m deeply humbled and grateful to be on the shortlist this year as well,” she further added.   

Speaking about her source of strength, Ciara traced back to her days as a kid and shared how her parents had facilitated her love for books and passion for writing throughout her childhood. “They made me a small library at home and always gave me space to read and write when I was a child,” she shared with Ceylon Today. “Committing to write something and putting it out there takes courage and strength. I’m grateful to the mother of my heart Vivimarie Vanderpoorten who is always there with me through thick and thin, not only in my journey as a writer, but also in this journey of life. She is always the first to read my stories and give comments,” she added secondly.

Ciara had some thoughts to share with aspiring writers as well. “I believe before becoming a writer, you have to be a reader. I don’t see how one can write without reading. It is important to read books from a myriad of genres written by people of all kinds. We must read world literature, it’s vital. And read in different languages, don’t stick to one. The more diverse what you read, the wider your worldview becomes.”

“A random person on the street, trying to make sense of reality through writing.”

— Ciara Mandulee Mendis

The Gratiaen Prize is an annual literary prize for the best work of literary writing in English by a resident of Sri Lanka. It was founded in 1992 by the Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje with the money he received as joint-winner of the Booker Prize for his novel The English Patient. Administered by a Trust based in Sri Lanka, the Gratiaen Prize accepts printed books and manuscripts in a range of genres including fiction, poetry, drama, creative prose and literary memoir. Entries can be submitted by both authors and publishers.

The panel of judges for the Gratiaen Prize 2021 include; award winning Canadian author of Sri Lankan origin, Shyam Selvadurai; the Chair of the Gratiaen Prize and graduate of the London School of Economics with a career of over 30 years in commercial banking, Keshini Jayawardena; and informed reader on the Gratiaen Prize and Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of English, University of Peradeniya, Maduranga Kalugampitiya.

By Induwara Athapattu