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A stimulating inaugural Gratiaen Evening

Ernest MacIntyre in conversation with Neloufer de Mel provided an entertaining and thought provoking discussion on the veteran playwright’s dramatic craft. The event, entitled “Between cultures, times and spaces: Ernest MacIntyre’s Theatre as Dialogue”, was held at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies’ (ICES) Colombo auditorium on 14 September 2012 and was jointly organized by the Gratiaen Trust and ICES. The Trust plans to hold a number of such Gratiaen Evenings every year as part of its outreach activities to promote discussion and interest in literature and the arts. There are also plans to hold some of these events outside of Colombo in cities such as Galle, Matara and Kandy. Both local as well as overseas based Sri Lankan artists will feature in future events and share their experiences in a range of creative arts.

Ernest MacIntyre’s trademark irony, so much a part of his dramatic practice, was evident throughout the event. While provoking humour, MacIntyre’s responses also led to a serious discussion on issues such as the difference between theatre and drama, the social relevance of drama and the evolving nature of dramatic practice. The highly diverse audience actively contributed to the discussion and a topic that led to an extended dialogue was the vexed question of whether drama, or literature in general, is about communicating “messages”. A number of journalists, literary commentators and academics in the audience contributed to a lively exchange of views.

In the earlier part of the evening de Mel spoke to Macintyre about his early days as a playwright and the challenges of producing theatre with a very “Sri Lankan” focus in Australia—MacIntyre’s country of domicile. MacIntyre also spoke of his motivations for doing drama and his latest dramatic script Irangani, the book version of which was launched in Colombo shortly after the Gratiaen Evening. The event concluded with light refreshments and a chance for the audience to mingle with the veteran playwright.

































Gratiaen sponsored translation wins State Literary Award

The Gratiaen Trust is proud to announce that the translation of Sunethra Rajakarunanayake's Podu Purushaya by Carmen Wickramagamage into English as Metta was awarded the 2011 State Literary Award for best translation (into English) on 30 September 2012. The translation was funded by Michael Ondaatje and published by the Trust’s own “Three Wheeler Press." It also marks the culmination of the Trust's translation project which has yielded five texts in all.

Metta is the realization of Michael Ondaatje’s vision for closer cooperation and cross-fertilization between local-language and English literary production in the country—a vision that also envisages the Sri Lankan experience in all its diversity reaching a global readership. Sunethra Rajakarunanayake is a renowned Sinhala language novelist and Carmen Wickramagamage, who teaches at the Dept. of English, University of Peradeniya, served as Chairperson of the judging panel on the first two occasions that the H.A.I. Goonetileke Prize for Translation was awarded. This award further endorses the Trust’s mission and mandate in promoting literary excellence within the country.



































Shehan Karunatilaka

The Trust is delighted to announce that Shehan Karunatilaka has been named as the Regional Winner (Asia) for his book Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, published by Random House for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize.

Shehan, a previous winner of the Gratiaen Prize and the DSC Prize, will compete with other regional winners representing Africa, Asia, Canada & Europe, Caribbean, and the Pacific in Wales for the Commonwealth Book Prize Overall Winner. The announcement of the winner will take place at the Hay Festival on 8 June 2012.



































The Gratiaen Trust, in affiliation with the Standard Chartered Bank, announce the Shortlist Event and Panel of Judges for the 2011 Gratiaen Prize

For immediate release: 20th March 2012

The Gratiaen Trust, in affiliation with the Standard Chartered Bank, announce the Shortlist Event and Panel of Judges for the 2011 Gratiaen Prize

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 prize, initiated in 1993 by Booker Prize-winner Michael Ondaatje - so now in its 19th year - is intended to encourage creative English writing in Sri Lanka.

Standard Chartered’s Chief Executive, Anirvan Ghosh-Dastidar, 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”.

Furthermore, 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 Gratiaen Prize, a mixture 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. Now the time has almost arrived for the first stage of the Gratiaen Prize – the panel of judges’ decisions regarding those entries shortlisted. This will be revealed to the public at 6:00pm on Monday, April 2, 2012, at the British Council Auditorium, 49, Alfred House Gardens, Colombo 3. All are welcome. There is no shortlist for the HAI Goonetileke Prize. The award of the prizes will take place on Saturday, May 26, 2012: further details to be announced.   

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. 

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, then shortlisted and finally 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, author 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 remaining 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 literatures, and Sri Lankan writing in English.

For further information please contact: Sanjeewani Ranasinghe De Silva - 0777798876

Gill Westaway, Chairperson, 2011 Gratiaen Prize judges

Ariyawansa Ranaweera, Chairperson, 2011 HAI Goonetileke Prize judges

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Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka wins DSC prize

SUNDAY, 22 JANUARY 2012 10:58

Chinaman, a novel by Singapore-based Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka, on Saturday won the 2012 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature which carries a cash award of $50,000, the Hindu reported.

The title of the novel, published by Random House, refers to a left-arm unorthodox spinner in cricket, often described as the chinaman. The legend of a Sri Lankan bowler called Pradeep Sivanathan Mathew and the sport of cricket lie at the heart of this superbly written book. It explores cricket as metaphor to uncover a lost life in a lost history. “Chinaman skilfully uses sport and the notion of fair play to look at Sri Lanka in a fresh and exciting way,” the book's blurb says.

Accepting the prestigious award, Karunatilaka said the fortunes of his novel were very closely linked to the fortunes of his country's cricket team to whom he wished to dedicate this win. “We have performed dismally this past year. The time we lost the World Cup was when my novel was accepted for publication,” he said.

Kamila Shamsie reviewing the book in The Guardian wrote: “No knowledge of or interest in the game of cricket is strictly necessary to appreciate the power and the delights of this novel about a dying alcoholic and retired sportswriter WG (“Wije”) Karunasena, who decides that he will use what remains of his life to make a documentary about Sri Lankan cricket and, in particular, about a neglected but brilliant figure from its margins: PS Mathew. Wije's obsession with Mathew may form the spine of the book, but it does it in a way that makes it possible to focus on the obsession rather than the cricket if you're so inclined.”

The president of the jury, writer and commentator Ira Pandey, said the jury's decision was “unanimous.” She said the jury received 52 books in June last year. “Seeing the pile some of the jury members almost fainted! We finally made a short list of 6 books. It took us just half an hour to reach a unanimous decision. This has been a most congenial and delightful experience which taught me a great deal about the South Asia region,” Ms. Pandey said

Besides Chinaman the final short list included U.R. Ananthamurthy's Bharathipura (Oxford University Press, India, Translated by Susheela Punitha), Chandrakanta's A Street in Srinagar (Zubaan Books, India, Translated by Manisha Chaudhry),Usha K.R's Monkey-man (Penguin/Penguin India), Tabish Khair's The Thing About Thugs (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins-India) and Kavery Nambisan's The Story that Must Not Be Told (Viking/Penguin India).

Jury members included Dr. Alastair Niven, Principal of Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, Faiza S Khan a columnist and critic, author Marie Brenner and Fakrul Alam, Professor at Dhaka University.

According to the organisers, “the prize brings South Asian writing to a new global audience through a celebration of the achievements of South Asian writers, and aims to raise awareness of South Asian culture around the world.”

Courtesy - the Hindu

Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman shortlisted for DSC Prize 2012

Random House India recently announced the shortlisting of Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka for the DSC Prize 2012 for South Asian Literature. The shortlist was announced at a prestigious gala event at London's Globe Theatre where long-listed authors, publishers, London's literati, ambassadors from the South Asian region gathered together for the event.

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature is a first-of-its-kind initiative as it is specifically focused on the richness and diversity of South Asian writing. The prize is also unique since it is not ethnicity driven in terms of the author's origin and is open to any author belonging to any part of the globe as long as the work is based on the South Asian region and its people.

After intense deliberation over the longlist comprising 16 books, the eminent Jury, chaired by Ira Pande along with renowned literary figures Dr. Alastair Niven, Dr. Fakrul Alam, Faiza S. Khan, and Marie Brenner, selected the shortlist for this major international award. The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature has a prize value of $50,000 for the best writing about the South Asian region.

The winner of the second DSC Prize for South Asian Literature will be announced at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival on January 21, 2012. The prize will be awarded for the best work of fiction pertaining to the South Asian region, published in English, including translations into English.

The plot in Chinaman revolves around the quest of a retired sportswriter, W.G. Karunasena, who is dying. He spends his final months drinking arrack, upsetting his wife, ignoring his son, and tracking down Pradeep S. Mathew, an elusive spin bowler he considers 'the greatest cricketer to walk the earth'. On his quest to find this unsung genius, W.G. uncovers a coach with six fingers, a secret bunker below a famous stadium, an LTTE warlord, and startling truths about Sri Lanka, cricket, and himself.

Ambitious, playful, and strikingly original, Chinaman is a novel about cricket and Sri Lanka- and of Sri Lanka through its cricket. Hailed by the Gratiaen Prize judges as 'one of the most imaginative works of contemporary Sri Lankan fiction', it is an astounding book.

Courtesy The Nation, November 6, 2011


It’s been a wonderful couple of years for Shehan. Subsequent to self-publishing his eclectic tale on cricket and much more in Sri Lanka, the novel has been published in India, England, and the US, and chosen as one of Waterstones’ top 11 debuts of 2011. Now Chinaman has been long listed  for the DSC Prize 2012, worth $50,000, the winner to be announced at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2012. The long list is as follows :

  • Omair Ahmad: Jimmy the Terrorist (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India)
  • U.R. Ananthamurthy: Bharathipura (Oxford University Press, India, Translated by Susheela Punitha)
  • Chandrakanta: A Street in Srinagar (Zubaan Books, India, Translated by Manisha Chaudhry)
  • Siddharth Chowdhury: Day Scholar (Picador/Pan Macmillan, India)
  • Kishwar Desai: Witness the Night (HarperCollins/HarperCollins-India)
  • Namita Devidayal: Aftertaste (Random House, India)
  • Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: One Amazing Thing (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin India)
  • Manu Joseph: Serious Men (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins, India)
  • Usha K.R: Monkey-man (Penguin/Penguin India)
  • Shehan Karunatilaka: Chinaman (Random House, India)
  • Tabish Khair: The Thing About Thugs (Fourth Estate/HarperCollins-India)
  • Jill McGivering: The Last Kestrel (Blue Door/HarperCollins-UK)
  • Kavery Nambisan: The Story that Must Not Be Told (Viking/Penguin India)
  • Atiq Rahimi: The Patience Stone (Chatto & Windus/Random House-UK, Translated by Polly McLean)
  • Kalpish Ratna: The Quarantine Papers (HarperCollins-India)
  • Samrat Upadhyay: Buddha's Orphan (Rupa Publications, India)

The longlist was chosen from close to 60 entries received by the DSC Prize Secretariat earlier this year and reviewed over the past 3 months, by a five member jury comprisingDr. Alastair NivenDr. Fakrul AlamFaiza S KhanIra Pande (Chair of the jury) and Marie Brenner. The Jury has assessed and identified these exemplary works of fiction that voice the dynamic and eclectic nature of the South Asian region and culture.

Commenting on the Longlist and the jury experience, Chairperson of the Jury, Ira Pande said, “The longlist of the 2012 DSC Prize is an interesting mix of 16 titles chosen after a careful consideration of various styles, languages and subject matter. To my mind, it reflects the best of the South Asian literary tradition: a wide landscape of rural and urban life, intricate rituals of story-telling and an indication of its evolving form. This is the East, seen as it is by some of the most promising novelists of Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India, and as it appears to those who live elsewhere

The Launch of Translations in to English of the Three Wheeler Press Publications
Time for Chinaman

By Richard Boyle

"Why, you ask, has no one heard of our nation's greatest cricketer? Here, in no particular order. Wrong place, wrong time, money and laziness. Politics, racism, power cuts and plain bad luck. If you are unwilling to follow me on the next God-knows-how many pages, re-read the last two sentences. They are as good a summary as I can give from this side of the bottle." – Shehan Karunatilaka, Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew

Since the New Year, the judging of the entries and organisation of the shortlist and award events has coincided with the publication on the Subcontinent, and the preparations for further international publication in the UK and US, of a novel that won the Gratiaen Prize 2008, Shehan Karunatilaka's cricket saga, Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew. It was hailed by the judges as "one of the most imaginative works of contemporary Sri Lankan fiction". Michael Ondaatje, who prefers to remain as invisible as possible with regards the Trust and rarely comments on the novels that win the prize he founded, was moved to describe Chinaman as "a crazy ambidextrous delight".

This is the first time in the history of the Gratiaen Prize that such international publication of a winning entry has occurred, although Carl Muller's The Jam Fruit Tree (co-winner 1993) was published by Penguin in India. The publishing history of Chinaman is complex considering its comparative youth. The entry was submitted in manuscript form to the Gratiaen Trust, and after winning the prize Shehan spent time in honing the text.

The process took far longer than expected. "I was due to appear at the Galle Literary Festival in January 2010 and had nothing on the shelves," he told me. So "the best alternative", he believed, to rushing out an incomplete book, "was to publish a 30-page teaser booklet leading up to publication. It generated a bit of buzz and anticipation for the finished product."

After a fruitless search to find a sympathetic agent or publisher, Shehan used the Gratiaen Prize money to self-publish the first edition in March 2010, and then left Sri Lanka to work in Singapore.

Since its initial appearance in Sri Lanka, Chinaman has garnered some positive reviews, one of the most perceptive, I believe, being Richard Simon's "Liar's Cricket" (The Sunday Times, July 11, 2010). I wish to present some comments regarding the book rather than get bogged down in the plot, but Simon provides a necessary introduction:

"Its plot concerns the efforts of one WG Karunasena, an alcoholic ex- sports journalist, to research and write the biography of Pradeep Mathew, a Tamil spin-bowling genius who played for Sri Lanka in numerous test and one-day international matches as well as for Thurstan College, Royal College and Bloomfield CC. Mathew, we are told, delivered spectacular performances in obscure games and more than once saved the day for his team and his country, but since the Nineties he has been somehow forgotten, lost to history. Even the few people who still remember him – old coaches, former teammates who never made the record-books, family members and an ex-girlfriend – don't want to talk.

"Shehan Karunatilaka's novel Chinaman subsists – make that thrives – upon the wreckage produced by the collision of truth and fiction. It features among its characters a famous English cricketer-turned-commentator named Tony Botham and a Sri Lankan sports minister called Tyronne Cooray who had a stadium in Moratuwa named after him.

"It is not perfect by any means, but it is by far the best novel ever written by a Sri Lankan who actually resides in his home country instead of merely visiting to attend literary festivals.

"Until Chinaman, I had yet to read a Sri Lankan English novel that stayed good, or even palatable, to the last drop," Simon declares. "Some had arguable literary merits – a charming sense of time or place, real action and suspense, the odd felicitous turn of phrase or telling auctorial insight – but none of them were worth a damn as a story, one that kept you interested, that had a plot which stayed the course and characters anyone but the author could possibly care about. Not one of them, frankly, ever had a proper ending. Chinaman has that, and pretty much everything else it takes, too. The first genuine contender for the title of Great Sri Lankan Novel has entered the lists."

Simon points out that Chinaman is much more than about cricket, that it is embedded in the realities of this island's life: "Sri Lankan it is with a vengeance. Its blend of fact and fiction closely resembles the made- up 'history' Sri Lankan children are taught in school. Its subject, cricket, is, of course, our national obsession, but in the background, Karunatilaka also touches, without ever making it look like a stretch, upon all the crucial Sri Lankan realities: racism, all-pervasive yet blandly denied; class snobbery; endemic corruption, moral failure and cultural decline; suicide-bombings, alcoholism, paedophile sex tourism; the shadow of the colonial past and the failures of the first post-Independence generation. It's a depressing list, but in spite of it, as we all know, Sri Lanka is a far from depressing country."

Inevitably, the book drew attention on the cricket fanatics' website, CRICINFO. The review "Where in the world is Pradeep Mathew?" by Sidin Vadukut of October 16, 2010, informed online readers of its handsome stroke-play, although it included "a few hoicks over slip": "The mysteries of Pradeep Mathew, combined with the brutal dissection of cricket and the delicious morsels of cricketing trivia come together to form one of the strongest, most immersive plots in a sports novel, or indeed any novel, I have read in a long time.

"The book is not without its gimmicks. There are a few towards the end that are particularly laboured. And there are a few occasions where the dialogues seem too smart by half. But all good innings have room for a few hoicks over slip. And Chinaman is a Test match-winning innings-at-the- death watch-over-and-over-on-YouTube kind of a book.

sent the novel to the Publishing Director of Jonathan Cape in UK, Dan Franklin, described as "the colossus behind Britain's superstar authors". Franklin compares Chinaman to Midnight's Children, arguing that it does for Sri Lanka what Rushdie's novel did for India: "This makes it sound serious, but it's nothing of the sort. It's anarchic, verbally playful, incredibly funny, and most glorious of all, it's entirely one hundred percent about cricket and it doesn't matter one jot if you've never seen an over bowled."

"The book comes out on April 28th in the UK and across other cricketing countries towards mid-year," Shehan enthuses. "And we've just sold the US rights."

The novel has also been selected for Waterstone's 11 "Our pick of the best first novels of 2011" – among them Sarah Winman's When God was a Rabbit, Sam Leith's The Coincidence Engine, Sophie Hardach's The Registrar's Manual for Detecting Forced Marriages, Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English, Kevin Barry's City of Bohane, Amanda Hodgkinson's 22 Britannia Road, and Mirza Waheed's The Collaborator, the only other South Asian novel to make this list. Incidentally, the first chapter of Chinaman is available for download on Waterstone's website.

The division between fact and fiction is deliberately blurred in Chinaman. Shehan has enhanced this aspect by creating a website "Pradeep Mathew's Amazing Deliveries" – 14 in all - with accompanying articles and diagrams, and the copyright in WG Karunasena's name!

As we head towards another Gratiaen Prize, let's hope that this year other major literary talent will be revealed.

(This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times, March 27, 2011)

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