Small nations, big ideas

Shehan Karunatilaka,
Sri Lanka

Do you think that your winning this prize is reflective of the rise and progress of literature in Sri Lanka?
I’m not sure there has been as much rise and progress as there should be. A lot more people are writing in Sri Lanka, albeit from a certain strata of society. But there are so many untold stories in Sri Lanka, that I feel more Lankans should be writing. In all three languages. Hopefully more do.

What has been the response to your book in Sri Lanka?
It’s been quite kind and supportive. I was worried the book might offend some, but so far no issues. I keep getting complaints that one can’t find it in bookstores in Colombo, which might be because it’s popular or could be because it is not.

Could you share with our readers a bit about the literary scene in Sri Lanka -- the genres that have emerged as popular choices for both writer and reader/ names of a few promising writers/ what works: fiction or non-fiction?
I think there’s been a steady increase in writing since the early 90s, when Michael Ondaatje won the Booker and Carl Muller put out the marvelous Jam Fruit Tree. I’m speaking of writing in English. I’m not an authority on writing in Sinhala or Tamil, though I hope to be.  We have quite a few accomplished international writers like Romesh Gunasekera, Shyam Selvadurai, Roma Tearne and Michelle de Kretzer. But there’s also a lot of interesting homegrown stuff. The satirical comedy of Ashok Ferry, the evocative poetry of Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, the brilliant plays of Ruwanthie de Chickera and even some thrillers from Nihal de Silva and David Blacker.

Chinaman is an in-depth study of cricket in Sri Lanka and its socio-political impact. Pic/ Atul Kamble

What genre, according to you, will emerge as the one to watch out for on the South Asian literary landscape?
I’d love to see more writers attempting genre stuff. It would be wonderful to see great sci-fi or horror or romance or noir novels coming out of Lanka. And also I’m hoping to see more stories emerge from the war — from both sides of the divide.  Shehan Karunatilake will be in conversation with Rahul Bose on August 7, in Mumbai  

Shehan Karunatilaka won the DSC Prize for Asian Literature in January 2012 for Chinaman (Random House)

Gabrielle Manglou, Reunion Island
What inspires you to work in the children’s sphere?

I love the fresh mind of children, they speak as they think and they want to dream. They are open to “travel” to a world that doesn’t exist. They need to play; they need to transform reality.

Will you be using Indian themes/ inspiration for Excuses Excuses?
India had influenced me of course: crows, kolams (rangoli), the gods, sounds in the streets, the liquid way of driving a car… the colours.

Your creative world involves a synergy where humans, animals and plants communicate with each other; how are you able to translate this in your work?
It is obvious that we are influenced by our environment, everything everyday is a little metamorphosis and everything is a story of borders, of circulation, of colonisation. No winner, just a confrontation, sometimes a happy one and sometimes not.

Gabrielle Manglou conducted a workshop on July 24 in Chennai based on Excuses Excuses

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