Civil Violence: New Sri Lankan Lit
Anuk Arudpragasam, Sunila Galappatti, Nayomi Munaweera, Hasanthika Sirisena, Sunil Yapa, and Kitana Ananda
Civil Violence: New Sri Lankan Lit

Four critically acclaimed writers read from new books exploring the legacy of political violence, whether it’s based around gender or war, migration or the state. Fiction writers Anuk Arudpragasam, Hasanthika Sirisena, Sunil Yapa, and Nayomi Munaweera (here for a rare New York appearance!) unearth trauma’s deep wounds from the Civil War in Sri Lanka and its diaspora to the WTO protests in 1999 Seattle. We’re delighted to add Sunila Galappatti to this line-up. They’ll talk with Kitana Ananda, the Mellon Humanities Alliance Postdoctoral Fellow at The Futures Initiative and The Graduate Center at CUNY.

Described as “brave” by the New York Times Book Review and “exceptional” by the Wall Street Journal,” Anuk Arudpragasam’s novel The Story of a Brief Marriage (Flatiron Books 2016) begins in the final stages of the Sri Lankan Civil War with the country’s Tamil minority pushed inexorably towards the coast by the advancing army. One of the evacuees, Dinesh, is given an unexpected proposition: that he marry a woman named Ganga, so they can dodge both conscription and the government’s attacks. As former AAWW Board Member V.V. Ganeshananthan writes in the L.A. Review of Books, “Anuk Arudpragasam achieves something remarkable: he shows us a consciousness reshaped by the possibility of imminent death. How do we inhabit the body when we think we may be leaving it behind? …. Arudpragasam’s book is rich with metaphor and unflinching in its look at life in a war zone [and] nimbly avoids the trap of exoticizing or beautifying war.”

We’re delighted to add Sunila Galappatti to this event! Her new book A Long Watch: War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka (Hurst 2016) retells the memoir of Commodore Boyagoda, the highest-ranking prisoner detailed by the Tamil Tigers. Michael Ondaatje calls the book “subtle and intimate, human and generous. The author has distilled conversations about that period into a remarkable book. It is brilliant.’ Sunila Galappatti started her working life at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Live Theatre, Newcastle and is a former Director of the Galle Literary Festival. She has recently been a Fulbright Visiting Fellow at Brown University.

Nayomi Munaweera’s first novel, the Commonwealth Prize-winning Island of a Thousand Mirrors (St. Martin’s Griffin 2016), follows two girls–one Tamil, one Sinhalese–who witness the Sri Lankan civil war, which took an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 lives. As Munaweera told Open City Fellow and Bright Lines author Tanwi Nandini Islam: “My writing is not easy writing.… When talking about the Sri Lankan civil war, my writing was concerned with probing with what would that feel like. What happens in that part is incredibly painful.” The New York Times called the book “luminous” and Publisher’s Weekly has compared her voice to that of Michael Ondaatje and Jhumpa Lahiri. Munaweera’s second novel, What Lies Between Us (St. Martin’s Press 2016), follows a girl named Ganga who immigrates from the paradisiacal Sri Lankan landscape to assimilates into 1980s America–but as she becomes unexpectedly pregnant, she must reckon with an unspeakable trauma. As Melissa Sipin writes in the LA Review of Books, “This is a book about trauma, intergenerational and colonial trauma, but it is also about the sacrificial monstrosity of motherhood.” The book was featured both Buzzfeed and Elle Magazine Best of 2016 lists.

Described by The New Yorker as “fast-paced and unflinching,” Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Lee Boudreaux Books 2016) follows a motley cast of characters in the rain-soaked anti-globalization protests in Seattle 1999. From a police officers to protesters to a Sri Lankan finance minister, the book “aims to reanimate a lost moment of violence and hope for the left–as in the title, tenderness and trauma go hand-in-hand all the way through” (The Guardian). The book was picked by Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers, Amazon Spotlight, and Indies Next–and earned Yapa an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Colum McCann writes, “This is a protest novel which finds, at its core, a deep and abiding regard for the music of what happens. In the contemporary tradition of Aleksandar Hemon … and Arundhati Roy, Yapa strides forward with a literary molotov cocktail to light up the dark.” Sunil previously won the short story contest organized by Hyphen and AAWW.

The trauma-stricken protagonists in Hasanthika Sirisena’s short story collection The Other One (University of Massachusetts Press 2016)–winner of the Juniper prize in fiction–include a Sri Lankan man who tends exotic fish in a US army base in Kuwait, the daughter of a police chief who suspects her father is corrupt, and an accountant turned cricket player who’s looking for love. Sirisena calls this “country surrealism”; as she says in her interview with Leland Cheuk in The Margins, “I favor a surrealism that’s grounded in what’s irrational and twisted about our actuality… That warping creates a grotesquery that’s off-putting but also recognizable. It also comes closer to a truth about the world it represents.” As Claire Messud writes: “Lucid and wise, the haunting stories in The Other One illuminate the lives of Sri Lankans at home and in the States, lives shaped by the legacy of civil war. This is an unforgettable debut.” A MacDowell and Yaddo Fellow, Sirisena has twice been distinguished in Best American Short Stories.

Kitana Ananda is an anthropologist whose writing and teaching examines the culture and politics of war, migration, and diaspora in North America and South Asia, with a focus on Tamil refugees and immigrants from Sri Lanka. She is a co-founding member of the Lanka Solidarity network, and an organizer with Bay Area Solidarity Summer, a political action camp for radical and progressive South Asian American youth. Kitana holds a Ph.D. in socio-cultural anthropology from Columbia University, and is the Mellon Humanities Alliance Postdoctoral Fellow at The Futures Initiative and The Graduate Center, CUNY.

This event is funded in part by Poets & Writers with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

$5 suggested donation

Open to the public


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Civil Violence: New Sri Lankan Lit

Anuk Arudpragasam, Sunila Galappatti, Nayomi Munaweera, Hasanthika Sirisena, Sunil Yapa, and Kitana Ananda
Friday, October 21, 2016
7:00 PM
Asian American Writers’ Workshop
112 W 27th
New York NY 10001
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