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Galle Literary Festival 2009:

Literati pays tribute to Martin Wickramasinghe

“The festival landed the rhythm and fashion” - novelist Thomas Keneally

Thomas Keneally, the famous author of Schindler’s Ark which was subsequently adapted into film by Steven Spielberg as Schindler’s List, commenting on the festival remarked that it gave the internationally established authors’ direct contact with cold face of literature’, referring that it was rarely they came into contact with Asian literature.

He acknowledged the fact that by now the Galle Literary Festival has come of age and established its own unique character. The festival founder Geoffrey Dobbs subscribed to the view, stating that each festival has its own glamour and allure.

The much awaited Galle Literary Festival of 2009 commenced in front of Martin Wickramasinghe’s ancestral house which is now a part of the Martin Wickramasinghe Museum where the literati across the continent, paid tribute to the legendary Sri Lankan writer whose works have been translated into many languages. Romesh Gunasekara introduced three Sri Lankan writers in English. Writers read out extracts from their works.

Prior to the official opening of the festival, the festival organisers together with Thomas Keneally officially announced the commencement of the festival at a press conference held at Hotel Fortress in Koggala.

Isuri Sandunika of Sangamitta College, Galle, read out the short story which won the creative writing competition conducted as a part of the Literary Festival.

The evocative essay, among other things, proved the enormous literary potentials in Sri Lankan students.

The focal point of the 3rd International Galle Literary Festival was on Sri Lankan literary giant Martin Wickramasinghe (1871-1976), the sage of Koggala. He was the foremost prolific Sinhala fiction writer of the twentieth century and whose works have had a profound influence in shaping the contours of the socio-cultural landscape of the milieu he lived in.

Sage of Koggala

His trilogy Gam Peraliya, Kaliyugaya and Yuganthaya re-defined the literary landscape of the day, critics hailing them as masterpieces in Sinhala literature.

Apart from being an epoch - making literatus, he was also an insightful critic, one time editor-in-chief of Silumina (Sinhala weekly) and a man of letter who was well versed not only in Western classics but also in wide array of subjects like anthropology, evolution, art, Buddhist philosophy and folklore.

Perhaps, the most enduring trait of Martin Wickramasinghe was his ability to intermingle his third eye-penetration through the social fabric with fictions in a poetic diction that is still unsurpassed.

It was Wickramasinghe who foresaw the changes that were to be unfolded in the socio-cultural life of Sri Lanka at the tail end of the ninth century.

The village in transition he portrayed in Gam Peraliya is not only about the uneasy transition from feudalism to capitalism but also the rise of socio-political forces hitherto relegated to the periphery of mainstream society to the centre of power.

Special features

This year’s festival was marked by the variety of writers representing different literary landscapes of the world. This time the festival has focused its foreign segment on the genre of travel-writing.

With the spread of transnational and trans-continental tourism, a literary genre popularly known as modern travel-writing was born. However, history of travel-writing goes as far back as to the age of explorers such as Columbus. The high profile travel-writers included Colin Thubron. He has earned a name as a travel-writer as well as a novelist.

For instance his travelogue “Among the Russians” describes grotesquely a fascinating journey by car through the Brezhnev’s Russia. Behind the Wall (1987) which is a travelogue on China that won both Hawthornden Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, and “The Lost Heart of Asia” which explores social cultural changes that had been brought about in a Central Asian republic, are some of the important travel writings by Thubron.

Irish writer Edna O’Brien was another high profile writer featured in the festival. The long list of celebrated foreign writers included ... Sri Lankan writers like Yasmine Gooneratne, Anne Ranasinghe and Romesh Gunasekara who were present at the Festival.

Among the divergent fringed events and exhibitions, “Stories at Sunset” where works such as Lal Medawattegedara, Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, Senaka Abeyratne, Anne Ranasinghe, Ameena Hussain, Asitha Ameresekere, Yasmine Gooneratne, Neluka Silva, Delon Weerasinghe, Ramaya Jirasinghe, Jehan Aloysius, Premala de Mel, were read out, an important event for Sri Lankan writers in English.

The other important events included the launch of Manuka Wijesinghe’s latest book, “Theravada Man”, and a performance of Mahabharatha to celebrate the 65th birth anniversary of late Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam.

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