Sri Lanka is a splendid island that owns a unique and valuable culture. And yes, literature is a huge part of this wonderful culture that reveals a lot about the country’s heritage, history, and literacy. In fact, Sri Lanka is blessed with rich literature. Moreover, the Sri Lankan authors have contributed a lot to the evolution of Sri Lankan literature, and even at the present, they do so. Hence, we thought of focusing this read on the Sri Lankan authors. Continue reading to know about them!
History of Sri Lankan Literature
As a country with a great history that runs back to around 2000 years, its literature also has deep roots in the past. Besides, Sri Lanka has impressive literature as the country with the most literacy in the South Asian region.
The ancient chronicle, ‘Mahavamsa‘, written in the 5th century BC is considered to be the beginning of Sri Lankan literature, and it is a book in the Pali language. However, at present, the majority of the Sri Lankan literature is related to Sinhala but there are works in Tamil, English, and Pali languages too. Most of the ancient literature work is based on Buddhist Jataka Stories, and Sri Lankan history, while the modern era literature covers a wide scope from the Sri Lankan lifestyle to science fiction.
Who are the Best Sri Lankan Authors?
There are many Sri Lankan authors, who are experts in Sinhalese, Tamil, and also English, who have contributed immensely to the local literary tradition. Scroll down to know all about them!
1. Martin Wickramasinghe
Martin Wickramasinghe is one of the most renowned Sri Lankan authors. He is an expert in Sinhalese and also a journalist.
Martin Wickremasinghe was born in the small southern town of Koggala on 29th May 1890. As a kid, he became fluent in both Sinhala and English. His first ever job was to work as a bookkeeper. He started writing at an early age and published his first ever book in his early twenties. While writing several famous novels and other literary works, he also gained fame as a well-known journalist and newspaper editor.
His first ever novel is Leela and its publication happened in 1914. While he is the author of some of the most popular literary works in the country, one of his best-known works up to date is the novel, Gamperaliya. In fact, it became the first serious Sri Lankan novel and it came out in 1944. Ape Gama, Madol Duwa, Viragaya, Yuganthaya and Kaliyugaya are some of his other famous works.
Apart from that, Martin Wickremasinghe has also written several short stories, poetry, and criticisms. His works are translated into several foreign languages and even adapted into movies, and teledramas.
Likewise, his writings are widely acclaimed in Sri Lanka and as well as in other countries. Further, he is well-known as the ‘Father of Modern Sinhala Literature’.
He passed away at the age of 86 on the 23rd of July 1976 in Colombo. However, his immense contribution to Sinhala literature will keep his name forever immortal.
2. Mahagama Sekara
This is another name that cannot be ignored among the lines of Sinhala literature. Mahagama Sekara is a well-known poet, lyricist, playwright, novelist, artist, translator, and filmmaker.
He was born on the 7th of April 1929 at Radawana, Dompe. Most of his literary works have a high influence on Buddhism and his themes mostly revolve around concepts such as humanity and the reality of life. Then, on the other hand, other types of literature such as French and English free verses and Japanese Haiku have also inspired him.
Mahagama Sekara started off his career as a painter. However, later, throughout his career, he has contributed to every part of Sri Lankan literature. In fact, he is also highly famous for his songs. According to records, he has written more than 100 songs. Some of these songs are even popular today, after many years of his demise. Sri Lanka’s legendary musician, Pandit W. D. Amaradeva vocalized and directed music for most of his songs. Mahagama Sekara is also a trained Sinhalese teacher.
Likewise, this all-rounder has blessed Sri Lankan literature in many ways in his lifetime. In fact, many consider him a legend in Sri Lankan literature. Besides, Mahagama Sekara’s poems, short stories, and novels are widely acclaimed in the Sri Lankan literary field. He won many awards during his lifetime as well.
After doing a great service to Sri Lankan literature, Mahagama Sekara passed away on the 14th of January 1976 at the age of 46. He is still one of the most influential figures and one of the best authors in Sri Lankan literature.
3. Simon Navagattegama
Simon Navagattegama is another significant character among the well-known Sri Lankan authors. He is a Sinhala novelist, Sinhala radio play writer, and also an actor. He is also another all-rounder in the Sri Lankan literary field.
Simon Navagattegama was born on the 15th of September 1940 in Anuradhapura. He was an avid reader from his childhood. Simon Navagattegama rose to fame as an author when he was an undergraduate at the University of Peradeniya. His writings have often followed the concept called magical realism. Also, most of his writings have influences of Buddhism, specifically Buddhist mythological stories, Mahayana Buddhist concepts, and Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis. Some critics even identify Simon Navagattegama’s literary style as Buddhist Borgesian.
One of the key features of Simon Navagattegama’s literary works is how he has infused his deep philosophical ideologies into his writings. In fact, he was a great thinker who passed down his ideas through his work. Suddilage Kathawa, Sagara Jalaya Mandi Handuwa, Sansaranye Asabada, Sansaranye Dadayakkaraya, Sansaranye Urumakkaraya and Dadayakkarayage Kathawa are some of his best works.
Moreover, some of his writings were adapted to popular movies and teledramas. Besides, he gained much popularity and a reputation as a well-known actor as well.
Accordingly, he is a personality who was able to have an impact on society. Navagattegama passed away at the age of 65 on the 9th of October, 2005.
4. T.B. Ilangaratne
T. B. Ilangaratne is one of the famous authors who has gifted many memorable Sinhala novels to Sri Lankan literature. Apart from being an author, he was also a dramatist, and theatre actor. T.B. Ilangaratne is also a distinguished politician who worked as a member of the parliament and a cabinet minister of Sri Lanka.
He was born on the 27th of February 1913 in Hataraliyadda. During his schooling period also, he wrote three plays. So his creative abilities developed from a very young age. His wife Tamara Kumari Aludeniya was also a member of the parliament. They both were well respected in the area for their humanistic and simplistic values. Apart from his political career, he is best known for his great contribution to the Sri Lankan literary tradition.
The children’s novel Amba Yaluwo is Ilangaratne’s most loved literary work. It was later adapted into a very popular teledrama. Then also his other novels, Thilaka Saha Thilaka, Lasanda, and Nadayo have been adapted into popular movies. Some of T.B Ilangaratne’s famous plays are Haramitiya, Manthari Hamuduruwo, Nataka Ata, Mokada Mudalali and Nikan Awa. He has also written screenplays for movies. Particularly, his children’s novels are still much loved by the readers.
T.B Ilangaratne passed away on the 21st of May 1992 at the age of 79.
5. Sugathapala De Silva
Sugathapala De Silva is a revolutionary figure in the Sri Lankan drama field. He is also a novelist, translator, radio play producer, and Sinhala radio play writer.
Sugathapala De Silva was born on the 4th of August 1928 in Midigama, Matara. His political and cultural affiliations earned him the nickname, ‘the loveable dictator’. He is the founder of the popular drama group, Apey Kattiya. This drama group is famous for its translation adaptations of plays by popular authors such as Tennessee Williams and Pirandello. He has also written some original plays such as Thattu Geval, Boarding Karayo, Harima Badu Hayak, and Mutu Kumari. Dunna Dunu Gamuwe is often considered his best play.
Most of his literary works are influenced by his own life experiences and also his political ideologies. Biththi Hatara, Asura Nikaya, Ballo Bath Kathi, and Hitler Ella Marai are some of his well-known novels. However, his most popular literary works are translations.
Sugathapala De Silva also worked as a producer for the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. As a writer and a dramatist, he directed the weekly radio plays and the weekly short story programs. He has been awarded the best script and play, best literary prize, and best translation and best play awards in various award ceremonies.
Sugathapala De Silva passed away on the 28th of October 2022 at the age of 74.
6. Ediriweera Sarachchandra
Ediriweera Sarachchandra is the premier playwright of Sri Lanka. He is the influential figure behind the revival of indigenous theatre forms of the island. He was also a novelist, poet, literary critic, essayist, and social commentator.
Ediriweera Sarachchandra was born on the 3rd of June 1914 in Dodanduwa, Galle. He started off his career as a teacher at St. Peter’s College, Colombo. Besides, he has been awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Peradeniya and the University of Jaffna.
In 1956, Sarachchandra produced his first play, Maname. It is one of the most acclaimed plays of all time in Sri Lanka. It is also considered the first real Sinhala drama. In 1961, he produced the play, Sinhabahu, which is considered his best work. Most of Sarachchandra’s literary works are highly influenced by Buddhist philosophies and mythological stories. Then again, he has studied the styles of the traditional folklore, nadagam plays in developing his plays in a modern theatrical drama format. He has also written many novels, and short stories and also contributed to many types of research as well. Some of his most popular novels are Malagiya Eththo, Malawunge Awurudda, Curfew and a Full Moon, and Foam upon the Stream.
There is a museum dedicated to Ediriweera Sarachchandra inside the main library of the University of Peradeniya. He passed away at the age of 82 on the 16th of August 1996.
7. Sybil Wettasinghe
Sybil Wettasinghe is one of the most loved Sri Lankan authors, especially by children. In fact, she is the most popular children’s book writer and illustrator in Sri Lanka. Because of her contribution to the field, she is referred to as the doyen of children’s literature in Sri Lanka as well.
Sybil Wettasinghe was born on the 31st of October 1927 in Galle. She joined the Lankadeepa newspaper at the age of 17. She is the first female to work as a full-time journalist in Sri Lanka. Her husband, Don Dharmapala Wettasinghe, was the chief editor of the Lakehouse news.
There is a unique style to her illustrations which makes them very suitable for children’s books. Sybil Wettasinghe has written over 200 Children’s books. Further, her books have been translated into several foreign languages as well. She has mentioned several times that she will also be grateful for her father being the biggest inspiration and support system behind her successful career.
She is also an internationally acclaimed Sri Lankan writer. The magical and mischievous vibe behind her illustrations and her work made them the favorites of almost all Sri Lankan kids. She even owns the Guinness world record for the book with the most number of alternate endings. She is also an inspiration for all Sri Lankan women as she became a huge success in an otherwise male-dominated field.
Sybil Wettasinghe passed away on the 1st of July 2020 at the age of 92.
8. Daya Dissanayake
Daya Dissanayake is one of the award-winning Sri Lankan authors. He is a bilingual novelist, poet, and blogger. He is mostly known for his blog.
Daya Dissanayake is the shorter version of the name Dayananda Dissanayake. He was born on the 8th of March 1947 in Galle. He started out his career as a teacher at the Sacred Heart Convent, Galle, and then later shifted to a corporate career.
As a schoolboy, he was popular in the school as a talented photographer. He started his literary career in his twenties but most of his work from that time remains unpublished. So he started again in his forties.
His literary works are woven around themes such as non-violence, history, archeology, Buddhism, and religion. Daya Dissanayake has written 9 novels in English and 6 novels in Sinhala. His book, the Sadhu treatment is the first Sri Lankan book to be published on an electronic platform. Then his novel, Vessen Novu Wedun became the first Sinhala novel to be an e-book.
He won the state literary award in 2007 for his novel, Eavesdropper. You can also read his English novels on Kindle. Apart from that, he also maintains a blog called www.saadhu.com where he has translated two Sinhala books into English.
After all, Daya Dissanayake is indeed a modern and revolutionary writer in Sri Lankan literature.
9. Indrani Karunaratne
Indrani Karunaratne is another well-known Sri Lankan novelist. Unlike the other Sri Lankan authors mentioned in this list, she is most popular for her translation work.
She was born on the 15th February in Borella. Indrani Karunaratne has translated many western novels into the Sinhala language. She was really interested in Western fiction. Mostly, she translated novels of genres such as thriller, adventure, and romance. The Eagle has Landed, To Kill a Mockingbird, Alive and Space Demons are some of her well-known translations. She has written some original Sinhala novels such as Meru and Hiru Nodutu Wemu. Likewise, she became an important figure in the modern literary movement of Sri Lankan literature.
Indrani Karunaratne is also a singer, and she started her singing career by singing hymns at the church. Along with her two sisters, she formed a singing group called three sisters. They have sung some popular hits and have won several awards for their singing career.
10. Anuradha Seneviratne
Anuradha Seneviratne is one of the well-known Sri Lankan authors and scholars. However, his literary work mostly consists of scholarly work.
He was born on the 13th of July 1938 in the small village of Eriyagama, in Kandy. Further, he is a proud product of the Dharmaraja College, Kandy, and the University of Peradeniya.
Anuradha Seneviratne was a senior professor in the Department of Sinhala, Faculty of Arts at the University of Peradeniya. He has also worked at the University of Colombo and in the Institute of Aesthetic studies.
He has written more than 70 books in both Sinhala and English languages. Almost all these books are focused on the subject of culture and civilization. Because of his literary work, he was elected to a visiting fellowship at Oxford University in the UK. Moreover, he won several awards during his lifetime.
He passed away on the 9th of July 2009.
11. Nihal De Silva
Nihal De Silva is one of the famous Sri Lankan authors, and he has even won the Gratiaen prize. He finished his studies at St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, and the University of Peradeniya. He is also the owner of a water purifying business.
Unlike the other authors mentioned here, Nihal De Silva started off his literary career late in his life. He gained recognition as an author at the age of 63. However, he has published only a few novels such as the Road from Elephant Pass, The Far Spent Day, and the Ginirella Conspiracy. He followed the genre of fiction and highlighted his interest in birds and nature in his novels.
However, Nihal De Silva gained much acclaim with the novel, The Road from Elephant Pass. The plot of this novel is woven around an army officer and a Tamil woman who is a member of the LTTE. The novel carries an interesting story of how the two fall in love putting their political and cultural differences aside. This book became a huge success. He won the Gratiaen prize for this novel. It was translated to Sinhala and then adapted into a movie which became a huge hit. Apart from that, his novel, The Far Spent Day is about political corruption and The Ginirella Conspiracy is about the politicization in Sri Lankan state universities.
Nihal De Silva passed away on the 28th of May 2006 from a land mine explosion in the Wilpattu national park.
12. Vivimarie Vanderpoorten
Vivimarie Vanderpoorten is a popular Sri Lankan poet. She is also one of the Sri Lankan authors who has won the Gratean prize.
She is of Sri Lankan and Belgian ancestry and she was born in Kandy. However, she grew up in Kurunegala. She was born a Christian but at the age of 15, she embraced Buddhism.
Vanderpooten completed her B.A from the University of Kelaniya and then a M.A and a Ph.D. from the University of Ulster, UK. Currently, she is working as a senior lecturer in English language, literature, and linguistics at the Open University of Sri Lanka. She started off his literary career as a poet in 2007. In 2009, she won the SAARC poetry award in Delhi.
As a person with a mixed heritage, she has channeled both her traditional and western roots as influences for her literary work. Most of her poets deal with complex issues such as sexism, depression, gender, and race. Some of her famous books are Nothing prepares you, Stitch your eyelids shut, and Borrowed dust. There are translations of her poetry in several languages now.
She often states that poets such as Kamala Das, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Anne Sexton, and Sharon Olds are inspiring figures behind her literary work. Vivimarie Vanderpooten has also received the state literary award. Her poems are included in the Sri Lankan school curriculum as well.
13. Chitra Fernando
Chitra Fernando is a prestigious Sri Lankan author. She is famous for her short stories and children’s literature.
Chitra Fernando was born in 1935 in the southern town of Kalutara. She did her studies from Bandarawela Vishaka Vidyalaya, Kalutara Balika Madya Maha Vidyalaya and University of Peradeniya. She completed her M.A and Ph.D. in Australia.
Fernando started off her career as an English teacher and then started working as a lecturer at the University of Peradeniya. As a well-known scholar, her main studies revolved around the Sinhala-English bilingualism in Sri Lanka and the nature and functions of idioms. The Sinhala Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka, her exposure to different types of cultures and her vast knowledge on linguistics are the biggest influences behind her literary work.
Chitra Fernando often used a pseudonym called “Chitralekha” in publishing her work. She wrote several stories for children such as Glass Bangles, The Adventures of Senerat Bandara and Bempi Appu. She published children’s stories under her ‘Taprobane series’. Then she wrote the short story collection of Three women and the novella, Between Worlds.
One interesting feature of her writing is how she has incorporated humor and satire into her writing and how she has used a domestic Sinhala setting for her stories. Chitra Fernando passed away in 1998 creating an unfillable void in Sri Lankan English literature.
14. Anuk Arudpragasm
Anuk Arudpragasm is a Sri Lankan author of contemporary times. As an award-winning Tamil novelist, he writes both in English and Tamil. He made his debut in the Sri Lankan literary field in 2016.
Anuk Arudpragasm was born in 1988 to a wealthy Tamil family in Colombo. He completed his higher studies at Stanford University and Columbia University. Even though he is not coming from a literary background, his parents’ influence has made him read and write from a very young age. As a child, he read a lot of books that he used to buy from a nearby bookshop in Colombo.
Anuk Arudpragasm published his first book, The Story of a Brief Marriage in 2016. The plot of this novel is woven around an incident that takes place during the last days of the Sri Lankan Civil War. This book is now in several foreign languages. He won the DSC prize for South Asian literature and was among the shortlisting for the Dylan Thomas prize and the German internationaler literaturpreis. His second novel, A Passage North, which came out in 2021 was also among the shortlists for the Booker prize.
Anuk Arudpragasm is currently working on another novel. He gained much reputation in the field within his short career in Sri Lankan literature.
15. Jean Arasanayagam
Jean Arasanayagam is a Sri Lankan poet and fiction writer who wrote in English. Her whole family is well-known for their passion for literature. Her husband, Thiyagarajah Arasanayagam has won the Gratean prize in 2016.
Jean Arasanayagam was born on the 2nd of December 1931 in Kandy. She did her studies at Girls’ High school Kandy, the University of Peradeniya, and the University of Strathclyde. Jean, as well as her husband are much loved as passionate English literature writers.
Apart from her literary career, she also loved painting and she exhibited her work in many famous art exhibitions. Apart from that, she has contributed to all genres of Sri Lankan literature.
Since she comes from a mixed heritage she has used themes such as identity, heritage, displacement, and ethnic violence for her writings. Further, as a person from a minority community, she wrote about the issues that minority communities in Sri Lanka have to face, through her own experiences.
Some of her popular poetry collections are Kindura, Reddened Water Flows Clear, and Shooting the Floricans. She has also written about women and how they suffer in patriarchal societies.
Jean Arasanayagam won many awards for her contribution to Sri Lankan English literature. Further, translations of her works are available in several languages.
She passed away on the 30th of July 2019 in Kandy.
16. Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke is one of the most popular scientists of all time. He is a science fiction writer, futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host.
He was born on the 16th of December 1917 in Minehead, Somerset, England. Due to his interest in scuba diving, Arthur C. Clarke moved to Sri Lanka in 1956. He fell in love with Sri Lanka after traveling around the paradise island and thus, he decided to remain on this splendid island. Sri Lanka also always held this exceptional personality with high regard.
And yes, he contributed to Sri Lankan literature as a science fiction writer. Generally, Arthur C. Clarke wrote his novels revolving around themes such as space travel, communication technologies, underwater exploration, and future studies. He is undoubtedly one of the best science fiction writers. He often took inspiration from his experiences in Sri Lanka when creating the interesting plots of his novels.
Arthur C. Clarke has an absolutely impressive literary career where he wrote more than 100 books and 200 novels. He has won numerous awards for his literary work as well.
Clarke became an honorary citizen in Sri Lanka and lived there until his death. He died on the 19th March of 2008 in Colombo. Sri Lanka is always proud to call this great scientist and author, a Sri Lankan citizen.
17. Dominic Jeeva
Dominic Jeeva is one of the popular Sri Lankan Tamil authors. He is famous as an influential personality who gained much reputation as an author even without any academic or literary background.
He was born on the 27th of June in 1927. Unlike any of the authors, he started his career in a totally different field, which is beauty culture. Dominic Jeeva called Tampo Rajagopal his mentor since he is the one who influenced him to read and to take up writing. As such, he completed his first book while working in the beauty parlor which he often referred to as his university.
Due to his exceptional talent, he became one of the most prestigious writers of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. As a result, he became the editor of the literary magazine, Mallikai where he worked for more than four decades.
Dominic Jeeva wrote and published many books and short stories during his literary career. For his contribution to Sri Lankan literature, he received the Sri Lanka Sahithya Academy award in the 1960s. He also established a publishing center called Mallikai Panthal.
Dominic Jeeva passed away on the 28th of January 2021 at the age of 93.
18. Appadurai Muttulingam
Appadurai Muttulingam is one of the famous Sri Lankan Tamil authors and essayists. He has written many short stories, essays, and novels during his literary career.
He was born on 19th January 1937 in the small village of Kokkuvil in Jaffna. Muttulingam started off his literary career at the tender age of nineteen. He obtained a B.Sc. degree in Science from the University of Colombo and he was a chartered accountant by profession. He first published his short story collection in 1964. The title of this short story collection was ‘Akka’ and it became highly successful. After this very successful debut in Sri Lankan literature, he didn’t publish any more books for nearly two decades.
Appadurai Muttulingam left Sri Lanka in 1972 and worked in countries in Africa and Asia in relation to the United Nations and World Bank. He started writing again in 1995 and then published three short story collections within three years. These books were met with much appreciation and afterward, Muttulingam was widely acclaimed in Sri Lanka and as well as in India.
He received the Sri Lanka government Sahithya Academy award for Vadakku Veethi. There are English translations of many of his Tamil books. Currently, he is living in Ontario, Canada with his wife.
19. Sengai Aaliyan
Sengai Aaliyan is another Sri Lankan Tamil author who is especially famous for non-fiction. He also goes by the name Kanthaiya Kunarasa.
He was born on the 25th of January 1941 in Vannarpannai, in Jaffna. Sengai Aaliyan completed his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Peradeniya and then completed his Ph.D.
While he is very popular as an author among the Tamil community of Sri Lanka, he is also famous as an educated critic in the literary world. He is the author of more than thirty novels.
Aaliyan has received the Sahithya Mandala awards more than six times for his great contribution to Sri Lankan Tamil literature. There are translations of his writings in Sinhala and English as well. Sengai Aaliyan has also worked as the registrar of the University of Jaffna. He passed away on the 28th of February 2016 at the age of 75 in Jaffna.
20. S. Vithiananthan
Professor Suppiramaniam Vithiananthan is a prolific figure in the Sri Lankan literary field as well as in the academic field. He is a Sri Lankan Tamil author and the first vice chancellor of the University of Jaffna.
He was born on the 8th of May 1924 to a wealthy family in Jaffna. Vithiananthan studied at St. John’s College in Jaffna, Ceylon University College, and the University of Ceylon. He started off his career as a lecturer at the University of Ceylon and then became a Head of a Department at the University of Peradeniya. Further, he did a great service to the University of Jaffna as the Vice Chancellor even during the civil war and the JVP insurrections.
He is the author of 39 publications in 2 languages and 173 library holdings. S. Vithiananthan passed away at the age of 64 on 22nd January 1989.
The Bottom Line
All of the authors mentioned above are exemplary figures in the Sri Lankan literary field. Generations to come to Sri Lanka will learn and will broaden their horizons with the knowledge shared by these prolific authors. Furthermore, they have brought so much reputation and recognition from other countries. Education shines better than anything and they have painted Sri Lanka as a very educated country in the third world. If you are also interested in the country’s great literature, these are the authors that you shouldn’t miss. Try to find writings of various genres of these authors to get a broad understanding of Sri Lankan literature and the country’s other aspects.