Imaginative Geographies: Bringing together local authors for a discussion on local literature

“Imaginative Geographies: A place of Sri Lanka in contemporary writing in English” is a virtual event hosted by UCL’s Institute of Advanced Studies, which will be held on 5 May.

The panel brings together authors who are Sri Lankan or are of Sri Lankan origin, whose fiction, performance, poetry, and travelogue are set in Sri Lanka. The event will feature a select range of esteemed panellists: Prof. Tariq Jazeel who will moderate the session, author and Perera-Hussein Publishing House Co-Founder Ameena Hussein, University of Colombo Head of the Department of English Dr. Shermal Wijewardene, University of Jaffna senior lecturer in art history Packiyanathan Ahilan, University of Peradeniya Department of English teacher Kanchuka Dharmasiri, performer/performance maker and University of Colombo Department of English teacher Ruhanie Perera, acclaimed Sri Lankan-Canadian author Shyam Selvadurai, and University of Colombo Department of English senior Professor of English (Chair) Neloufer de Mel.

This panel, co-hosted by the Department of English at the University of Colombo together with the Centre for the Study of South Asia and the Indian Ocean World at UCL, will bring authors and literary critics into conversation on Sri Lanka as an “imaginative geography”.

Speaking to one of the organisers, Dr. Wijewardene, she described that the theme “imaginative geographies” will reflect on Sri Lanka as a place that is imaginatively named, framed, and worlded through literary narrative across different periods/moments in time.

The 90-minute panel will feature three themed conversations between Sri Lankan writers and critics based at the University of Colombo. The first between Hussein and Dr. Wijewardene on mapping and routes; the second between Ahilan, Dharmasiri, and Perera on translation and poetics; and the third between Selvadurai and de Mel on diaspora and exile.

Hussein and Dr. Wijewardene will focus on the topic of mapping and routes. Dr. Wijewardene explained that they will refer to questions concerned with apprehending places and locating oneself within them. “We will also answer questions of epistemology, which is the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion. In simple terms, it is the philosophical study of how we know what we know, as well as the conditions under which knowledge materialises, sediments, or ruptures, allowing for alternative epistemologies to emerge.”

The next topic of discussion between Ahilan, Perera, and Dharmasiri, Dr. Wijewardene explained, will touch on what it means to situate oneself as a writer in/of Sri Lanka in relation to citizenship, travel, war memory, politics, diaspora, gender, and queerness. Ahilan’s penning of critical essays on poetry, heritage theatre, and visual arts; Dharmasiri’s research interests in contemporary performance, translation, and postcolonial studies; and Perera’s research interests in storytelling communities and lived experience in performance are the perfect combination to bring light to the topic of translation and poetics.

The last topic of discussion, diaspora and exile between Selvadurai and de Mel, will dwell on literary genres, including their hybridities and performativities, questions of translation and adaptation, and the material conditions (including writing and reading habits) that deterritorialise and re-territorialise Sri Lanka in particular ways for the contemporary reader. Selvadurai’s experience writing three anthologies from a literary project titled Write to Reconcile, which he conducted in Sri Lanka with emerging authors of fiction, memoir, and poetry on the Sri Lankan war, reconciliation, memory, and trauma, gives him sufficient knowledge to speak on this topic. De Mel’s recent journal publications and edited volumes have been on postwar Sri Lanka, providing feminist, postcolonial, and cultural studies perspectives on questions of justice, displacement, theatre for peacebuilding, and disability performance, which will further add an informative you ch to the topic.


To register to watch the discussion on the UCL webpage, visit: