Quarterly Journal of South Asian Literature re-launched
Sri Lankan literature may not be well known around the world compared to its counterpart India. But international editors have now begun to take a keen interest in Sri Lankan writing. The latest effort to give prominence to the budding talent in Sri Lanka came from the re-launch of ‘City’, a quarterly journal of South Asian literature. The journal features writings of 26 Sri Lankan writers which includes fiction and poetry. The journal also includes prose and poetry of other South Asian writers.
Speaking at the launch of the journal at the ICES auditorium, acclaimed writer Ameena Hussein expressed that the stories in the journal offered the reality of life as it is stripping it down from misconceptions. “This is a rare opportunity for the diverse voices writing in all three languages to sit side by side representing the country as a holistic voice, rather than the fragments we are used to seeing,” she said.
“From this selection you will see that Sri Lankan writers write with spirit in whatever language they write in. They are modern and old fashioned, and nostalgic, and angry and rebellious and charming all at the same time,” she added. She also found the stories written by other South Asian writers to be ‘spunky’ and ‘feisty’.
‘City’ began as a quarterly journal in 2002. Its Co-Editor, Ajmal Kamal said that it was a journal devoted to civic issues. “It is about how city functions and the role played by the city in our lives.” The journal presents literature of South Asia in English.
“We are aware of literature of so many parts of the world, but we are not aware of the literature of our neighbours,” Kamal remarked.
“There are a number of young people who have a better command of English than their predecessors, who are very keen to present their masterpieces of their languages and literature. We want to invite all of them to join in our effort to create this kind of platform which can lead to a better understanding of what we are as South Asians,” he said speaking at the launch.
This is a rare opportunity for the diverse voices writing in all three languages to sit side by side representing the country as a holistic voice, rather than the fragments we are used to seeing
On a critical note of Sri Lankan writing, the publishing industry in the country and the opportunity offered by ‘City’ Dr. Harshana Rambukwella, a Senior Lecturer at the Postgraduate Institute of English, of the Open University of Sri Lanka, said that while world literature experimented, deconstructed and rebuilt, in Sri Lanka writers wanted to preserve. “By doing so we stagnated. Our imaginations were imprisoned by a sense of national and cultural fidelity. We wanted to be filial sons and daughters to the nation and thereby misunderstood and misplaced the role of the liberated writer,” he said.
He further claimed that the publishing industry was in a crisis. “Many novels are published every year. At least over a hundred. All the publishers say that it’s very difficult to push more than a thousand or two thousand books even in Sinhala. The ones that win awards may sell around five thousand or eight thousand copies,” he noted pointing out that in the 1950s and 60s the publishing industry flourished with sales hitting 30 000. “That was a time when our population was much much smaller. So what has happened?” he quizzed. “One possible explanation is the conservativeness of our
Speakers at the event
Against this backdrop Dr.Rambukwella perceives the journal magazine to be a‘refreshing departure’ from the conservative cultural discourse. “The very title of the magazine challenges us to think about South Asian realities from a new perspective. South Asia, and in particular Sri Lanka was seen as a rural space and this magazine invites us to consider the urban realities of South Asia,” he explained.
He invited readers to delve into the collection “to discover the city within us as well as the cities that we inhabit”.
In conversation with the Co-editor of ‘City’, Ajmal Kamal
Ajmal Kamal hails from Karachi in Pakistan where he runs a publishing house. He is the editor of a literary magazine in Urdu called Aj which translated to today. It was started as a quarterly magazine in 1989 and its hundredth issue was published last month. The magazine contains translations of literary work of different languages.
Through contacts developed by working on Aj, and through his colleagues at the South Asian University where Kamal is currently studying for his doctorate, Kamal has been able to collaborate with other writers in South Asia. This has facilitated the re-launch of ‘City’ which had come to a halt after four issues were published initially. ‘City’ is also co-edited by Sophia Naz, a poet who also hails from Pakistan and currently resides in the United States.
“We are more aware of things being written in the West and other places. We don’t know what is happening with the languages of our neighbours. Indian literature is better known than that of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan because of its size and diversity. So we thought that we will start with Sri Lanka. We issued a call for submissions on facebook and through email, and we got a good response,” Kamal told Daily Mirror.
“This issue has a special section on Sri Lankan writings, so that people can have an idea of what themes are being written about in Sri Lanka. Similarly in the next issue we will feature writings from Nepal,” he added.
Apart from writings originally in English, the issue also contains translations from Sinhala, Bangla. Urdu, Tamil and Nepali. The Sri Lankan writing presented is authentic, poignant, descriptive and is set in a Sri Lankan setting to capture the Sri Lankan experience.