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Closing Ceremony of the Poetry Festival – the recording

Here’s the replay of the closing ceremony of the 32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival. It’s on youtube. I’m reading three poems. The timing are below. It starts after the introduction by Gabriel Jaime Franco. The Spanish version is read by Catalina Moreno.

A Place to Call Home (1.07.17)

Dilemma (1.12.11)

The Way It Is (1.18.38)

Thanks to Luis Eduardo Rendón and the amazing team for selecting my poems for the festival and for the closing ceremony. I’ll post the individual poems later.

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Life – and They Took it Away – published in WPM France – July 22, 2022

  • Published in Le Merle moqueur – WPM France.
  • My poem was included in the chain of poems against war by World Poetry Movement France on their FB page, Le Merle moqueur, today, July 22, 2022. My poem is at no 123 on the list. You can check it out below.

Life – and They Took it Away

.

The fires burnt day in day out,

corpses piled high, the ground swelled

until they were thrown in deep

into the bosom of the earth.

And all the while the gas.

They came from across the globe in numbers

stuffed inside railcars.

Six million they wiped out within a short time.

No one gave a damn.

It was not their war. Not their kind.

They turned away in disinterest.

Who cared for a star tattooed on an arm

from some foreign land?

.

Forty years later in another corner

of the world his protégé opened up shop.

He sent out his men in trucks laden

with explosives, his women

strapped with bombs across their bosoms

to blast a race off the earth.

It was easier this way. Faster.

No need to build furnaces,

pump in the gasses, or dig holes

in the earth to throw away the remains.

For thirty years he ruled as

the grand master of hate.

Several thousand he wiped out

from a small country.

His brethren turned away.

It didn’t matter. It wasn’t their kind.

And now several more have lifted their heads,

they’ve joined together across

the world to continue this trend.

Yet no one cares. It’s not their war anyway.

.

Published in Fallen Leaves, 2019

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Closing Ceremony of the Poetry Festival – July 23, 2022

I’m honored to be among ten world poets reading at the closing ceremony of the 32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival. It will go live at 15.00 in Columbia on the 22nd and at 06.30 in Sri Lanka on the 23rd. You can catch the live stream on FB or on youtube.

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Poetry Reading on July 19, 2022

The poetry reading at the Festival is on the 32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival FB page and on youtube. My session starts at 47.00 with an introduction by Valeria Barber followed by my introduction at 48.19. The timing for the individual poems are below. Each poem is followed by a reading in Spanish by Catalina Moreno.

Taken for Granted – 49.10

Tall Majesty – 54.18

Hope – 57.26

Conversations in the Dark – 1.02.28

Growing up in the City – 1.05. 32

Earth Song – 1.11.44

The Journey – 1.15.43

On the Beach –  1.18.07

The Old road – 1.21.42

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Counting down the hours for my poetry reading

My time is on July 19th at 06.30 Sri Lankan time/ IST. Check out the rest of the program here. 

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Some Poets Reciting at the Poetry Festival

Poets reciting at the 32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival on July 16 – 18.

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Inauguration of the 32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival

The poetry festival is starting today. You can join in for the inauguration via Facebook or youtube. Also check out the website for  the rest of the program.

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Poems for the Festival – Conversations in the Dark

This is the fourth poem featured on website of the 32nd International Medellin Poetry Festival. It was written for the 20th anniversary of the Asian tsunami and was first published in “Moving Worlds,” University of Leeds, Nov. 2014, UK.

Conversations in the Dark

.

He talks in his sleep to

the child he lost that day to the waves.

.

Rising waters couldn’t hold him back.

They picked him up like a piece

of old newspaper

in the wind and took him away.

.

He never saw or heard,

never knew until it was too late.

A flash of a second was

all it took and his child was no more.

But he doesn’t want to believe what they say.

Doesn’t like to think it was the end.

A piece of him cries out at night to ghosts

passing overhead, demanding answers

in the dead of the night

when everyone else is asleep.

.

He thinks he was saved.

Some kind person took him in

but why didn’t they send him back to where

he belonged?

.

He knows

he’s still alive, struggling

to escape but how can you find a little lost life

that may have been saved

only to be imprisoned in a web of lies?

.

He calls out to those passing by, sends

messages on the wind to wherever winds

go and waits everyday for hope

crushed at night only to be rekindled

at the break of another day as

life goes on.

.

© Shirani Rajapakse 2014

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Poems for the Festival – Hope

“Hope” is the third poem published on the 32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival site. It was written for an anthology about the Sahel region in Africa and was published in “Song of Sahel” Plum Tree Books, Sep 15, 2012, UK, and republished in “About Place Journal” Vol II Issue III, Black Earth Institute, Nov 2013, USA.

.

Hope

.

Give me a sip of water

for my lips are parched, my throat too dry

to speak and I will sing you a song

of the Sahel as I remember it. A song soft

and gentle like the wind in the trees

as it whispers on its way.

A song so beautiful the clouds will snatch

it up and send it straight to you sitting

inside your room far away

in a distant corner of the world.

.

Give me a mouthful of water so sweet

so cool, that I may tell you stories of the Sahel

as it was before it came to this. Stories

about the Tuareg’s adventures across

lands or the Fulani’s search for grazing grounds

for their cattle, stories that will make your

eyes open wide in amazement

and leave you thirsting for more.

.

Give me a pail of water to wash

the dust off my body

turned red brown like the earth

around me. A little water that I may wash

away the flies that hover over me,

all the time,

calling, calling to others to come

join the feast that is me. I want to cleanse

myself once more, to remember,

the silken touch of the waters

as it caresses my skin.

.

Throw me a shower of water, nay

a deluge to stitch the cracks in the earth

below me as I lie here wondering

if it will open up and swallow me one day.

A shower so heavy

it will make the crops grow tall and strong

so we may have food to eat. Finally.

.

I look up in hope and wait for the rains

that forget to come. I wait for the people that left

me here on my own.

I wait for you under this tree

that offers no shade from the sun as it glares

at me from above. My mind drifts

to faraway places like cattle grazing

in some distant land searching always searching

but not finding. When will this end?

.

© Shirani Rajapakse 2012

.

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My time at the Poetry Festival

I’m reciting poetry at the 32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival at the following time. You can check out the rest of the program here.

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Beautiful posters for the Festival

Here are a couple of beautiful posters done for the 32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival that starts next month.

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Whispering Willow: Tree Poems, June 19, 2022

I’m one of 90 poets with work published in “Whispering Willow: Tree Poems” an anthology about trees. My contributions are “Late Evening”, “Tall Majesty” and “The Road to Over There.”

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The Write-In, June 19, 2022

Participated in National Flash Fiction Day after a really long time. This was the 11 word “story” published in The Write-in today. It’s what I’d call a tiny story.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

‘Eleven Word Story’ by Shirani Rajapakse

 You always wore your smile at an angle. Nerves, they died.

Posted by Sara Hills at 15:30

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Labels: 2022 Prompt #0

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The Write-In, June 19, 2022

Combustion is a flash story I wrote for National Flash Fiction Day at The Write-In. It is based on an image prompt.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

‘Combustion’ by Shirani Rajapakse

Anger swirled, turning her hair the exact shade of burning flames. They didn’t see fire shoot out of her scalp and cascade down her shoulders. They were so engrossed with their conversation and the guilt of what they’d done that they never noticed. Just like they never detected her slipping something in their drinks.

They began to disappear. Color drained from their skin and hair. It reached everything they touched.

Soon they became line drawings, scribbles in someone’s notebook.

Kayla changed with them. She didn’t want anyone to suspect anything. Not until she had them completely under her control.

Posted by Amy Barnes at 07:50

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Labels: 2022 Prompt #6

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Poems for the Festival – Tall Majesty

Tall Majesty is the second poem posted on the website of the 32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival. It was published in About Place Journal and written for the theme on trees.

Tall Majesty
.

It got in the way.
.
That’s what they said. They
needed space for the road for
the big cars to move.
My coconut tree had to go – too soon
too young. It fell
to the ground, a majestic
tree that didn’t harm a soul.
.
One day it was no more.
.
They came to cut it down. I cried
with the tree as it groaned
softly. The leaves came
crashing to the ground to form
a wreath at the bottom. Then came
the trunk. It fell straight cutting the wall
next door in half and then
the tree was no more. Lying there flat
on the ground so helpless, sad.
.
The tree was planted on my fourth
.
birthday. A coconut tree. But that day
it was just an old coconut
with a leaf sticking out of it. A sprout;
a single leaf, folded and straining
to open out that shot
out of the coconut so old
and gnarled. I touched the little leaf
hidden inside,
shy of being seen. The leaf strained to reach
out and catch some sun.
Out, out it looked until it was
.
smiling with the sun.
.
© Shirani Rajapakse, 2013
.
Published in “About Place Journal” – Issue II, Black Earth Institute, May 2013, USA. #writingcommunity #whyiwrite #poetrycommunity #poetryisnotdead #poetrylovers #poetsofinstagram #poetry #shiranirajapakse #medellincolombia #medellin #32FIPMed #SriLanka #colombia #poetryfestival

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Poems for the Festival – Taken for Granted

A few of the poems I will be reading at the 32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival are up on the website. They are in Spanish, translated by Arturo Fuentes. The funny thing is when translated back into English through the web translator, it works very differently from what I wrote. I’ll post a poem each, as I wrote and published them, in the original English.

Taken for Granted

I drink straight from the tap

and mull over Fishman’s assumption;

T –Rex may have sampled the same.

A billion years ago,

a million miles away sitting in my

kitchen watching it flow out,

out and fall into the jug like the river

diverted in the last century.

.

It helped them

live, those folks over there

where life was hard, walking in the sun,

staring up at blue skies for rains that sometimes

forgot to fall. Now their crops grow tall

and proud. But there’s danger

in the waters hidden deep within the earth

a few towns away.

I heard someone say

it’s laced with poison.

Deep water wells in dry zones where no

liquid flows on land for the heat; evaporated,

returned to the clouds.

.

They’re fighting

for it in another country, too far

for me to bother yet it’s women that suffer

and I read on.

They have to find water

for their families, guard it with their lives

while men loiter on street corners

looking for work.

.

Women toil across the world.

Trudging long

distances on burning sands to get to wells

in the middle of deserts. Old and young

balancing pots; on their heads, in their arms,

resting on hips they sway in the wind.

But risk is not along the way.

Fending off wild beasts coming to sport

at waterholes – men claiming it’s their right

to demand. Struggling to stay alive, retain

their dignity they return every day.

Danger lurks in strange places.

.

Children die in other places.

Dried up, their bones sticking out like twigs

wrapped in cloth.

.

Water tastes like wine,

precious too, but stale wine is thrown

away in some places.

Rains are lost to oceans,

I ponder as the jug at the tap overflows.

.

© Shirani Rajapakse, 2015

.

Published in “Asian Signature” Vol. 2, Issue 2, July 15, 2015, India.

.

#shiranirajapakse#whyidowhatido#whyiwrite#32FIPMed#poetrycommunity#poetryfestival#poetryisnotdead#poetry#poetsofinstagram#poemsbyme#poemas#medellincolombia#medellin

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32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival, 9-30 July, Colombia

Honored to be participating in the 32nd Medellin International Poetry Festival. Thanks, Fernando Rendón for inviting me. Also thanks also to Luis Eduardo Rendón and the organizing team. I’ll be reciting poetry on July 18th at 20:00 Columbia Time. #32FIPMed #pazmundial #PazConLaNaturaleza #poetrycommunity #poetryfestival #poetry #poetryisnotdead #poetsofinstagram #shiranirajapakse

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International Times – May 28, 2022

“When Earth Locked Down” is published in International Times today. Read it below or at the site.

When Earth Locked Down

We mastered the art of smiling
                                         with eyes.
It didn’t matter that a mask
covered most of our face. We could still
express compassion.

The sky looked a shade
brighter like it was mighty glad
to wipe away veils of dust and finally
be at ease with its true visage.
The sun stretched limbs
wider, further
                          and smiled in content. The moon
beamed and stars sparkled like they had
acquired a brand new wardrobe.
Birds warbled louder, or so it seemed, a
happier song, like they were glad
they finally had an audience.

Sitting inside homes we became
experts in the politics of vaccines and how
they worked, or didn’t.
                Keyboard warriors we argued online
                about the best methods to beat
the virus. Was it really necessary to get
                                          jabbed or
                            should we
wait to see how it reacted
                             on others, our fellow
human lab rats, before giving ourselves over
                                                       to the herd mentality.
We read extensively about new trends
in medicine, about
spike proteins, new variants
and mutations in the virus creating
problems in our bodies and watched the news
unfolding about the greed
                                          of Big Pharma and Big Tech
               to rule our lives, our thoughts and our actions.

We became aware that we didn’t really need
to go out to the shops every day.
Our lives would still go on if we didn’t
have another pair of shoes, another
dress. We surprised ourselves by our hidden
talents to cook up gourmet meals with just
a few ingredients.

We also realized we weren’t
the only ones that mattered.
The world didn’t revolve around us. There were
                           others on this
                           ride around
                                         the sun.
Many more than we had ever known, and we
sure were surprised by the numbers.

Breezes wafted gently; cooler, softer.
Rivers ran any way they wanted and the salmon
moved upstream
unafraid of being
stopped, pulled out
from their quest to spawn.
Animals relaxed and oceans
heaved in relief. Running into shores unoccupied
by humankind waves played games with each other,
trying to see who could swirl round
trunks of coconut trees or peep
onto abandoned roads.

For once it was like it had been
at the beginning of time. No one,
except for a few, roamed the streets aimlessly.
Shops were boarded up for a long haul.
We retrained ourselves to be
more caring, to understand the less fortunate,
to give to those
that lost their jobs, help others.

But not all were concerned about
the poor and disadvantaged.
Pictures from resorts and exotic
destinations, photographs of gluttony competed
on social media on who had it better, while
others went hungry in silence.
Some slogged miles to get to homes far away
unable to pay the rent, shut out from
places of work their plight a good story for journalists
ravenous for news to make a name. Gaunt faces,
tired looks earned accolades

while they trudged on,
on weary feet. Families tried hard
to understand how they would
feed themselves without
money anymore. Didn’t have enough funds
to hoard food in bulk, didn’t own plastic
cash to order food online, feed children
that didn’t know why.

We gained valuable knowledge about
ourselves. About
                           self-centeredness.
                Our uncaringness towards
                 others,
                 the utter
insensitivity to their plight.
We became aware of
the wickedness within us,
hidden for so long, but now
emerging to the fore, not wanting to
wear masks, wash hands because,
well, for how long were we supposed to do it,
and who cared, anyway?
We learnt a lot these past few months,
long months to sit      and ponder about
                             ourselves,
                who we really
                were, the inner us.

We also sensed that a mask could
                            hide a sneer
             and a truckload of
             other ugliness.

Shirani Rajapakse
Image Nick  Victor

Author Bio

Shirani Rajapakse is a Sri Lankan poet and short story writer. She is the author of five books including the award-winning Chant of a Million Women and I Exist. Therefore I Am. Rajapakse’s work appears in Dove Tales, Buddhist Poetry, Litro, Linnet’s Wings, Berfrois, Flash Fiction International, Voices Israel, About Place, Mascara, Counterpunch, Deep Water, Silver Birch, International Times, New Verse News, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Spark, Lakeview, The Write-In, Asian Signature, Moving Worlds, Harbinger Asylum and more.

shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com
amazon.com/author/shiranirajapakse
facebook.com/shiranirajapakseauthor/
twitter.com/shiraniraj

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Flash Fiction International – Review of “Shattered” – October 18, 2021

Here’s another review of my flash story “Shattered” from Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World published by Norton.  You can read it below or go here.

Kulrisa

Kulrisa

Oct 18, 2021   3 min read

Short Story Review: “Shattered” by Shirani Rajapakse

by Kulrisa Bocharat

Hi guys! Have you ever felt that you can see what’s going on in the story as you see it with your eyes by the narrator’s words while reading? I was curious because I had some kind of this feeling after reading “Shattered” by Shirani Rajapakse and I bet some of you might experience it at least once in your life. So, I want to share my story review and would like you to answer yourself after reading if you feel the same as me.

Shirani Rajapakse’s “Shattered” is one of 86 short stories by authors from six continents included in Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World, published in 2015. “Shattered” is a short story that taken place in Sri Lanka. This story is about an explosion that happened in Sri Lanka by terrorists and is exposed through a woman’s point of view, Nidisha, who is on her way to her work. She is going to do her normal life, but suddenly an explosion appears in front of her and its intensity knocks her body so far that she can’t move and lay still on the road in the midst of chaos. The subsequent narrative is then narrated through her dying point of view which is portrayed like a flash. Her remaining consciousness tries to figure out what is happening to her body and end up her last breath by questioning what’s wrong with her that she goes to work as usual and has to die in a blast incident?

After reading this short story which is just over 500 words long, my first impression was still hard to grasp at first. But when I read it again, my thoughts were dragged into the point of view of Nidisha that her vision is like a flash as she was dying. This way of narration is known as stream of consciousness which is my favorite point of this story. I could easily imagine how her body is so damaged and how much she struggles to live. I was drawn to her feelings and suddenly felt sad about her end. Moreover, I was overwhelmed by her last sentence that implicitly asks for her right to live her normal life safely.

I later found out that the explosion occurs because of the religious conflict that existed in Sri Lanka when I focused on the paradox in the story which is the word “Vesak”. It shows a contradiction because the explosion happens on the Buddhist holy day, Vesak, which should be filled with good things, but this tragic event occurs. This paradox made me later know that Sri Lanka has had a religious conflict between Buddhism and Muslims for a long time. Therefore, reading this story not only captivated me but also made me realize a major problem in Sri Lanka and felt related to the unrest in the three southern border provinces in Thailand where many people still have to become victims of religious conflict and have no right to be safe in their own lives like Nidisha.

After reading the story, I think you can answer my question of whether you will feel the same as me when reading this story. I hope you will enjoy and get new experiences!

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Flash Fiction International – Review of “Shattered” – October 19, 2021

I didn’t see this until today. I found this review of my flash story “Shattered” that was published in Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World. You can read it here, or read it below.

Jittawatana Sricommee

Jittawatana Sricommee

Oct 19, 2021

2 min read

Story Review: Shattered by Shirani Rajapakse

This is my very first time reading a work written by Shirani Rajapakse.

This short story caught me off guard by reading just the first paragraph. I was sitting like a stone, unmoving and questioning myself what am I reading?

The author capitalizes the first three words to point out what is wrong with a normal life of a woman walking to her work and why she has to end up like this.

The interesting thing about this short story is using the point of view of a dying person to tell what is going on in the story.

After the death of Nidisha, the author widens the scene and move to other victims of this terrorism. This is horrible to continue to read because there are blood, corpses, and people lying down everywhere. I can smell puddles of blood by reading this. I feel I am being dragged through the dead body by every sentence. It is getting worse when I think that it may happen right now in some places in the world that I have no clue how to help them. Many people are fighting against the group of authoritarians to reclaim their rights or freedom. It should not trade with life or anything at all.

Moreover, the author describes the death of the character aesthetically and delicately as she is the main dancer performing on the stage but in reality, it is different.

To be honest, I have never been to an event like this but I once lived in Pattani where it was one of the calm places to visit and spend time during the vacation. The three southern border provinces are known as terrorists where acts of violence happen almost every day.

One day, I woke up because of the sound of something. I thought someone accidentally dropped an empty 200-liter fuel tank but it was a car bomb. I was shocked because it was close to my home and it was my first time experiencing a dangerous situation like this by myself. Even though it was not in my neighborhood, I still sensed the vibration through the ground under my feet.

We rarely see this kind of method in any kind of literary works because it will lead the readers to the end too fast. For a short story like this, I think it suits perfectly and plays an important role to give the new experience to the readers.

To everyone who is fighting against injustice, may the odds be in your favor.

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New Verse News – May 16, 2022

“In Search of Democracy” is published in New Verse News today. You can check it out at the site or read below.

Monday, May 16, 2022

IN SEARCH OF DEMOCRACY

by Shirani Rajapakse

The Sri Lankan state is descending into a full blown political and economic crisis, as more people contend with starvation, death and severe disruptions. Now they are also facing the brutal violence of the state. The BBC reports at least nine people died and more than 200 were injured as vehicles and houses were set alight during fighting between government supporters and critics this week. The island is facing its worst economic crisis since independence, and the responses of the state indicate it is incapable of protecting its citizens. The deployment of military force, however, is unlikely to quell unrest. The anger and frustration displayed by the public, aggravated by pro-government protesters, is only likely to grow – fuelling further distrust in the ruling government. —The Conversation, May 12, 2022

Watch the blazing 

snarls of flames 

spitting disgust. 

Bodies stand outside arms raised 

fists wrapped round 

poles ready to beat up dissent 

silence with one stroke 

anyone, anyone who protests 

opposes the wrong 

howling jackals laughing condoning 

acts of violence. 

Wrong is the new right. 

No one understands where 

we stand. 

Who are we? How did we 

come to this? 

Thirty-five years ago 

I cowered in fear 

of red guerillas stalking streets 

vengeance running in veins 

bloodthirsty hyenas 

                    looting 

                    pilfering 

                    destroying 

                    torturing. 

                                        Murdering. 

A new generation that 

                    doesn’t remember 

the knock on doors dragging 

life out pleading screaming begging, 

                    never saw 

bloated corpses floating in waterways 

or have to step over 

roasting moaning bodies unrecognizable 

piled up on the side of roads, 

                    never 

                    lived 

                    through fear 

wondering if they will be next. 

                    Only 

heard about those days 

through history’s sieve. 

Violence 

the norm to get what 

cannot be 

through the ballot. 

Is power so blinding we 

gorge on our own? 

Brother against brother, the same 

kind, flesh and blood 

stripping bare to kill for a different 

cause or 

for promises of treats? 

The future sheds tears eaten 

up greedily by cackling flames 

                    lamenting 

silently through swirling 

fumes roaring hatred 

and what is left 

to moan for—cinders that were 

once homes now 

kicked to the side 

as vultures from foreign shores 

                    line up behind clouds looming 

                    at the periphery of the island  

                                        waiting 

to step in and devour the land. 

Shirani Rajapakse is a Sri Lankan poet and short story writer. She is the author of five books including the award-winning Chant of a Million Women as well as I Exist. Therefore I Am. Rajapakse’s work appears in many journals and anthologies including Dove Tales, Buddhist Poetry, Litro, Linnet’s Wings, Berfrois, Flash Fiction International, Voices Israel, About Place, Mascara, Counterpunch, Deep Water, Silver Birch, International Times, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Spark, The Write-In, Asian Signature, Moving Worlds, Harbinger Asylum.

Posted by Editor2 at 6:00 AM

Labels: death, flames, History, poetry, power, protest, Shirani Rajapakse, Sri Lanka, The New Verse News, violence

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Long-listed for the erbacce-prize for Poetry 2022

My entry is one of the 158 long-listed entries for the erbacce prize for poetry 2022. It was selected from close to fifteen thousand entries submitted by poets worldwide. Didn’t believe this would come through, especially since there are so many contenders.

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Better Than Starbucks – May 1, 2022

My poem “The End of Summer” is published in Better Than Starbucks. It was first published in Dove Tales a while back and it’s nice to see it back in the news.

The poem is also published in  the print edition and is available from Lulu.

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Stories & Poems in the Song of Life

My poem “The Cellist” joins in this musical journey of poems and stories from around the world. It was published by SweetyCat Press in January 28, 2022. You can get the book here, or read my poem below.

From heartbeat to drumbeat. Birdsong to crooners from yesteryear. Piano keys to the strings of a sitar. In “Stories & Poems in the Song of Life,” 175 authors and poets worldwide explore the theme of music, from the melodious sounds of nature to the world of hard pounding rock and roll. Fiction is mixed with non-fiction as writers and poets take you on their musical journeys, imagined and real. The song of life is our own unique tune – the essence of who we are – composed while listening to the music that surrounds us, in one form or another, from the time we are born to the time of our death. Feel free to hum along as you read this incredible one-of-a-kind collection.

The Cellist – Shirani Rajapakse

Picking up the bow she placed it

gently on strings

recollecting tunes played a lifetime ago.

Tunes that made her heart sing.

The bow moved hesitantly sounding out C,

her left hand resting at her side. Motionless.

Years of neglect had turned memories to dust like young

lives felled in wars in faraway places people barely

talked about anymore. Her fingers had forgotten,

but the bow moved legato from C to G up and down.

Then up. Again. And again.

Outside her window trees tossed their heads, branches

swayed from side to side like people waving arms

at a concert. Birds paused their song

to listen to the deep voice rising from inside.

She played like it was her recital. Four strings

and only the bow going up and down in a strange melody

no one had written, but she remembered. The tempo

fluctuated. The music drifted in andante,

on to adagio and then the bow rested.

All activity outside halted momentarily.

Earth was hushed in a lengthy pause.

And as the leaves began to flutter in appreciation birds

lifted voices to carry the unusual melody far, far

across the land to secret places only they can enter.

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Poetry Super Highway – April 24, 2022

Honored to be among the 104 poets from around the world whose poems are featured this week in the 24th Annual Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Poetry Issue at Poetry Super Highway.

The poem that’s published is an old one. It was previously published in Poetica Magazine and was a finalist in the 2013 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award. You can read it at the link above or check it out below.

The Shower

She waits for the water
to fall, to flow over and wash her clean
like the day she was born.
Together they journeyed across the land
travelling the distance long and hard.

Some died, crammed like cattle
inside carriages,
trampled on by others trying
to make room, or be comfortable.

But she lived, while they died.

She waits
for the water in that cold hard place.
Shivers run down her back
yet she smiles to herself in anticipation
of better things while all the rest
wait with her, wondering why the water
doesn’t come. The showers have gone dry.
She looks down at the little
child standing
patiently by her side and sees
her smile mirrored with hope.
The future seems fine. They made it after all.
It couldn’t be that bad.

Suddenly the smell of gas.
All around they scream and gag.
She claws the air,
falling, crashing never to rise again,
the smile wiped off her lips
now drawn with pain.


(Previously published in Poetica Magazine, Finalist 2013 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards, 2014, USA)


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Silver Birch Press, March 13, 2022

“Buddhist Chants to Heal” is published in Silver Birch’s How to Heal the Earth Series. Check it out here or read below.

miracles-of-each-moment-2003.jpg!Large

Buddhist Chants to Heal

by Shirani Rajapakse

The rains retreats are ending

this month. Tonight monks

in the neighborhood temple

will assemble in the audience hall

to chant pirith — Buddhist sutras, words

ancient as the hills, but wiser than all

the knowledge that has been.

They will take it in turns

throughout the night

to chant the words of the Buddha,

just like they’ve done

many countless times before and will continue

into the future.             A large water-filled

                         earthenware pot

sits on the table

in front of them

as they chant.

In the morning

                            they will distribute the pirith

                            water to all present. People

will collect them in hands outstretched,

joined together, cupped

to receive the blessing.

There is a belief, older than time,

that water retains memory.

Water that holds

the vibrations of Buddhist chants heal

and we take in this water, let it course

gently down our throats

in the conviction

it will soothe us, bring us inner peace,

even momentarily.

              I’ve grown up

              with this belief

              just as I’ve

sipped on the vibrations of chants

a hundred million times

                            or more.

Its pouring again and I don’t

want to venture outdoors.

I take out my book of sutras and      chant,

first for myself, then for my family

and friends,

for all beings

seen and unseen that inhabit

the earth and the planets —

the entire universe.

I chant for the world

that is in need of healing,

I chant for the trees

                           swaying outside,

                           the birds

                           sheltering under leaves,

               lonely stray dogs howling with winds,

               animals trying to survive

                            in the wild,

people all over.

I have no pot of water,

but that doesn’t matter. The rain

thundering outside will

lift the positive vibrations of the sacred chants

and carry them to wherever

rainwater flows,

to wherever

healing is needed.

c Shirani Rajapakse 2022

PAINTING:Miracles of Each Moment by Kazuaki Tanahashi (2003).

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Harbinger Asylum: Fall 2021

Two poems are included in the Fall 2021 issue of Harbinger Asylum. The poems are “I Will Rise,” and “Stranger from Another Place.”

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Around the World: Landscapes and Cityscapes

My poem “Colombo” joins in a poetic journey around the world in this new venture by Sweetycat Press that includes 200 poets writing about their preferred place in the world.

“From mountaintops to sea resorts, from highrise buildings to subways, across continents, on islands, in large cities, and at small and large landmarks, 200 poets from around the world take you on their journeys around the world.”

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English Literary Association (ELA), FMS, USJ: September 16, 2021. I Exist. Therefore I Am.

Members of the English Literary Association (ELA) of Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayawardenepura, recently reviewed all my books. This is the review for I Exist. Therefore I Am.

Review : I exist, therefore I am

First of all, reading this book synced with the time very well as Talibans have taken over Afghanistan and taken away every right a woman owns. One could say that this book is deeply feminist and one could say those stories are fictional. But the author hasn’t just stated about the injustice that women face in India each and every day. She has been able to find the deep roots of the society and culture that give rise to the problems.

That’s the beauty of these short stories. Except for the story of Arti, I didn’t feel a huge fury about the assailant (I couldn’t sympathize with Arti’s mother-in-law). In most of the stories, there were clear victims and assailants but author always proves us that all of them are victims of an ill society.

I exist, therefore I am was one of my favorites because it talks about abortion. Those stories are not just relevant to India. Injustice prevails in every society, more or less. Even we are facing an abortion ban in our country and people are expressing different opinions. The baby loses her life simply because she was a girl. But what unborn baby asks from her mother is important. “How did you survive the abortion when you are of the same gender?” It shows how bullied become bullies. Although they have gone through all the pain of surviving as a woman, mother-in-laws are the ones who curse the daughter-in-law for not bearing sons. So this story asks big questions. Is the patriarchal society clearly a man-dominated system or something that’s maintained by women themselves?

I personally loved the story of Shwetha, also. This story is pretty much relevant to any part of the world. Shwetha was a woman rights activist but even she couldn’t break the wall. Throughout the story I was searching for the reason why she had to marry this old man? Author doesn’t directly say what happened. She gives us clues but doesn’t give a clear answer but that makes the story far more interesting. Was it because she was raped by this man? Was it because of her blind faith on this man? Was it purely love? Did he really blackmail her? Shwetha was a wonderful depiction of thousands of women who would sacrifice their lives for their beloved husbands.  She was the voice of thousand of women yet she couldn’t speak up for herself. It’s easier to ask others to free themselves but it’s hard to break the walls of the prisons we build on our own.

Her big day was fast approaching captured my heart instantly. It was not a mere story about how insane amount of money, weddings cost. It also reviews the question of dowry and this made me understand why people altogether hated having a baby girl. She was a financial burden. Only rich could fulfill the insanely high hopes and wishes of the in-laws. And it also talks about how a woman become lost. A woman gets dual citizenship in two families and while her own family thinks that she’s now owned to a new family after the marriage and her in-laws treats her as the stranger. She become a stranger owned by everybody and nobody.

Dowry is an old concept which is still prevalent in Sri Lanka and women should be financially independent to supply for herself. Why does she even needs an education if that serves only as a qualification to find a husband? This story has a wonderful storytelling because her parents weren’t villains. Her father tried to give the best to his family although he has to live under the constant pressure of loans, finances and also bearing the the war between his mother and wife.

Dowry was initiated as a way of maintaining the girl’s financial independence in the medieval times. Now it’s a thing that creates a huge burden on poor families who can’t even provide for their families. It also mocks the characters that although they think that they are very modern they still thinks biding to their rotten social norms. Can we really blame the mothers who perform infanticide as way of mercy-killing?

Secrets reminded me of Handmaid’s tale of Margaret Atwood. Women lose the power of owning property in Atwood’s fictional world. They call it as a dystopian novel while in the suburbs of India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and even in Sri Lanka women lose their power over property.

Although western world is sweeping with ideas of third wave of feminism it’s pathetic that countries like India, Middle East, Afghanistan and so many countries I couldn’t mention, still haven’t even had the chance of going through the first wave of feminism. Last but not least, these stories are not just Indian stories. Either it’s domestic violence, abortion, elder abuse or infanticide, those are still happening in front our eyes although we prefer to stay blind. Patriarchal society is not equivalent to male domineering. It’s not just the society’s fault it’s also the women’s fault of not questioning and trying and at least not trying to rebel against the society by secretly opening a bank account. Attitudes should change and Shirani Rajapakshe has done an excellent job of influencing her fellow womenkind.

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English Literary Association (ELA), FMS, USJ: September 16, 2021. Fallen Leaves

Members of the English Literary Association (ELA) of Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayawardenepura, recently reviewed all my books. Here’s the review for Fallen Leaves.

Review : Falling Leaves

An accentuated piece from the renowned poet Shirani Rajapakse, entailing the brutality of war and the events predicated on the abominable nature of the corrupt human . The theme “ WAR ” has never before been so profoundly
explored through the role of an unbiased viewer. Based on true events that preceded three decades of conflict, “ Fallen Leaves “ entails both the lives lost and the coming of a new season …

The backdrop of our tale unfolds in the 80’s Ceylon , amidst the sparks of outcries for justice which echoes through the stage of life . The first designs outline the feeling of dread surrounding the era. The author vividly recreates the accounts of unspeakable truths which we prefer to push to the back of our conscience . The breaking of their backs ; neither man nor woman was spared from the sins of war ; wrath , pride and greed encumbered.

The beast and the monster ; a stray is brought into the picture several times within the scope of events … It highlights how the perception of righteousness and innocence crumbles with contact of an aota of realism. With the introduction of a secondary female character the author shifts toward the personal anecdotes based on such outlying characters . This gives a unique view into a substrata of experiences previously absent in similar works .

Amidst racial divides a new antagonist bears its fangs as the accounts of the fear felt during the 2nd wave of communism are brought back to inquire as to ; “ where is my neighbour ? “ The writer inserts herself midway to entice other litterates to record and ponder the truth of it all . All the while reminiscing about the love lost ; concluding the prologue .

For when war is more profitable than peace , words become better weapons than swords and pawns lost are fair game in the pursuit of money ; the God to which we pray . This sentiment is brought into focus as the igniting of the flames of war are recalled by the author predating everything revealed thus far . “Old men start wars but young men fight in them” has never been a truer statement .

We are diverted into the paths of those who were once unnoticed as the co-conspirators are brought to light ; a female suicide bomber and even a child soldier. Now the outliers have become the protagonists …

“ The sun sustains life, but here in this unforgiving place it kills ”

Under the conditions that befell a country none are forgiven . Children turned into orphans,
mart
yrs and symbols of hate whilst soldiers linger in the treelines for hours , days or even longer ;
the author with her writing prowess tugs on the humanity encased in our psyche .

TABOOS

which must never be broken were shattered beyond comparison as temples were invaded and ceasefires broken all the while the rich were made richer and the poor were made poorer.When the dust settles war merely shifts its direction the gears still turning ; for the words being preached by man and the action brought by man all for power over another man. This is evident in each stanza.

The duplicitousness of human nature is called into question as caste and creed within the factions itself comes into question . The author illustrates this in the most picturesque way bringing into the light the subtle cracks of egos .Thus the treasures of war are nothing but barren bunkers in which to hide the atrocities that once befalled and ones that were forever silenced within all who bore witness .

I would recommend this to any and all history fanatics and avid readers who enjoy wartime tales of unparalleled realism.

– Review by Trevine de Zilva

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English Literary Association (ELA), FMS, USJ: September 16, 2021. Breaking News

Members of the English Literary Association (ELA) of Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayawardenepura, recently reviewed all my books. This is the review for Breaking News.

Review : Breaking News

Breaking news – a 2010 Gratiaen Award shortlist is a compilation of short stories penned down by Shirani Rajapaksha.  Each story revolves around the time of the civil war in Sri Lanka and introduces the reader to an aspect of life of a new character. Although seemingly brief the reader is plunged into lives of men and women of different ages, ethnicities and social backgrounds to be surgically extracted out of them all at the end leaving behind residue of the feelings explored. Through these stories Shirani Rajapaksha successfully portrays impressions of loss, grief, humour, simplicity and heartbreak through mundane and yet arresting episodes at that time.

Amidst the short story collection are stories like ‘Photographs in her mind’ and ‘Sepalika’   that embody the pain of the living left to weep the loss of their loved ones who were unjustly taken by the war while ‘The missing piece’ narrates to us the apocalypse on lives compromised.  ‘The man from the east’ and ‘ The boy from Wellawatte’ depicts social behaviour and ideologies that persists to date.

Whilst reading through the seventy or so pages I couldn’t help but pause at the analogies put forth. For me each of them were zones of vivid imagery of which most were extracted from objects and events of much proximity to us as Sri Lankans. One such instance that comes to mind is when thoughts were compared to “dormant serpents coiled against the cool, hard weave of a coir basket that entombed them to a life of darkness.” ‘Emerald silk’ was perhaps my near favourite the whole story being of an unnamed woman talking through her thoughts whilst simply looking out her window. The reader is taken along her transition from being trapped to soaring and finding peace in plainly her train of thoughts. Reading  through the book the raw emotions portrayed poetically and in simple language for me is best exposed in ‘Like driftwood on the Kelani’.

The book Breaking news is nothing short of a masterpiece with Ms. Shirani doing justice to characters brought about.  It is by far an accurate fiction of the times it evokes.

Reema Shakir

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English Literary Association (ELA), FMS, USJ: September 16, 2021. Gods, Nukes and a Whole Lot of Nonsense.

Members of the English Literary Association (ELA) of Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayawardenepura, recently reviewed all my books. This is the review for Gods, Nukes and a Whole Lot of Nonsense.

Review : Gods, Nukes and a whole lot of Nonsense

God’s Nukes and a whole lot of nonsense is a collection of short stories written by Shirani Rajapakse. A literary snapshot of Indian culture and way of life, it addresses common social issues and gives a peek into the mindset of some truly relatable characters.

A plethora of themes are discussed in this collection of short stories. Perhaps the most prominent of them and the most commonly portrayed is the self importance, ego, and conceitedness shown by the protagonists. The characters of Ram Pratap Sharma and the Postcard Swami are overwhelmingly egoistic, prepared to do anything to uphold their own image, often through pretence and false facade. This shines light on the particular social evil of greed, and the resulting corruption brought on by trying to satisfy one’s own ego.

Conservative Indian thought is bountiful in most, if not all the short stories. The characters are largely ignorant of the outside world, and with that ignorance comes a general hatred of the west and cultures they are not familiar with. Specific instances bring this theme out exceptionally, including the way the Swamis at the Mandir refer to tourists as ‘White Trash’, ‘White Face’, and the ‘Stingy Japanese’. Offensive humour to say the least, but the reality is obvious. An exception can be made with the character of Krishna in Meeting God, but then again even he is shown to be seeking a conservative Indian woman back home rather than settle with the largely progressive, liberal women of New York.

The concept of Indian Marriage is also touched on, as shown in this extract from ‘Prophet of the Thar’:

“The horoscopes didn’t match, the dowry wasn’t big enough, The girl wasn’t pretty enough. There were many things to consider before selecting a bride for Ram Lal and the family she would enter.”

The same story also reflects on the theme of Changes and Conflict, as evident in the lines “He was tired of being in the village and wanted to explore the land”.

Insight on an outsider’s perspective of India is well brought out in stories such as Postcard Swami, The Great Indian Itch, and In Search of a Miracle. What’s worth noting is the similar ignorance of the west towards the east, just as the conservative Indian is oblivious to the west. The tourists are shown to know nothing about India, despite choosing to visit the country. This is explicitly shown in the lines “Some of the foreigners that wondered in had that ‘just got off a plane’ look on their faces. They strolled into the mandir with absolutely no idea about anything that was Indian, except that they were now in India. They didn’t know what to expect and were duped just about every corner they turned” in the story Postcard Swami.

Shirani also reveals the wide meaning of life. What is the actual purpose of the journey of life? This makes the readers wonder what the true meaning of life is as in the extract “In Search of a Miracle”. She also shows that the genuine mindset of people deep inside, are still the same except for the outer development that had occurred.

It takes a single sentence like “I met God the other day” (Meeting God) or, “Aum Namaha Shivaya” (Gods, Nukes and a whole lot of Nonsense) to capture the readers’ attention and set the mood. They are transported to the mundane Indian livelihood where the stories are not exaggerated but derived from the raw experiences. The author’s literary talents have the magical ability of conjuring a short movie with a plot that’s relatable on many levels.

All the short stories in this collection are set in Indian society and unfold around the lives of the localers.Whether it be in a desert , a small village, or a town, the environment builds on Indian culture. The milieu is strikingly similar to that found in Sri Lanka, owing to the fact that both countries have similar cultural roots. Particular use of traditionally Indian words and Hindu mantras bring about the setting without being overwhelming, while there is a real sense-of-place in the stories.

The style of writing employed by the author is comprehensive and descriptive. So, even if the readers are not too familiar with the settings of the stories, they could effortlessly immerse themselves in them with the vivid descriptions of the environment and the scenes. A simple and understandable language is used throughout. In addition, Shirani has managed to insert and nicely handle some techniques to add a special flavour to the stories. She uses symbolism, flashbacks and repetition to emphasize on the themes . Also, she uses eye-dialect, like in the short story ‘’The Consultant’’, where she mentions ‘’ dizeez’’ , to showcase the Indian accent. The author’s occasional use of a common Indian vocabulary like “The food’s not too bad, yaar.” (Meeting God) and the humorous,sarcastic tone adds an additional beauty to the stories.

Although Gods, Nukes and a whole lot of Nonsense is in Indian context, the shared cultural origins brings this short story series a lot closer to every Sri Lankan’s heart. The themes incorporated, makes it relevant globally, shedding light on the social segregation between the west and the east. The conservative Indian lifestyle exposed by these stories is sure to make its contribution in bridging this gap. “The walls were adorned with beautiful calligraphy. Aamir loved to walk around reading the sayings carved into the stone many centuries ago.” from Aamir is relatable to all regardless of their religions. Shirani shrewdly incorporates this to show how connected people are beyond social separations.The author’s efforts to show the impact of the cultural practices using different age groups is admirable.

Shirani has conveyed the encouraging as well as unhelpful sides of India through her fictitious characters. The description about each of their dwellings in the stories brings the reader closer to the characters. “The towns and villages changed, but life remained the same everywhere.”

This sentence in one of her extracts ‘In Search of a Miracle’ perfectly portrays the realities of life which all of us are able to relate to. Each character speaks human nature filled with ego, inconsistency, fear, and spiritualism.

The story “Gods, Nukes and a whole lot of Nonsense” draws a devastating portrait of India, pools of unpleasant, ancient patriarchy swirling menacingly just beneath the tides of daily life.

Character buildup is strong, and each main character is described well both on their appearance as well as their personality and the thought processes that occur inside their head, a direct consequence of which is their actions. We see what the Swamis think of the tourists, what Ram Pratap Sharma thinks of his superiors and of himself through these exceedingly personal descriptions of the characters.

The genuine stories Rajapakse gifted through this book is bound to live within the reader’s fondest memories.

Written by

Shahini Liyanagama

Priyenkan Sritharan

Dinali Ginigaddara

Thuvaraga Thusyanthan

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English Literary Association (ELA), FMS, USJ: September 16, 2021. Chant of a Million Women

Members of the English Literary Association (ELA) of Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayawardenepura, recently reviewed all my books. I will start by sharing the review for Chant of a Million Women.

Review : Chant of a Million Women

A Review – ‘Chant of a Million Women’ by Shirani Rajapakse

Shirani Rajapakse’s collection of poems in the book titled “Chant of a Million Women” revolves around the themes of gender inequality, harassment and social conflicts faced by women and the poetess has effectively captured the voices of countless silenced victims in all walks of life. It is unfortunate how struggles of  women are much discussed yet seldom heard. The poetess’ attempt to bring out these unheard topics to a visible platform via poetry should indeed be applauded.

Feminism and gender equality have surprisingly become socially tabooed topics even in the current so-called ‘developed’ world. The poetess obviously has a well defined idea about feminism, which is  all genders having equal rights and opportunities..

The effort taken by the poetess in wording so many trodden down voices of women in front of the injustices they face due to their gender, is quite admirable. She brings out the silent yet strong voice of those who feel suppressed, mocked at, or frowned upon at some point of their lives just and only because of their gender.

Through her compelling writing style she gives voice to the silenced, oppressed and unheard voices or as in her words ‘chants’ of women. From 5 year olds to educated professionals regardless of their profession,  educational levels or even social background the poetess brings light upon the fact that sexual, emotional and physical mistreatment is  rampant. Her poems involving characters like the women in Sigiriya paintings, Sita, Suparnakha, Draupadi reveal how the women of ancient times  too were women with the same fears and thinking of a female mind, relatable to women even in the 21st century. The ironical fact about this is that even in today’s ‘modern’ day and age, we women still fight to be appreciated, valued and known for our intellects and abilities more than our physical appearances.

It is scary and daunting to think that at a café’, at university, on the streets and inside one’s own home and room a woman is not safe of being taken advantage of. The sad reality is that once a woman is raped or abused, she is never the same person again. She is wounded deeply with scars that do not heal over time and Rajapakse’s words portray the pain and suffering of such victims.

Her fight against all the injustice faced by women is beautifully combined with the natural poetic skills and many poetic techniques including using the most applicable symbolism, irony, personification and free verse writing style. These poems are not just free verse but also free thoughts and free illustrations about the much unpopular and ignored topics which should be major topics in discussion. The way she brings out a certain scenario and emphasise the sensitivity and conflicts combined with it is really admirable. She also uses the brilliant technique of giving the readers the opportunity of deciding instead of sticking to her view about a particular subject and by that she has become more successful in conveying the idea of the poem more efficiently without directly offending any individual but making them to take those views into consideration. The titles of her poems are  catchy such as ‘Goddess in Chains’, ‘Chant of a Million Women’, ‘The Closet Rapist’ which capture the reader’s attention and keep them captivated.

Through a series of eye opening verses, her writing pulls at the female reader’s heartstrings and stirs a feeling of sisterhood and empathy for one another because we are all vulnerable and susceptible to the trauma that was inflicted on one of our own. Even for a male, he is forced to swallow the bitter pill that most of his gender are the abusers and rapists who violate a female’s body, mind and soul.

” I am woman, I am life

I am earth, and I bleed “ .

These empowering words taken from Rajapakse’s poem ‘Earth Song’ leave an imprint that within every woman lies strength, love and they are the equal halves of their male counterparts.

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Twin Towers, Twin Decades Anthology Launch: Reading on September 12, 2021

The Twin Towers, Twin Decades Anthology was launched physically in NY on the 11th and virtually on zoom on the 12th. Here’s a recording of the poets who came together for the zoom reading. It’s only audio. It’s on the Bards Poetry Revolution podcast on blogtalkradio. I’m reading at 24:47.

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Twin Towers, Twin Decades: Poetry for the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

On September 11, 2001 the world watched in shock as two planes flew into the twin towers in New York bringing down the towers and the thousands of people inside. As the years passed people tried to make sense of it all. Some talked about it, others wrote about it. But everyone agreed that something like that should never happen again.

It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed since that fateful day.

To mark the occasion Local Gems Press is publishing an anthology of poems that encapsulate what it was like in the twin decades following the attack. I’m honored to be one of the 50 poets included in Twin Towers, Twin Decades. My poem is called “September.”

A portion of the profits from the sale of the anthology will go towards First Respondents, and for every copy sold one will be donated to First Responders.

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AlwaysWriteAgain – June 13, 2021

This review by Natalie Wood was published on June 13, 2021. You can read it at alwayswriteagain, PerfectlyWellRead and in Goodreads or see below.

‘An Indian Male Thing’

A fellow reviewer of this collection notes the author’s fine poetic voice.

She is also wickedly funny!

image

The semi-fictional universe of **Gods, Nukes and a Whole Lot of Nonsense teems with male fraudsters: deceitful mystics; unholy, rapacious beggars; oversexed street food vendors; conniving civil servants – and even an apparent real-life divinity who disappears most disappointingly during a plane journey somewhere into the ether.

The cited characters above are non-Jews. But perhaps Shirani Rajapakse invited me to read this, her latest batch of stories, not only because she includes a jolly, cacophonous band of visiting Israeli musicians but also because Jewish Indians in Israel would recognise their western counterparts at every hallowed and so lucrative tourist spot they may name.

Rajapakse and I are acquainted only online. So I am unsure whether she is a stern political feminist, an unrepentant misandrist – or just a natural cynic.

Never mind!

image

Here she draws a devastating portrait of an India – where like Israel – pools of an unpleasant, ancient patriarchy swirl menacingly just beneath the tides of daily life.

**Gods, Nukes and a Whole Lot of Nonsense is available from Amazon on Kindle ($8.99) and Paperback ($15.99).

© Natalie Wood (13 June 2021)

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Book Review on Renaissance Writer – May 2, 2021

Gods, Nukes and a Whole Lot of Nonsense was reviewed by Gordon A. Long on Renaissance Writer on May 2, 2021. You can read it directly at the link or check it out below.

REVIEW

“Gods, Nukes and a whole lot of Nonsense” by Shirani Rajapakse

by renaissanceadmin •  • 0 Comments

When you read these stories, you know they were written by a poet. I was immediately captivated by the settings, described in minute detail: shape, colour, sound and smell. Next I was drawn in by the characters. The intricate details of their lives and their families, friends and fellow workers. Finally, though, it is this author’s compassionate portrayal of the mental experiences of her characters that fascinates the reader. External plot is secondary; the real event in each tale is the development of a new personal theme in the life of the main character.

Perhaps the most meaningful story to the Western reader would be “In Search of a Miracle,” which chronicles in great detail the experiences and reactions of a young American student on a multi-day train ordeal to Varanasi, one of the holiest cities in India. Nothing really happens. She takes the train there, she walks around, she returns to Delhi. But what is remarkable is how the mood of the story echoes her mood as she progresses through the experience. As her reaction to her environment changes, there is a palpable change in the writing to create a different atmosphere to match, allowing us to feel that we are taking part.

“The Postcard Swami” — from the story of the same name — calls himself the face of India. This book is the picture of India, from the noise, brilliance, and odours into the minds and souls of the people.

I have reviewed this writer before, and it is a tribute to her skill that this book, with so different an objective from that other work, uses a whole different set of techniques to achieve its goal.

Highly recommended for fans of poetic writing of all sorts.5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Book Review on Basso Profundo – April 27, 2021

Gods, Nukes and a Whole Lot of Nonsense was reviewed by Luke Sherwood at Basso Profundo on April 27, 2021.

Or read it below.

April 27, 2021

“Gods, Nukes, and a Whole Lot of Nonsense” by Shirani Rajapakse

By Luke Sherwood No comments

Having previously turned her keen eye to the ravages of Sri Lankan civil war (Fallen Leaves, 2020) and raised her voice to shout the too-often silent pleas of oppressed women everywhere (Chant of a Million Women, 2017), multiple award-winning poet and writer Shirani Rajapakse focuses here on a few ineluctable features of modern India. Among them: the deep spirituality that casts its shadow and dictates so many daily practices; the entrenched and pervasive bureaucracy that depends on a network of cronies at the expense of merit; and perhaps most markedly, the bewildering face India presents to foreign tourists trying for a unique experience there.

Taken together, these stories show an assured balance and depth of emotion, an eye for the telling detail, and a worldly sense of the human similarities lurking below cultural differences. It’s a striking collection, a highly sophisticated achievement and shows the steady evolution of this already-accomplished writer.

“Prophet of the Thar,” the first story grouped in this collection, combines a couple of Rajapakse’s topoi: India’s spirituality and its sometimes all-too-human origins. A teenage goatherd who chafes under his father’s authority longs for something different. He gets it when he somehow becomes a celebrated holy man leading disciples through the Thar desert. This story’s delight resides in the observation of how easily the human faith response is triggered and how arbitrarily are its talismans chosen.

“In Search of a Miracle” is another tale illuminating the quotidian humanness behind much of religious faith. Here, however, no new gods or prophets rule the day; it’s  rampant commercialism and a touch of xenophobia that partially drives the action. The main thrust, however, comes from the eternal naiveté of foreign tourists who come to India’s spiritual capital in Varanasi to find what they think of as “experience,” but which barely allows them to leave with body and soul intact. This is the grittiest piece in the collection, and worth the price of admission by itself.

“Gods, Nukes, and a Whole Lot of Nonsense,” a kind of a fugue piece, excoriates the blind faith in technology and the rampant jingoism which hurtle modern countries toward developing atomic weapons. It ends, appropriately enough, with a plaintive and despairing plea defending the natural resources of the country, the most important of which is human.

It intrigues me that two of the stories, “Ram Satrap Sharma, IAS,” and “The Consultant” deal so directly with aspects of public service and the kind of racket engaged in by those in India who call bureaucracy home. They show clearly that it’s not what you know but whom you know—and how you can manipulate them into awarding you remunerative work even when it’s not necessary and especially when you’re not the least bit knowledgeable about the subject. Telling pieces, particularly since they come in a pair in Rajapakse’s collection.

The author occupies herself with travel to and tourism in India. I’ve already mentioned “In Search of a Miracle,” but “Postcard Swami: the Face of Indiaah” [sic], and “Meeting God” also highlight the interaction of outsiders with India’s traditions, attitudes, and modern commercialism.

If there’s any justice in the awards given to current titles from this region, “Gods, Nukes, and a Whole Lot of Nonsense” will surely gather laurels to itself and its author. These stories represent a rewarding and clear growth of Rajapakse’s heart, powers of observation, and skill in storytelling.

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Gods, Nukes and a Whole Lot of Nonsense

My third collection of short stories, Gods, Nukes and a Whole lot of Nonsense is now available in paperback and as an ebook at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and many other sites.

Synopsis

A young village boy’s dream of leaving the village becomes a reality when he is mistaken for a Prophet. Bored at being at home after retiring, an administrative officer tries to find ways to regain his lost social status while making a quick earning. A devout old man prays at the Ganges as the world wakes up to a nuclear India. The fortunes of a fake Sadhu changes when someone uses his image on a postcard. A young women meets God in the most unlikely of places, but loses him when she falls asleep. An unusual sight greets three travel buddies as they gaze out onto a street from inside a hotel lobby. Walking through the narrow streets of an old city a young man seeks solitude in a place of worship. A man in search of popularity and fame becomes a consultant with hopes of acceptance among scholars. A young woman takes the train to Varanasi, tracing the footsteps of many who have made the similar journey. Does she find what she was looking for?

These nine stories are all about travel, physical, spiritual and imaginative, and are set in India. The stories retrace the steps of travelers that have made long journeys to sacred places, of journeys of hope and longing to be reunited with family or to connect more closely with God, as well as an individual’s journey to create a persona to show to the world.

Imaginative, contemplative and funny these stories speak of human nature and the connections we have to one another, irrespective of color, race, religion or where we come from.

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SAARC Poets Meet – March 16, 2021

I participated in the SAARC Poets Meet held on March 16, 2021. I am reading three poems, starting at 26:02.

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Vishwarang International Festival 6-8 November 2020

I read three poems, that were also translated into Hindi at the Vishwarang International Festival, held online. I am reading poetry starting at 18:11.

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Elements of Style: Shirani Rajapakse and The Art of Micro – fiction

If you are interested in reading short short fiction or micro fiction, then join me on Thursday 19th at 12.30 p.m. EST for a discussion on all things fiction and look at my micro-fiction story Things that Happen in the Night published in The Write-In.

The discussion will be hosted by Dr. Shamika Mitchell from Rockland Community College, State University of New York.

Go here to register.

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Basso Profundo, March 22, 2020.

The first review of Fallen Leaves, is by Luke Sherwood and is at Basso Profundo. Go here for the link or read it below.

“Fallen Leaves” by Shirani Rajapakse

In Shirani Rajapakse, the small and long-suffering island of Sri Lanka has its voice of reason, its staunch advocate for the local people shredded in the maw of bloody insurrection. Rajapakse, award-winning poet and writer, casts her tired eye and her energetic pen to the multiple civil wars – only concluding in 2009 – waged on her island. Fear and greed and loss and genocidal mania emerge as the main themes in these poems, and the reader is never relieved of them. This steady load of sorrow mirrors exactly Sri Lanka’s unending grief, and lends this collection its magisterial weight.

Ms Rajapakse sings of displaced peoples, of the haunted look in a grieving mother’s eye, of baked and ruined earth, of greed, hypocrisy, and the murderous folly of the powerful. The poet explores multifarious points of view to record the destruction: the bereaved mother, the wife for whom hope is fading, the child soldier dressed in belts of bullets, barely able to carry his weapon. Dogs and cattle too witness the destruction, and smell the arresting odor of blood soaking the dusty ground.

Striking also, is the thought-provoking measurement of distances: from the living to the remembered dead; from the place of death to where the bodies are discovered; from the midnight knock on the door to the first, exhausted glimmering of hope; how far refugees must walk to find safety; from reason to ghastly reality. These gulfs yawned for far too long for poor Sri Lanka; Ms Rajapakse attends to the work of bridging them.

The title “Fallen Leaves” refers chiefly to the dead: soldiers and civilians alike. In “Anuradhapura, the Sacred City,” after two elderly Buddhist monks are murdered by terrorists: “Bodhi leaves whispered / your last rites as the breeze / gently bore it down to you lying there / where once sat a man / a woman, a human on earth …” Falling leaves are introduced by this elegy, and the very next poem, “The Lonely Watch,” focuses on a lone soldier on guard, listening for footsteps in the leaf litter, and then: “Fallen leaves, fallen heroes / there was something poignant about it all / he mused as he cocked his gun at the sound of the wind / nudging the old leaf next to him …”

Such stark realities populate this series: baked by an angry sun, sorrowful, regretful at the folly of humanity. This moving collection will remain a scathing indictment of the Sri Lankan factions at the root of the chaos, and a bright highlight of Ms. Rajapakse’s career.

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Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

I entered Chant of a Million Women in the 27th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards last year. It didn’t win but I got this commentary by the Judge.

 

Judge’s Commentary*:

The variations of form in this collection are wonderful. I loved how the voice of the poet is clear through all of the forms the poems take and that nothing is lost there. It’s a very evocative tone, with each poem’s structure assisting the voice and meaning seamlessly. I loved the poem The Violinist, p. 13, which is able to transport me to the moment so well. The title poem is a wonderful and timely expression (maybe a manifesto?) of womanhood that is empowering to read. I really appreciated the honesty, boldness, and clarity of the words used by the poet. They’re not frothy or extra, they just speak to the truth being expressed and it was very refreshing to read that. Loneliness, p. 31, and Accountable to No One, p. 49, were a couple other favorites. I was impressed with how well the collection as a whole opened my experience, perspective, and viewpoint of the world and the experiences of other women, while also speaking to my own unique viewpoint. That’s not an easy balance to strike and I think it was really spot on. Several of these poems that deal with the difficult realities of womanhood and femininity give words to feelings I’ve had before, and it is my favorite thing when a writer can accomplish that. I really liked this collection and hope the writer continues to express and explore these feelings and experiences.

 

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“Fallen Leaves” out now

Fallen Leaves my latest poetry collection is out now in paperback. You can get it at Amazon. The ebook will follow shortly.

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Description

Rajapakse uses poetry to look at the conflict that raged in the tiny island nation of Sri Lanka for close to three decades. People from all walks of life, ethnic, religious and age groups suffered. The Tamil terrorists disrupted life and property all over the country for three decades, while for a few years in the late 1980s a Marxist guerilla group caused chaos. The JVP was wiped out in a few years. The Tamil terrorists however took much longer.

These poems are a reflection of the time. They take on voices of people from across the divide and speak of the incredible loss the people all suffered.

They are dark yet thought provoking. They speak of a moment in history when people lived amidst a sense of helplessness and fear of terror.
It is dedicated to “all those we lost along the way.”
Blurb

She tried to recall the

day he walked out, the day she

last saw him and the exact moment

she heard his voice on the phone assuring her

all was well. And then

 

no more.

 

What happened? What went wrong?

She would never know. There was no

one left to respond, and those that were there

didn’t dare speak up as the reasons for

what took place didn’t make sense

so they kept quiet and hoped in time

she would understand.

 

Introduction

For close to thirty years the tiny island nation of Sri Lanka was embroiled in conflict.

In the early 1980s the Tamil terrorists – the LTTE – took to war to demand a separate homeland in the north of the country, despite a considerable number of Tamils living in the south. They began intensifying their demands by causing damage in all parts of the country. LTTE women suicide bombers blew themselves up in crowded public places in the mainly Sinhala dominated south, while explosive packed trucks rammed into building destroying lives and infrastructure.  As a response to and protest against the LTTE, the Marxist JVP guerillas created unrest in the south. People who didn’t listen to the JVPs diktats were kidnapped or killed. Those suspected of being JVP members were hauled off by the armed forces and taken in for questioning. No one was safe. Everyday brought fresh news of death or disappearance while bodies burnt on the sides of roads.

The government responded by hounding the JVP and ending their reign of terror within a few years. But not before thousands of young men and women were sacrificed. The LTTE, however, could not be eliminated so easily. They continued to wage war for close to three decades. Attacks on civilians took place so regularly that violence became more common than peace.

And where there was conflict there was devastation. People’s lives changed so drastically that no one ever though they would live to see a day when they could walk the streets unafraid. But that day finally did become a reality in 2009 when the LTTE’s guns were silenced, although it was at a cost to all citizens.

Fallen Leaves is both a look at the past years and a tribute to those fallen heroes, friends and family that never made it. They take on the voices of people from across the divide and speak of the incredible loss everyone suffered. It is also a reminder that guns don’t solve problems, but creates more hardships for everyone.

Part I focuses on the JVP years while Part II looks at the LTTE conflict.

 

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Winner – State Literary Awards 2019

I Exist. Therefore I Am won the State Literary Award 2019 in the short story category.

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Shortlisted for the Rubery Book Awards 2019

I Exist. Therefore I Am is shortlisted for the Rubery Book Awards 2019.

Image preview

Here’s what they said about the book.

 

PictureI Exist. Therefore I Am Shirani Rajapakse
Nine short stories set in India, all well-written stories focusing on discrimination against women in India.  Drink Your Milk and go to Sleep is a harrowing tale of gender discrimination and infanticide. The speaker is forced to abort a series of female babies as their sex is detected in the womb, but one survives to full term, only to be murdered by the mother. The second, Shweta’s Journey, is about a woman who is duped by Swamiji, a bogus religious guru who appropriates her wealth and proceeds to govern her life. The third, A Room Full of Horrors, focuses on two female students’ attempts to pay their tuition fees in an institution that feels hopelessly, and some may say maliciously bureaucratic, presided over by the gratuitously unhelpful patriarch, Mr Singh. Other stories address women on death row, women experiencing existential crises, and women caught in the snare of convention and patriarchal expectation. At her best the author’s style is direct and the stories have real force; they seem driven by a powerful sense of frustration and outrage.  Poignant and moving, the book deals with issues that require more of a profile.

 

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Poets to Come: A Poetry Anthology

What better way to celebrate the 200th birthday of Walt Whitman than have an anthology of poems from poets that came after him. Over 200 poets are featured in Poets to Come. My poem “On a Saturday Morning” is on page 346.  This is one anthology that is definitely something you must have.

 

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Interview on Mandy Eve-Barnett’s Official Blog – June 25, 2019

My interview is up on Mandy’s blog. check it out here, or read below.

Author Interview – Shirani Rajapakse

June 25, 2019
mandyevebarnett

AuthorInterview

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What inspired your latest book?

My latest book is a collection of short stories inspired by the time I spent in India. It’s about women and the issues faced by women living in contemporary India.

How did you come up with the title?              

The title of the book, I Exist. Therefore I Am is also the title of one of the short stories in the collection. Each of my other previous books also uses one of the stories/poems as the title. I’ve done this as I wanted to have a title that exemplified what was in the whole collection.

(ebook) I Exist. Therefore I Am - Shirani Rajapakse

Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

The message is that women need to be treated as equals and with dignity and the respect that is their due.

How much of the book is realistic?

Although fictionalized the stories are about real people and real lives. I’ve used examples of incidents that I came across to create my stories. The characters aren’t real but the issues these women face and the treatment they receive at the hands of society and of other women are very real.

Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

They are based on people I read or heard about from others or from newspapers. I’ve come across women who have either gone through similar experiences that my characters undergo or have known women who have.

Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog?

https://shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com

https://www.facebook.com/shiranirajapakseauthor

https://twitter.com/shiraniraj

https://www.pinterest.com/shiraniraj/

https://www.instagram.com/shiranirajapakse/

https://lk.linkedin.com/in/shiranirajapakse

https://www.goodreads.com/shiranirajapakse

My Book links are,

https://www.books2read.com/shiranirajapakse

https://www.books2read.com/iexist

https://www.books2read.com/breakingnews

https://www.amazon.com/author/shiranirajapakse

Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a stand alone?

Yes. I’m planning on publishing a poetry collection this year. It is about the effects of conflict on people and how they live through it. As a people,  we in Sri Lanka have gone through 30 years of bloody conflict that left no real winners. People from all sides lost. The poems look at what happened and speak in many voices. They discuss a variety of issues and viewpoints. I wrote it because I wanted to create a collection of voices for those in the future to understand, as well as anyone else to realize the futility of war. It’s like a documentation of what happened in verse form.

Chant of a Million Women - Shirani Rajapakse

Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?

I don’t have particular favorites because I think all the characters are special and they serve a purpose in helping me tell my story.

Do you favor one type of genre or do you dabble in more than one?

I write both poetry and short stories. My poetry is free verse and the short stories are mostly literary fiction. I’ve also written a few stories that are fantasy or magic realism as well as a couple of children’s stories. Apart from the children’s stories the others are published in literary journals and anthologies but I don’t have enough to have a complete collection. I think it would be nice to have a complete collection of fantasy stories and also of children’s stories, but for this I need to write.

Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer?

I’m mostly a seat of the pants writer, but I do plan a little. When I get an idea to write something I make a rough draft in my head. I let the sequence of the story or poem play in my mind like a movie and when I feel it is possible to sustain the story I start writing it down. But I don’t plan how the story evolves. That happens while writing.

What is your best marketing tip?

Marketing is the hardest aspect of writing and publishing. Moreover poetry and short stories are not easy to sell as there is a limited market compared to some of the popular genres. I prefer to get exposure for the book through reviews, interviews and word of mouth.

Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance? 

I think it’s a huge benefit because it connects us to writers and readers around the world not merely to promote our writing but also to discuss writing get help and advice and find like- minded people. I decided to self-publish because I found many writers doing this and I felt encouraged. I also learnt everything about self-publishing through other writers who were on the same journey as I am and it’s amazing how many people I’ve come to know through social media.

OPTIONAL QUESTIONS 

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I don’t know if there’s any particular aspect about writing that I like more than others. I just like to write. It’s like being able to direct my thoughts onto a blank canvas and create something beautiful out of the jumble of ideas and words that are there. Writing poetry or fiction is hugely liberating as I can express what I want or write about something that may not be possible to do as a fact.  It’s like painting, but with words.

Breaking News - Shirani Rajapakse

What age did you start writing stories/poems?

I wrote my first poems and short stories when I was in university as an undergraduate student. These were experimental works and I never planned on publishing them.  There was a short period after my post grad study in India where I was doing nothing and I wrote some stories and poem that were better than the ones I wrote earlier. But it was really much later that I started to write seriously and this is where the bulk of my work is from.

Has your genre changed or stayed the same?

It has stayed the same for the most part, but I’ve dabbled in other genre, like fantasy. I’ve also written a couple of short stories for children but these aren’t published.

What genre are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading contemporary romance. Sometimes reading outside the genre I write can be more relaxing.

Do you read for pleasure or research or both?

Both. Right now I’m reading for pleasure.

Who is your best supporter/mentor/encourager?

My lecturer from undergrad study Dr. Lakshmi de Silva was someone who encouraged me to write even when I didn’t know I wanted to write. Through the years she has been a huge supporter of my writing and I tend to discuss my work with her. She is also the only person who first sees my writing before I send it to anyone else.

Where is your favorite writing space?

In front of my computer. It’s a mess with papers and books all over the table but that’s where I write.

Do you belong to a writing group? If so which one?

I belong to several writing groups on Facebook where we help each other with advice about writing and publishing.

If you could meet one favorite author, who would it be and why?

Alice Munro and Carolyn Forche. I like the way they write and it would be nice to just talk to them about writing.

If you could live anywhere in the world – where would it be?

Right here where I am as this is the place I’m most comfortable. But if I could travel to anywhere in the world then the list would be endless. I think travel opens up your mind and give you opportunities to learn and experience diversity in all forms and this is good not just for writing but in general too. I’d like to visit several places, like Russia, China and some parts of the US like Colorado or Alaska and spend some time there, maybe a few weeks just taking in everything. But I wouldn’t want to move anywhere.

Do you see writing as a career?

Yes. It already is.

Bio

Shirani Rajapakse is an internationally published, award winning poet and short story writer. She won the Cha “Betrayal” Poetry Contest 2013 and was a finalist in the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards 2013. Her collection of short stories Breaking News (Vijitha Yapa 2011) was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Award. Her critically acclaimed poetry collection Chant of a Million Women (2017) won the 2018 Kindle Book Awards. It was chosen as an “Official Selection” in the 2018 New Apple Summer eBook Awards for Excellence in Independent Publishing and received an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Readers’ Favorite Awards. Her second collection of short stories, I Exist. Therefore I Am (2018) is about women in modern India. Rajapakse’s work appears in many literary journals and anthologies worldwide. Rajapakse read for a BA in English Literature from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka and has a MA in International Relations from JNU, India.

shiranirajapakse.wordpress.com