9 Best Sri Lankan Authors to Begin Your Exploration Into Sri Lankan Culture

Discover our guide with the best Sri Lankan authors who have brought their country’s heritage to international light through their works.

The history of Sri Lankan literature can be traced back to ancient times, with the earliest known examples being the sacred texts of Theravada Buddhism, which were written in Pali, an ancient Indian language. These texts include the Pali Canon, considered to be the Buddhist scripture, and the chronicle of Sri Lankan kings, the Mahavamsa.

In recent years, Sri Lankan literature has been marked by a growing diversity of voices and themes. There are now many writers who write in other languages, such as Tamil, and also many who write about the experience of the Sri Lankan diaspora. The diversity of voices in Sri Lankan literature has led to a rich and varied literary tradition that reflects the complexity and diversity of Sri Lankan society, as you will see with this list of the best Sri Lankan authors. You might also be interested in our list of the best Argentine authors.

Here Are The Best Sri Lankan Authors

1. Shehan Karunatilaka, 1975 –

Shehan Karunatilaka
Shehan Karunatilaka via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Shehan Karunatilaka is a Sri Lankan novelist and screenwriter who achieved fame for his debut, award-winning novel The Legend of Pradeep Mathew. The novel is a humorous and heart-wrenching exploration of cricket, war, and the human condition. Shehan worked as a journalist and copywriter before becoming a full-time writer. He’s written feature articles for well-known publications such as The Guardian, Newsweek, GC, The Cricketer, Conde Nast, Rolling Stone, and National Geographic.

His unique writing style combines humor and a deep understanding of human emotions. His work often deals with themes of loss, identity, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world. Shehan has also written scripts for several Sri Lankan films. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. You can also check out our guide on the best Palestinian authors.

“In my life I have seen beauty only twice.”

Shehan Karunatilaka, The Legend of Pradeep Mathew
The Legend of Pradeep Mathew: A Novel
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Karunatilaka, Shehan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 05/08/2012 (Publication Date) - Graywolf Press (Publisher)

2. Romesh Gunesekera, 1954 –

Romesh Gunesekera
Romesh Gunesekera via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Romesh Gunesekera is a Sri Lankan-born British novelist and short story writer. He was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1954 and moved to the United Kingdom in 1971 to study engineering at Imperial College London. He later studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia, receiving a master’s degree. Gunesekera’s first novel, Reef, was published in 1994 and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His second novel, The Sandglass, was published in 1998 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has also published several collections of short stories.

Gunesekera’s writing often explores the themes of identity, displacement, and the human condition, and his work is known for its evocative and lyrical prose. He has been praised for his ability to convey the complexity of the human experience in a simple and relatable way. In addition to his writing, Gunesekera is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has held various teaching positions at universities and writing programs. He continues to live and write in the United Kingdom.

“She turned away and looked out through the summerglazed windows freckled with the soft grey rain she was so fond of.”

Romesh Gunesekera, The Sandglass
The Sandglass
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Gunesekera, Romesh (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 09/16/2014 (Publication Date) - The New Press (Publisher)

3. Ashok Ferrey, 1957 –

Ashok Ferrey is a Sri Lankan novelist who has written five novels, including The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons and The Good Little Ceylonese Girl. His writing is characterized by wit and sharp observation of society and human nature. Ashok has a background in advertising, which is evident in his clever use of language and imagery. He often explores themes of identity, relationships, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world.

Ferrey’s novels have received critical acclaim both in Sri Lanka and internationally and have been translated into several languages. Ashok is known for his unique writing style, humorous and thought-provoking, and his ability to create complex and relatable characters. He is a master storyteller who keeps his readers engaged till the end of the novel. You might also be interested in our guide on the best Iranian authors.

“We’re all forced to lead many lives simultaneously. We do it out of necessity, not choice. We don’t make a virtue of it.”

Ashok Ferrey, The Good Little Ceylonese Girl
L’incessant bavardage des démons (Bibliothèque étrangère) (French Edition)
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Ferrey, Ashok (Author)
  • French (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 04/10/2018 (Publication Date) - Le Mercure de France (Publisher)

4. Ru Freeman, 1967 –

Ru Freeman
Ru Freeman via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Ru Freeman is a Sri Lankan-American novelist and author known for her novels A Disobedient Girl and On Sal Mal Lane. Born in Sri Lanka, Ru Freeman has lived in various countries, including the United States and Canada. Her writing is characterized by its ability to capture the complexities of human relationships and the impact of political and social upheaval on ordinary lives. Freeman’s work often deals with themes of identity, displacement, and the search for home.

She has been honored with several awards, including the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book. Freeman’s writing is deeply rooted in her own experiences and the experiences of the people around her. Freeman’s novels are deeply personal and universal in their themes and characters. Ru’s writing style is both thought-provoking and empathetic, and her books are praised for their ability to bring a human touch to important social issues.

“In the house across the street, an old man, Mr. Niles, long confined to spending his days reclining in his armchair in languorous apathy, stirred.”

Ru Freeman, On Sal Mal Lane
On Sal Mal Lane: A Novel
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Freeman, Ru (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 418 Pages - 05/14/2013 (Publication Date) - Graywolf Press (Publisher)

5. Nayomi Munaweera, 1973 –

Nayomi Munaweera
Nayomi Munaweera via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Nayomi Munaweera is a Sri Lankan-American novelist known for her novels Island of a Thousand Mirrors and What Lies Between Us. Born in Sri Lanka, Nayomi migrated to the United States at the age of 14. Her writing is characterized by its ability to capture the complexities of identity and the impact of political and social upheaval on ordinary lives. Nayomi’s work often deals with themes of identity, displacement, and the search for home. Her novels have been honored with several awards and accolades, including the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book.

Nayomi’s writing style is vivid and evocative, and she has a talent for bringing to life the sights, sounds, and smells of her native Sri Lanka in her novels. Her characters are relatable, complex and are often facing complex moral dilemmas. She has a unique ability to show how political and social issues affect people’s everyday lives. Her novels are a powerful exploration of the human experience and offer a window into the culture and history of Sri Lanka.

“It is into this pulsing, green space that she escapes after the boiled beef and vegetables.”

Nayomi Munaweera, Island of a Thousand Mirrors
Island of a Thousand Mirrors: A Novel
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Munaweera, Nayomi (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 290 Pages - 09/02/2014 (Publication Date) - St. Martin's Press (Publisher)

6. Michael Ondaatje, 1943 –

Michael Ondaatje
Michael Ondaatje via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Michael Ondaatje is a Sri Lankan-Canadian novelist, poet, and filmmaker known for his novels The English Patient and Anil’s Ghost. Born in Sri Lanka, Michael migrated to Canada at the age of 19. His writing is characterized by its ability to capture the complexities of human emotions and relationships and its vivid evocation of place and history. Michael’s work often deals with themes of identity, memory, and the search for self. His novels have been honored with several awards, including the Booker Prize for The English Patient

Ondaatje creates characters that are richly drawn and relatable. Their inner lives are explored in depth. His books are praised for their poetic and evocative style. They aren’t just stories but an exploration of the human experience. Michael’s novels and poetry offer a window into the culture and history of Sri Lanka and Canada, and his writing is considered an important contribution to world literature.

“I have spent weeks in the desert, forgetting to look at the moon, he says, as a married man may spend days never looking into the face of his wife.”

Michael Ondaatje, GoodReads
The English Patient: Man Booker Prize Winner (Vintage International)
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Ondaatje, Michael (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 337 Pages - 04/06/2011 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

7. Nihal De Silva, 1946 –

Nihal De Silva’s writing is characterized by its ability to capture the complexities of human emotions and relationships and its vivid evocation of place and history. His novels often deal with themes of identity, memory, and the search for self. His novels have been honored with several awards, including the Gratiaen Prize for The Road From Elephant Pass. Nihal’s writing style is evocative and lyrical. He has a talent for weaving together the past and present in his stories. De Silva attended St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, and the University of Ceylon for his education (now the University of Peradeniya, Kandy). 

The 2003 publication of his work, The Road From Elephant Pass, brought him fame at age 63. The plot centers on a Tamil lady who was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and an army officer of Sinhalese descent. Despite being perceived as natural and initial foes, the couple can set aside their political disagreements to reach Colombo safely while guarding an explosive secret. The book’s original edition sold more than three thousand copies, compelling the publisher, Vijitha Yapa, to reissue it twice. 

“They came onto the main road from a footpath some distance from the barrier and walked slowly towards it.“

Nihal De Silva, The Road From Elephant Pass
The Road From Elephant Pass
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • de Silva, Nihal (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 298 Pages - 12/01/2011 (Publication Date) - Vijitha Yapa Publications (Publisher)

8. Shyam Selvadurai, 1965 –

Shyam Selvadurai
Shyam Selvadurai via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Shyam Selvadurai is a Sri Lankan-Canadian novelist known for his novels Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens. Shyam’s writing is characterized by its ability to capture the complexities of human emotions and relationships and its vivid evocation of place and culture. He often deals with themes of identity, sexuality, and the search for self in his novels.

His novels have been honored with several awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Funny Boy. Shyam’s writing style is evocative and lyrical. He has a talent for weaving together the past and present in his stories. Shyam’s novels are considered to be an important contribution to Sri Lankan and LGBT literature.

“When the aunts and uncles eventually drove away, waving gaily at us children from car windows, we waved back at the retreating cars with not a even a pretense of sorrow.”

Shyam Selvadurai, Funny Boy
Funny Boy: A Novel
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Selvadurai, Shyam (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 306 Pages - 07/14/2015 (Publication Date) - William Morrow Paperbacks (Publisher)

9. Anuk Arudpragasam, 1988 –

Anuk Arudpragasam
Anuk Arudpragasam via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Anuk Arudpragasam is a Sri Lankan novelist known for his novel The Story of a Brief Marriage. Anuk’s writing is characterized by its ability to capture human emotions and relationships’ complexities and vivid evocation of place and culture. His novels often deal with themes of identity, displacement, and the search for self. His debut novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage, was published in 2016 and was shortlisted for the 2017 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and was awarded the 2016 Betty Trask Prize. 

Arudpragasam was born in 1988 to Tamil parents in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and raised in a wealthy household. His Tamil ancestors originated from the country’s northeast. However, he never had direct contact with the civil conflict that lasted from 1983 to 2009 in the northeast. His parents pushed him to read literature from an early age despite not coming from a literary background. Arudpragasam didn’t heed their counsel until he was 15 or 16 when he discovered a fondness for philosophical reading at the local Vijitha Yapa bookstore. 

“Things just happen and we have to accept them. Happiness and sadness are for people who can control what happens to them.”

Anuk Arudpragasam, The Story of a Brief Marriage
The Story of a Brief Marriage: A Novel
  • Amazon Kindle Edition
  • Arudpragasam, Anuk (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 210 Pages - 09/06/2016 (Publication Date) - Flatiron Books (Publisher)

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Author

  • Kate has been writing since she was 10 years old, tapping away on an old typewriter in her childhood bedroom. Today, Kate is a seasoned freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing for print and online media. She’s an avid reader and believes in the power of words to transport readers to new worlds, and inspire and nurture creativity. Kate is also a published author and is currently working on her next project.