Thisuri Wanniarachchi ‘s interview to The Sunday Times, August 2010

For the love of writing

David Stephens speaks to young writer Thisuri Wanniarachchi on her recent stint overseas to hone her skills
As a burgeoning writer striving for perfection, Thisuri Wanniarachchi sought an avenue which would take her someplace where she could hone her literary ability. After running a google search she eventually located her chosen destination, a workshop for aspiring teenage writers, all the way in America.Titled ‘Young Writers’ the two week workshop, held at the Kenyon College in Ohio, was conducted by eminent literary magazine The Kenyon Review, to help roughly 80 school-going students excavate their inner writer. The workshop’s participants came from all parts of the world, namely England, India, Greece and China, with sixteen-year-old Thisuri being the sole representative from Sri Lanka.

“Everyone was divided into groups of about twelve people and was given a group leader. My group leader was Zach Savich, a respected and published poet,” Thisuri reveals.

Lessons during the two weeks focused on a range of topics from poetry and story writing to group readings and discussions. There was also a two day break in proceedings, during which time the students were able to let their hair down and interact freely with each other, so forging deeper friendships.

“I was able to experience a bit of the American way of life as well, like when I went for a Bonfire party. That was something I have never done before. It was very entertaining,” Thisuri explains. She goes on to elaborate that the workshop enlightened her on the failings of her writing style and of new techniques she could use.

“The most important thing they kept stressing was how to structure your writing. This was something I didn’t have in my writing before and something that I now feel comfortable incorporating in to my work,” Thisuri says.

The work she refers to is not merely the school essays she probably hammers out with relative ease but proper published literary work. Thisuri has so far authored two books, one, ‘Colombo Streets’, was published last year while her other completed novel is yet to be released.

Thisuri Wanniarachchi with US Ambassador Patricia Butenis

Thisuri began writing ‘Colombo Streets’, a book which revolves around the turbulent life of a young girl named Sarah, when she was only 14. In a certain sense the successful publication of this book had a bearing on her securing a spot at the workshop, because she sent copies of newspaper articles reviewing her book as part of her application for the programme.

Her published work greatly impressed all the people gathered at the workshop but it was the remarks of The Kenyon Review Editor, David Lynn, which satisfied her the most.

“He was very impressed with my work especially since English is a second language to me. Most Americans have languages like Spanish as their second language and they aren’t particularly comfortable with them,” Thisuri states.

One of the more competitive exercises staged during the two weeks that Thisuri excelled at was the ‘Writers Fight Club’. This was an activity in which each participant read from the work of their favourite author while members of the audience judged their performance.

Thisuri selected Arundhati Roy, which helped her progress all the way to the quarterfinals, while her friend Nicole, in a gesture that highlighted the close bonds that the students had built over the two weeks, chose Thisuri.

Zach Savich

Thisuri remains deeply grateful to the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis and Thissa Jayatilake from the Fulbright Commission, for their tireless efforts which were instrumental in making her journey to Ohio possible.

She also expresses further gratitude for the constant support and encouragement she receives from her parents.

After at first being daunted by the prospect of being alone in a foreign country, Thisuri concludes that the atmosphere she encountered at the workshop served to both keep her mind at ease and provide her with an experience that was wholly unforgettable.

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