Stories at Sunset with Ashok Ferrey

Ashok Ferrey’s latest edition of Stories at Sunset, a platform that showcases Sri Lankan English-language literature, featured two prominent Perera Hussein authors and their publications: Ameena Hussein with Ibn Battuta in Sri Lanka, and Sunela Jayewardene with Line of Lanka, alongside Andrew Fidel Fernando who was discussing his book Upon a Sleepless Isle.

The following is an excerpt from an interview conducted by, in which Ashok Ferrey discusses this event. The original article can be found here.

A haven and showcase for Sri Lankan English literature

Sri Lankan literature. especially in English, is exciting but often underrated and overlooked in favour of more international writing. The community of Sri Lankan English language writers and literature enthusiasts is also not a large one, and so, it is important co create an environment in which they can exchange knowledge, views, and perspectives.

One such platform, back after a hiatus of sorts. is Stories at Sunset with Ashok Ferrey. Stories at Sunset’s journey began at Galle literary Festival (GLF), where Ferrey was one of the original trustees. In the early days of the festival, Stories at Sunset functioned as a fringe- event that shone light on local writers and their work. It was widely successful, with Ferrey sharing that one edition of Stories at Sunset in the intervening years had as many as 400 people attending {Ferrey did note that this may also have been due to that series having had a wine sponsor, but he prefers to think it was also for the literature).

A throwback to the creative environment of GLF

In recent years. with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks followed by the pandemic, the GLF has not taken place, but the need to highlight and celebrate local authors and their work has stayed strong, and so, in late 2021, Ferrey resurrected Stories at Sunset, basing the event at the Barefoot Gallery Colombo.

The third and most recent edition of this newly revived Stories at Sunset took place at the Barefoot
Gallery on Tuesday {22} and featured Ameena Hussein with her book lbn Battuta in Sri Lanka, Andrew Fidel Fernando with Upon A Sleepless Isle, and Sunela Jayewardene with The Line of Lanka: Myths and Memories of the Island.

Brunch chatted with Ferrey on Stories at Sunset, what inspires it, and what the latest session was like.

“In its day, GLF helped authors like me get prominence, and while Stories at Sunset now isn’t showing anyone to the rest of the world. we can at least showcase authors to a large audience here. The last session had at least 80 people attending. I’m very pleased with the way it went. and I hope to do one every one-and-a-half to two months and work my way through all the Sri Lankan authors one by one – from poets to playwrights to novel and short story authors …. Ferrey said.

On what drives him to do Stories at Sunset. Ferrey explained: Sri Lankan writing in English is very dynamic, with lots of books coming to you. but we don’t make much of them and there are hardly any interviews or events like Stories at Sunset that bring together like-minded people.”

In fact, Ferrey shared that this most recent edition of Stones at Sunset felt like a GLF event, with many asking him about GLF and recreating an environment for literature enthusiasts to celebrate literature. Of course, given current events, large-scale events like GLF are no longer possible. both for reasons to do with health and safety as well as funding, with sponsorships becoming increasingly hard to come by in uncertain times. However, Ferrey did share that should the stars align, he would be happy to bring GLF back to life.

Stories at Sunset anew

Having resumed Stories at Sunset in November 2021, the first two sessions (in November and December) saw a focus on poetry. and by happy coincidence, Ferrey was able to give this first edition of the new Stories at Sunset a regional flair by holding it at the same time two Indian poets and one Bangladeshi poet were visiting Sri Lanka. The second edition coincided with the shortlist announcement for the Gratiaen Prize, making it a wonderful occasion to showcase authors
from the shortlist. “It’s quite random, my curation.” Ferrey explained, going into this thought process. adding: “I put in whoever I think is current and interesting. If there was an author who published abroad tomorrow. I’d happily showcase them.”

The theme of the most recent edition of Stories at Sunset focused on travel books. and each of the books featured, lbn Battuta in Sri Lanka by Ameena Hussein, Upon A Sleepless Isle by Andrew Fidel Fernando, and The Line of Lanka: Myths and Memories of the Island by Sunela Jayewardene. cover very interesting parts of Sri Lanka’s history. blending them with travel to create truly unique perspectives of the island we call home.

”They’re all relatively recently published books that are all about Sri Lanka and how people saw Sri Lanka,” Ferrey explained, going into detail on how and why he chose these amazing authors’ stories to showcase. He added: “For example, lbn Battuta in Sri Lanka conveys a very particular vision of Sri Lanka, and it’s a double book as well, it’s as much Ameena’s story as much as it’s lbn Battuta’s story. because it’s Ameena retracing his footsteps across Sri Lanka.”

Andrew Fidel Fernando’s Upon A Sleepless Isle captures his own journey through Sri Lanka as a Sri Lankan returning to the country in 2010 after living much of his life in New Zealand. It paints a picture of Sri Lanka through the eyes of a returnee and paints an insider/outsider perspective of the country.

Sunela Jayewardene’s The Line of Lanka: Myths and Memories of the Island journeys through mythical Sri Lanka and the myths of the Ramayana, and how in India Ravana is hailed as a hero. but in Sri Lanka he’s seen as a villain. Ferrey shared that one very interesting aspect of he the book is that the myth most likely had basis in historical fact – there probably was indeed a king called Ravana – and Jayawardene tries to track down these myth pin-point geographic locations and so on to take on the myths that have formed the basis of Sri Lankan history from the ancient days.

The point of platforms like Stories at Sunset

Platforms and events like Stories at Sunset brook discussion, and most importantly, they present varied
perspectives. Sharing one his most memorable takeaways from this last edition, Ferrey said: “I have always said that Sri Lanka is the most complex country in the world, and what this last edition really brought home is, that each of us has an idea of Sri Lanka that can be quite different from our neighbours – even if you have had the same upbringing, or gone to the same schools, or follow the same religion, you might have entirely different ideas about Sri Lanka than your neighbours.”

This difference of perspective reminded Ferrey of a reference he had made in one of his books. that of how light can reflect off each individual scale of a fish in an infinite number of ways. despite each scale being exactly the same at its base. All you can see at the end of the day is bright vivid flashes of colour that are each so different.

Sharing his hopes for Stories at Sunset going forward. Ferrey shared that the next edition will likely be held in April, post Avurudu. “I haven’t had any playwrights on yet.” he said, speaking on what he hopes can take place long term. ‘There aren’t that many playwrights too, and if they are being part of Stories ac Sunset. they will need to rehearse, which will be a challenge, and a cost, but we will get there.”

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