Gooneratne, Yasmine

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Biography

Novelist, poet, and critic Yasmine Gooneratne, a graduate of Bishop’s College, went on to graduate from the University of Ceylon in 1959 and also received a PhD in English Literature from Cambridge University in 1962. Gooneratne became a resident of Australia in 1972. In 1981, she received the first higher doctoral degree of Doctor of Letters at Macquarie University. She now holds a Personal Chair in English Literature at Macquarie University, which is located in New South Wales. From 1989-1993 she was the Foundation Director of her University’s Postcolonial Literatures and Languages Research Center. In 1990, Gooneratne became an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to literature and education and in that same year she was also invited to become the Patron of the Jane Austen Society of Australia. Gooneratne also had a place on a committee appointed by the Federal Government to review the Australian system of Honors and Awards from 1994-1995. Since 1995, she has had positions on both the Australia Abroad Council and the Visiting Committee of the Faculty of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong. In 1998, she became a member of Asialink. She has been a visiting professor or specialist at many different places around the world including the following: Edith Cowan University (Western Australia), University of Michigan (USA), Jawarharlal Nehru University (India), and the University of the South Pacific (Fiji). More recently she has won the Samvad India Foundation’s 2001 Raja Rao Award, and the 2008 Sahithya Ratna Lifetime Achievement Award.  She sits as a Trustee of the Pemberley International Study Centre, a foundation her husband set up in Sri Lanka, and is a Patron of the Galle Literary Festival. Finally she is the director of The Guardian Angels, which is an editing service geared toward new writers in Sri Lanka and Australia.

Yasmine Gooneratne is married to Dr. Brendan Gooneratne who is a physician, environmentalist, and historian. They married in 1962 and now have two children, a son and a daughter, and currently live in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Achievements and Awards

Gooneratne has around 20 published books that include critical studies of Jane Austen, Alexander Pope, and contemporary novelist and screen writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. She has also written volumes of literary essays as well as poems, short stories, a family memoir, and two novels. In 1991, she was awarded a Writer’s Fellowship at Varuna Writer’s Center where she edited the final draft of one of her novels, A Change of Skies. This novel later won the Marjorie Barnard Literary Award for Fiction in 1992 and was shortlisted for the 1991 Commonwealth Writers Prize. Her second novel, Pleasures of Conquest, was shortlisted for the 1996 Commonwealth Writers Prize. She has also contributed various articles, poetry, short stories, and other writings to many different anthologies and journals. Her work has been presented on television, radio, and at public readings around Australia and many other parts of the world. Her achievements are recorded in Who’s Who of Australia 1997 and in The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature.

Themes

changeofskies

A Change of Skies, 1991

Gooneratne’s writing engages with various themes. One theme that continually appears in her works is a reflection upon how the past affects the future. She relays many of her own experiences to make her points more personal and more real to the reader. Relative Merits, which is a personal memoir that is based on interviews with her family members and on her own memories of her family’s life, provides a perfect example. She takes her family’s personal past and ties in how her well-known family has affected Sri Lanka’s history. Another theme includes aspects of immigration and adjustment to new lands. This theme is exemplified in A Change of Skies, which deals with a Sri Lankan family moving to Australia. This novel focuses on the experiences of Asian immigrants and how they adjust to living in their new environment.

Gooneratne’s second novel, The Pleasures of Conquest, deals with relationships between Europe and Asia as Ceylon undergoes a transformation from a British colony to the independent nation, Sri Lanka (see Nationalism).

Gooneratne’s poetry also has many different themes. One major question raised by her poetry is: what is poetry? Her work engages directly with the question of aesthetic.  She refers to different parts of poetry, like verses and lines, in many of her poems.”The Scribble” describes how a young girl sees that as she gets older “that words grow sedate, / long may she find / verse in the wind, / rhyme run in the rivers, / words hum and quiver.” “6,000 Ft. Death Dive” explains how a woman dies and at the same time compares the power and freedom of death to writing. As Gooneratne writes, “from poetry to plummet till we splash / down in a terse, laconic paragraph.”  In “The Cave,” she writes, “Build on, poets, / out of ourselves, our pain / and our delight, / we build our own support.” In this poem she is encouraging poets to express themselves and know that someday they will “tremble on / the blazing summit of our own creation” (see Metafiction).

Her poetry engages with the different aspects of immigration. In “Newsletter,” she mentions Australia and “the island-shaped wastes common to immigrant hearts,” indicating the love the immigrants have for their new land. She explores both perspectives of foreigners in other lands. In “Business People,” she describes how tourists love the beauty of the land, but do not care to know the terrors of its past. She writes, “They scan the catalogue, write out a cheque and for the price fixed-thirty dollars- /buy my poor country.” As “bits and pieces” of her land are carried away by the newcomers she says “our children / have become a nation of beggars” (see Transnationalism and Globalism).

Email Quotations from Gooneratne

“Each book or article I have written engages with a particular idea or set of ideas that gripped my imagination at the time that I was writing it. A few examples include the following: Relative Merits (1986) seeks to preserve for posterity my memories of my family, and to give the reader some sense of that family’s special qualities and its place in Sri Lanka’s cultural history; A Change of Skies (1991) focuses on the experiences of Asian visitors/immigrants in Australia; and The Pleasures of Conquest (1995) is centered on historical and contemporary relationships between East and West. If I were to ask myself whether there has been some single idea I (must have) wanted to convey to an audience through these different works, I would say that it is a belief in the worth of human beings as individuals, irrespective of all attempts to stereotype or categorize them in terms of class, race, caste, color, intellectual ability, gender, or religious belief.” (See Representation, Essentialism).

“The biggest influence on my writing as regards to subject matter has inevitably been the fact that I had the good fortune to have been born in Sri Lanka, and to grow up and be educated there at a “golden” period in the island’s cultural life. The biggest influence on my writing regarding style is probably a lifelong admiration for the writings of certain English authors of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Alexander Pope, Dr. Samuel Johnson, and Jane Austen.”

“There are several authors I deeply admire. Among them are V.S. Naipaul, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, R.K. Narayan, and the authors I have previously mentioned. My favorite author is Jane Austen, partly because her ideas about love and life (as expressed in her novels and letters) have shaped my own, and partly because her disciplined and ironic style provides an exemplary model for any writer who feels (as she did) deeply about the conditions under which life must be lived.”

“My favorite among my own books is Relative Merits. Why? Partly because I am most myself in it; and partly because recreating in it my memories and impressions of family members whom I knew well opened the way for me to create fictional characters of my own later on in novels and stories.”

“Biggest accomplishment:  My teaching. At the age of 15, I had the good fortune to attract the interest and friendship of two wonderful teachers: Pauline Swan and her husband C.R. Hensman. Without their interest and encouragement I would probably not have gone into academic life. I would like to believe that I, too, have been in influence for good in the intellectual lives of students in Sri Lanka (where I taught for 11 years) and in Australia (where I have taught for 26 years). I hope, above all, that I have been successful (like the Hensmans) in passing on to students and readers my own love of literature and my commitment to it.”

Selected Bibliography

Works By Gooneratne

  • Gooneratne, Yasmine. A Change of Skies. Chippendale: Picador, 1991.
  • —. Alexander Pope. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
  • —. Diverse Inheritance: A Personal Perspective on Commonwealth Literature. Adelaide, South Australia: Centre for Research in the New Literatures of English, 1980.
  • —. “In the East My Pleasure: A Postcolonial Love Story.”  SPAN 34-35 (1992-1993): 269-279.
  • —. Jane Austin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
  • —. Brendan Gooneratne and Yasmine Gooneratne. The Inscrutable Englishman:  Sir John D’Oyly, Baronet.  Cassell Academic, UK. 1999.
  • —.Masterpiece and Other Stories. New Dehli: Indialog Publications, 2002.
  • —. Mount Lavinia, the Governor’s Palace. Colombo: Paradise Isle Publication, 2006.
  • —. The Lizard’s Cry and Other Poems. Kandy: self published, 1972.
  • —. The Pleasures of Conquest. Milsons Point: Vintage, 1996.
  • —. “Navaranjini Takes Note of Signs and Visions.” Wilder Shores: Women’s Travel Stories of Australia and Beyond. Ed. Robin Lucas and Clare Foster. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1992. 36-41.
  • —. New Ceylon Writing (1973) — journal edited by Gooneratne
  • —. Poems from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, & Singapore.  Hong Kong: Heinemann Asia, 1979.
  • —. Relative Merits: A personal memoir of the Bandaranaike family of Sri Lanka. London: C. Hurst & Co, 1986-1987.
  • —. Silence, Exile and Cunning: The Fiction Ruther Prawer Jhabvala. New Dehli: Orient Longman, 1983.
  • —. The Sweet and Simple Kind. Colombo: Perera Hussein Publishing House, 2006.
  • —. Stories from Sri Lanka.  Hong Kong: Heinemann Asia, 1979.
  • —. Word, Bird, Motif: Poems. Kandy: T.B.S. Godamunne and Sons, 1971.
  • —. 6,000 Ft. Death Dive. Colombo: Swadeshi Printers, 1981.

Selected Criticism and Autobiography by Gooneratne

  • —.Gooneratne, Yasmine. Relative Merits: A Personal Memoir of the Bandaranaike Family of Sri Lanka. London: C. Hurst, 1986.
  • —. “Flowering, Finally in Alien Soil.” Weekend Australian Magazine 22-23 October 1988: 9.
  • —. “Why I Write.” Kunapipi 16.1 (1994): 166-167.
  • –. “Constructing the Characters of Women in A Change of Skies.” Australian Women’s Book Review 4.3 (1992): 13-15.
  • —. “Asian Culture and Asian Identity.” Hecate 22.2 (1996): 49-55.
  • —. “A Lady of the Enlightenment: Dona Isabella Cornelia Perumal of Sri Lanka.” Symbolism: An International Journal of Critical Aesthetics. 1 (2000) 121-43.
  • —. “First Encounter.”  CRNLE Journal, 2000. 42-48.
  • —. “Leonard Woolf in Ceylon, 1904-1911.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 39:3 (Sept 2004), 1-3.
  • —. “Truth’ and ‘Fiction’ in South Asian Literature”. The Wider Scope of English. ed. Grabes, Herbert and Viereck, Wolfgang.  Frankfurt, Germany: Peter Lang; 2006. pp. 1-16
  • —. “Lone Woolf”. Virginia Woolf Miscellany. 72 (Fall-Winter 2007) 19-20.

Selected Criticism about Gooneratne

  • Gooneratne, Yasmine. Bramston, Dorothy. “A Sri Lanka Writer in Australia:  Yasmine Gooneratne’s A Change of Skies.” New Literatures Review 31 (1996): 19-32.
  • —. de Kretser, Michelle. “The Shock of the New.”  Australian Women’s Book Review 3.4 (1991): 10-11. [A Change of Skies]
  • —. Gunew, Sneja. “Resident Aliens: Diasporic Women’s Writing.” Contemporary Women’s Writing.  3: 1 (June 2009) 28-46.
  • —. Khan, Adib. “Shadows of Imperfection”. Meanjin 55.2 (1996): 358-361. [Pleasures of Conquest]
  • —.Perera, Walter. ”The Phases and Guises of the Twentieth-Century Sri Lankan Expatriate Novel.” CRNLE Journal. 2000, 52-60.
  • —. Moore, Susan. “A Sri Lankan Memoir”. Quadrant 30.11 (1986): 117-119.
  • —. Wijewardene, Sherma. ”A Private Vision: The Inward Space of Women’s Creativity in Yasmine Gooneratne’s Writing.” Wasafiri: The Transnational Journal of International Writing, 41 ( Spring 2004), 54-57.

 

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Author: Shelly Kaushal, Fall 1998
Last edited: May 2017

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