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In Memoriam: Anne Ranasinghe

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Internationally acclaimed Sri Lankan poet and author, and Holocaust survivor Anne Ranasinghe passed away at the age of 91 last Saturday, 17th December, 2016 at her home in Rosmead Place, Colombo.

Born as Annelize Katz in Essen, Germany, on the 2nd October 1925, Anne Ranasinghe was the only child in her family. She witnessed the burning down of the Jewish synagogue in Essen on 9th November 1938, on the Kristallnacht night when numerous Jewish synagogues were destroyed in Hitler’s Germany. This was followed by the detention of her father, a world war veteran, at the Dachau concentration camp.

In 1939, the then thirteen-year-old Anne was sent to England by her parents to escape the violence in Germany under the Nazi rule. She was received in England by an aunt she had never met before, who sent her to a school 140 miles away to learn English. Soon afterwards, once World War II broke out, she found herself in isolation as an enemy alien in England . She later learned that her parents and all her relatives had been killed by the Nazis during the war. Her parents had been deported to the Łódź Ghetto and gassed to death three years later in Kulmhof, the Chełmno extermination camp.

Even though she was first trained as a Nursing Sister, she pursued her interest in literature by subsequently earning a degree in Journalism.

After marrying the late Professor D. A. Ranasinghe of the University of Colombo Medical College , she moved to Sri Lanka and gave birth to four children, in addition to raising her husband’s three children from his previous marriage. It was during this time that she began her formal literary career. Following the success of her poetry, prose fiction, essays, features and radio plays, she became widely known in Sri Lanka and around the world as Anne Ranasinghe. She is widely regarded as one of the most internationally known writers from Sri Lanka.

Anne Ranasinghe aged 13, second from left [Image courtesy: Sunday Times]

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The Holocaust in Germany and the ethnic conflict of Sri Lanka are frequently referred to in Anne Ranasinghe’s poetry, of which race, persecution and violence are recurring themes. Some of her best known poems include July 1983, Plead Mercy, A Long Hot Day and At What Dark Point. She has published twelve books, which have been translated into ten languages. Her work has been published in seventeen countries, and have won numerous awards, including the State Literary Award for the Best Short Story Collection in 2007, Sri Lanka Arts Council Prizes for Poetry in 1985 and 1992 and non-fiction in 1987. She was also the recipient of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the nation’s highest level of recognition of excellence.

Ranasinghe served as the Executive Secretary of the Amnesty International South Asia Publication Service in Colombo for 15 years. She was also a founding member of the English Writers’ Cooperative of Sri Lanka, and was an editor of its journal, Channels.

Her works are included in the GCE Advanced Level syllabus in Sri Lanka, as well as for many undergraduate and graduate academic programs for English Literature. The United States Library of Congress has seven of her publications. She is also recognized in the Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry (Oxford & New York: Oxford, 1994).

Ms. Ranasinghe’s remains are scheduled to be cremated at the Borella General Cemetery, on Wednesday, 21st December at 5 p.m.

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