Tuesday, October 25, 2022
Shehan Karunatilaka at the Booker Prize ceremony
Shehan Karunatilaka at the Booker Prize ceremony in London.

Shehan Karunatilaka, spring 2022 resident of the University of Iowa International Writing Program (IWP), has been honored with the 2022 Booker Prize for his second novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida.

The announcement was made by Neil MacGregor, chair of the 2022 judges, in an Oct. 17 ceremony at the Roundhouse in London.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida tells the story of a war photographer who has woken up dead in what seems to be a celestial visa office. He has ‘seven moons’ to try and solve the mystery of his death and to help unveil a cache of photos that will rock war-torn Sri Lanka.

MacGregor says the judges particularly admired and enjoyed the ambition of the novel’s scope, and the hilarious audacity of its narrative techniques. “This is a metaphysical thriller, an afterlife noir that dissolves the boundaries not just of different genres, but of life and death, body and spirit, east and west,” MacGregor says. “It is an entirely serious philosophical romp that takes the reader to ’the world’s dark heart’—the murderous horrors of civil war Sri Lanka. And once there, the reader also discovers the tenderness and beauty, the love and loyalty, and the pursuit of an ideal that justify every human life.”

Karunatilaka is considered one of Sri Lanka’s foremost authors. He emerged on to the global literary stage in 2011, when he won the Commonwealth Book Prize, the DSL, and Gratiaen Prize for his debut novel, Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew.

Born in Galle, Sri Lanka, in 1975, Karunatilaka grew up in Colombo, studied in New Zealand, and has lived and worked in London, Amsterdam, and Singapore. He currently lives in Sri Lanka. His songs, scripts, and stories have been published in Rolling Stone, GQ, and National Geographic. He has worked as an advertising copywriter and played guitar in a band called Independent Square.

The Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English speaking world, and has brought recognition, reward, and readership to outstanding fiction for over five decades. Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best sustained work of fiction written in English and published in the UK and Ireland. It is a prize that transforms the winner’s career.

The IWP residency program at the University of Iowa is a unique conduit for connecting writers from around the globe. The residency is designed for established and emerging writers and provides time in a setting that is conducive to produce high-quality literary work.