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Poetry after Libricide and Genocide: In Conversation with Cheran

Event Details

  • Address

    SOAS University of London, Thornhaugh Street, WC1H 0XG London, United Kingdom

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  • Date

    Friday 16th December 2016

  • Time

    19:00 - 21:00

SOAS Tamil Society is very excited to announce a special end-of-year event with the esteemed Eelam (Sri Lanka[n]) Tamil poet Cheran, who will be flying over from Canada. He will deliver a lecture as well as perform readings from some of his best known poems (in both their original Tamil as well as English), and there will be an opportunity for questions and discussion towards the end. Cheran will be available to sign discounted copies of his anthology ‘In a Time of Burning’ (Arc Publications, 2013) after the event.

Room: Meet 116.

(This event will be moderated by Sam Thampapillai, Director of TAP – தப் – Tamil Association of Professionals).

“Out of the desolation of civil war, Cheran wrings poems of loss and exile, loving and leaving, remembering and recovering, that drive the will to hope and resurrection. They have the immediacy of song and the wisdom of experience.”

– A. Sivanandan, Director Emeritus of the Institute of Race Relations, founder of the anti-racist and anti-imperialist journal Race & Class and author of the award winning anti-colonial novel on Sri Lanka ‘When Memory Dies’.


Cheran, one of the best known and widely influential of Tamil poets, was born in Alaveddy, near Jaffna, in Sri Lanka. His father, T. Rudhramoorthy, (1927-71) known widely as ‘Mahakavi’, the Great Poet, was one of the leading literary figures in modern Tamil writing from Sri Lanka. Cheran grew up with a grounding in the Tamil classics, but from his early years, he also became familiar with the works of the younger, left-leaning poets who frequented their house. He graduated from Jaffna University with a degree in Biological Sciences. These were the years when ethnic conflict and civil unrest in Sri Lanka spread alarmingly. The Tamil people were outraged when Sinhala policemen set fire to the Jaffna Public Library in 1981 destroying over 95,000 books, some of them irreplaceable; but what followed was possibly even worse. In July 1983 one of the worst pogroms against the Tamils began in Colombo and spread all over Sri Lanka. After this there were acts of violence and atrocities which were experienced daily by the Tamils.

In 1984 Cheran joined the staff of the Saturday Review, an English language weekly that was known for its stand on press freedom, and fundamental rights and justice for minorities. As a poet and a political journalist, Cheran refused to align himself with any of the several Tamil militant groups that were active in Jaffna at the time. As a result he was harassed both by the Sri Lankan army and, later, by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He left for the Netherlands in 1987 where he completed a Masters degree in Development Studies. Returning to Colombo two and a half years later, he helped to start the Tamil newspaper, Sarinihar, published by the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality. He was advised to leave the country yet again, in 1993. Cheran went to Toronto, Canada where he completed his PhD. He is now an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. His academic interests focus on the study of Trans nationalism, identity, migration and international development. Side by side with his academic career, he has continued to write his poetry and to contribute to literary and political journals.

Cheran’s early poems, 1975-2000 were collected under the title Nii Ippozhudhu Irangum Aaru (The River into Which You Now Descend) (Nagercoil: Kalcchuvadu, 2000). This was followed by Miindum Kadalukku (Once Again the Sea) (Nagercoil: Kalachuvadu, 2004) and Kaadaatru (Forest-Healing) (Nagercoil: Kalachuvadu, 2011). In addition to these books, he co-edited, along with three others, a landmark anthology of Tamil political poetry, Maranatthul Vaazhvoom (We Will Live Amidst Death) (Coimbatore: Vidiyal, 1985). Some of his most recent academic publications include The Sixth Genre: Memory, History and the Tamil Diaspora Imagination (Colombo: Marga Institute, 2001); History and the Imagination: Tamil Culture in the Global Context, co-edited with Darshan Ambalavanar and Chelva Kanaganayakam (Toronto: TSAR publications, 2007); New Demarcations: Essays in Tamil Studies, co-edited with Darshan Ambalavanar and Chelva Kanaganayakam (Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2008) and Pathways of Dissent: Tamil Nationalism in Sri Lanka (ed.) (New Delhi: Sage, 2009).