The Gratiaen Prize, which was instituted by Michael Ondaatje in 1992 with the money he received as joint-winner of the Booker Prize for his novel The English Patient, is awarded annually to the best work of literary writing in English by a resident Sri Lankan. The Prize, intended to encourage English writing by Sri Lankans, is named after Michael Ondaatje’s mother, Doris Gratiaen. Initially, the Prize was administered by Ian Goonetileke, the former librarian, University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, but later handed over to the Gratiaen Trust, which was set up for the purpose.
The three judges selected each year by the Trust make their choice from an increasing number of entries – in the past few years over 50 – submitted by authors and publishers. The entries include fiction, poetry, drama and literary memoir, either published during the last year or presented in manuscript form. Initially a short-list of five is chosen, and the winner is announced at the Gratiaen Prize award event. The value of the Prize is Sri Lankan Rupees 200,000.
To quote Ondaatje's own words at the first-ever presentation of the Prize: “The Gratiaen Prize is an attempt on one level to share the wealth. I was lucky. But more important it is to celebrate and test and trust ourselves. To select and argue about the literature around us. To take it seriously, not just to see it as a jewel or a decoration."