Arthur C. Clarke
Who Was Arthur C. Clarke?
Arthur Charles Clarke was born on December 16, 1917, in the coastal town of Minehead in southwestern England. The eldest of four children born into a farming family, Clarke became fascinated with science and astronomy at an early age, scanning the stars with a homemade telescope and filling his head with sci-fi tales from magazines like Astounding Stories .
After his father suddenly passed away, the financial hardships his family endured precluded Clarke from attending university despite his bright, inquisitive mind. After graduating from middle school in nearby Taunton, Clarke left home to find work in 1936.
Arriving in London, Clarke took on a job as a government bureaucrat. He had not lost his fascination with the stars, however, and he soon became a member of the British Interplanetary Society, which championed the notion of space travel long before it was considered plausible. Clarke contributed articles to the group’s newsletter and also began his first forays into science fiction.
Though these early endeavors were interrupted with the coming of World War II, Clarke’s service during the conflict would present him with the opportunity to indulge his technological aptitude. From 1941 to the war’s end, he was a technician with the Royal Air Force and among the first to use radar information to guide aircraft landings in unfavorable weather conditions.
His wartime experiences would prove fundamental in two of Clarke’s earliest offerings as a writer. In 1945, Wireless World magazine published his article “Extra-Terrestrial Relays,” in which Clarke theorized on how a geostationary satellite system could be used to transmit radio and television signals around the world. This was just the first of many technological realities that Clarke would predict during his prolific career. The following year saw his science-fiction work published for the first time when his short story “Rescue Party” graced the pages of Astounding Science Fiction .
A Man of Many Hats
Returning from the war, Clarke was at last allowed to pursue his higher education after receiving a fellowship to attend King’s College in London. During this time, he also reconnected with the British Interplanetary Society (which he would chair for several years) and continued in his literary endeavors. He graduated in 1948 with honors in math and physics and, straddling the line between scientist and author, quickly set about making a name for himself.
While working as an assistant editor for Science Abstracts magazine, Clarke published the nonfiction book Interplanetary Flight (1950), in which he discussed the possibilities of space travel. In 1951, his first full-length novel, Prelude to Space , was published, followed two years later by the science-fiction works Against the Fall of Night and Childhood’s End (the latter being Clarke’s first true success and eventually adapted into a 2015 TV miniseries). He won his first Hugo Award in 1956 for his short story “The Star.”
Clarke’s writing won him esteem as a novelist and brought him prominence as a revolutionary thinker. He was frequently consulted by members of the scientific community, working with American scientists to help design spacecraft and assisting in the development of satellites for meteorological applications.
Amidst all of his extraterrestrial activities, in the mid-1950s Clarke began to develop an interest in undersea worlds. In 1956, he relocated to Sri Lanka, settling first in the coastal town of Unawatuna and later moving to Colombo. Clarke lived in Sri Lanka for the rest of his life and became a skilled scuba diver, photographing regional reefs and even discovering the underwater ruins of an ancient temple. He documented his diving experiences in works such as The Coast of Coral (1956) and The Reefs of Taprobane (1957). He also used his expertise to start the tourism business Underwater Safaris.
Clarke’s destiny, however, was still very much tied to space. After being stricken with polio, which limited his mobility, he turned his attention back to the stars. During the 1960s, Clarke saw some of his most important projects come to fruition. In 1962 he published Profiles of the Future , in which he made predictions about inventions up to the year 2100, and in 1963 the Franklin Institute bestowed him with its Ballantine award for his contributions to satellite technology. That honor was underlined the following year when the Syncom 3 satellite broadcast the Summer Olympics in Japan to the United States.
'2001: A Space Odyssey' and Other Books
Clarke’s growing reputation as an expert in all things space led to the collaboration for which he is perhaps best known. In 1964, with director Stanley Kubrick , Clarke began work on a screenplay adaption of his 1951 short story “The Sentinel.” It would evolve into the 1968 Kubrick-directed classic 2001: A Space Odyssey , widely considered to be among the greatest movies ever made. Clarke and Kubrick received an Academy Award nomination for their script and also collaborated on developing the story into a novel published the same year. Clarke later followed with the literary sequels 2010: Odyssey Two (published in 1982 and adapted into a 1984 film), 2061: Odyssey Three (1987) and 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997).
At the end of the 1960s, Clarke was able to take part in a real-life space odyssey when he was chosen to join Walter Cronkite as a commentator for CBS’s coverage of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. He returned to the network for coverage of the Apollo 13 and Apollo 15 missions.
An internationally renowned author and thinker, Clarke continued his prolific and successful output during the 1970s. His 1973 novel Rendezvous With Rama won both the Nebula and Hugo awards, a feat he repeated several years later with The Fountains of Paradise (1979). In the next decade, Clarke completed the autobiographical works Ascent to Orbit (1984) and Astounding Days (1989). And he branched out into television work once again, appearing as host of the popular series Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World (1981) and Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers (1984) as well as contributing to the Cronkite series Universe (1981).
Towards the end of the decade, polio-related complications further reduced Clarke’s mobility, confining him to a wheelchair. He continued to write works of fiction and nonfiction and garner recognition for his lifetime of contributions. In 1983, the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation was established to promote the use of technology to improve quality of life, particularly in developing countries, through educational grants and awards; and in 1986, the Arthur C. Clarke Award for excellence in British science fiction was established. Clarke also held chancellorships at the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka from 1979 to 2002 and the International Space University from 1989 to 2004.
Death and Legacy
In the last decade of his life, Clarke was knighted by the British high commissioner in Sri Lanka; was granted that country’s highest civil honor, the Sri Lankabhimanya; and saw the founding of the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education. He died of respiratory failure on March 19, 2008, at the age of 90. He had written nearly 100 books, along with countless essays and short stories, and made immeasurable contributions to the field of space exploration and science.
In honor of his work, the International Astronomical Union named the distance of approximately 36,000 kilometers above the Earth's equator the Clarke Orbit, and asteroid No. 4923 received the designation “Clarke.”
- Name: Arthur C. Clarke
- Birth Year: 1917
- Birth date: December 16, 1917
- Birth City: Minehead, Somserset
- Birth Country: England
- Gender: Male
- Best Known For: An author of nearly 100 books, Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination and insight influenced modern science via works such as his classic '2001: A Space Odyssey.'
- World War II
- Science and Medicine
- Writing and Publishing
- Astrological Sign: Sagittarius
- King's College London
- Death Year: 2008
- Death date: March 19, 2008
- Death City: Colombo
- Death Country: Sri Lanka
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- Article Title: Arthur C. Clarke Biography
- Author: Biography.com Editors
- Website Name: The Biography.com website
- Url: https://www.biography.com/authors-writers/arthur-c-clarke
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- Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
- Last Updated: May 14, 2021
- Original Published Date: April 2, 2014
- In the struggle for freedom of information, technology, not politics, will be the ultimate decider.
- I’m sometimes asked how I would like to be remembered. I’ve had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer, space promoter and science popularizer. Of all these, I want to be remembered most as a writer—one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, stretched their imagination as well.
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Science Fiction Writer Arthur C. Clarke Dies at Age of 90
Science fictionwriter, inventor and futurist Arthur C. Clarke has died, leaving fans bereft at the loss of his brilliance and creativity.
Clarke diedearly Wednesday after suffering from breathing problems, the Associated Press reported. He was90 years old. He suffered from post-polio syndrome and was confined to awheelchair toward the end of his life.
Clarke wrote more than 100sci-fi books, including "2001:A Space Odyssey." He is credited with coming up with the idea for the communicationssatellite and predicting space travel before rockets were even test fired.
Clarkewas born to a family of farmers in Minehead, a town in Somerset, England.
Hefed an early interest in science fiction with Amazing Stories (the world's first science-fiction magazine; it fell out of publication in 2005).
Inthe 1930s, he joined the British Interplanetary Society, which he chaired fortwo terms, and was active in SF fandom, where his self-promotional effortsearned him the nickname "Ego."
DuringWorld War 2, he trained users of the Ground Operated Approach Radar, themilitary ancestor to today?s air traffic control systems, then completed acollege degree (with honors) in physics and mathematics at King?s College,London.
The road of gold
Since1956, Clarke resided in Sri Lanka as the island nation's sole honorarycitizen, engaging in underwater exploration and participating in the managementof a diving tour company, Underwater Safaris. However, he was most familiar toglobal audiences as a futurist and advocate of technology and interplanetaryexploration.
WithWalter Cronkite, who would become a lifelong friend, he co-anchored CBStelevision coverage of the launches of Apollo 11, 12 and 15. Continuing hiscareer in television, Clarke hosted such investigative programs as"Arthur C. Clarke?s Mysterious World", "World of StrangePowers" and "Mysterious Universe".
Amonghis many honors, Clarke was one of only 17 writers ever named a Science FictionGrand Master. In addition, he received the UNESCO Kalinga Award foradvancing interest in science, as well as nominations for both an Academy Awardnomination, for 2001 (shared with Stanley Kubrick), and a Nobel PeacePrize, for laying the conceptual groundwork for the creation of orbitalcommunications satellites.
Heserved as a fellow at alma mater King?s College.
He received both the Order of the British Empire (promoted to Commander of theBritish Empire in 1998) and the Vidya Jyothi, the highest honor bestowed by theSri Lankan government.
Hewas most likely the only person to both appear on two Sri Lankan stamps --commemorating the 50th anniversary of telecommunications in that country -- andto have an asteroid named in his honor.
Ona more personal level, luminaries ranging from Carl Sagan, Alexei Leonov andWilly Ley to Wernher von Braun, Rupert Murdoch and Isaac Asimov calledClarke friend.
Service to science
Withsuch an impressive resume, it would be easy to forget that Clarke?s greatestsignificance was as one of the 20th century's great popularizers of scientificthought, especially through the medium of science fiction.
Combininga genuine optimism for humanity?s future with visionary insight and an almostequally uncanny ability to explain difficult points of science, Clarke's bodyof genre work was likely one of the most significant in the 20th century.
Asa futurist, he enjoyed such a level of success that he attributed thefailure of humanity to build lunar colonies or send piloted missions to Jupiterto shortcomings on our part, not his.
Happily,many of his other significant predictions came true, although the prophecymay have worked at least partially to fulfill itself. In Rendezvouswith Rama (1973), he created "Project Spaceguard," anorganization dedicated to tracking asteroids likely to intersect with theEarth. When the real world caught up with him in 1996, its founders named it"Spaceguard" in homage.
Meanwhile,his science advocacy continued through such organizations as The Arthur C.Clarke Foundation, which promotes the ideas and concerns of his life and work(especially space exploration, future studies and ocean conservation), theArthur C. Clarke Institute For Modern Technologies at University of Moratuwa inSri Lanka, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, given annually to outstandingBritish science fiction novels.
The Three Laws
Writerand critic George Zebrowski, a good friend of Clarke and a recognized expert onhis work, once stated that Clarke?s Three Laws are central to appreciating theman's work.
Notonly are these aphorisms fundamental elements of Clarke's literary legacy, butsome would argue that they comprise a valuable contribution to 20th-Centurypopular thought. They are:
1)When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible,he is almost certainly right. Corollary: When he states that something isimpossible, he is very probably wrong .
2)The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to venture beyond theminto the impossible.
3)Any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
TheThird Law is widely quoted and appears in Bartlett?s Familiar Quotations .
The global village
Clarke so relentlessly promoted the exploration of space, while celebratingcultural and geographic differences here on Earth, that he was called"our solar system?s first regionalist."
Thanksto his deep love for his adopted Sri Lanka and its people, Clarke became atrue citizen of the global village he helped to create. The internationalpopularity of his work transcended political boundaries, allowing him to bridgethe chasm between the U.S. space program, the Russians and his native UnitedKingdom throughout the Cold War era. How many men of the 20th century could countboth Alexei Leonov and Walter Cronkite as friends?
Clarke's outspoken criticism of individual countries? tendency to nationalizethe exploration of space showed that he still felt that the leap to otherworlds was far too important -- if not too vast -- an undertaking to beconstrained by concepts so transient as "nation-states."
Heoften seemed disappointed with us, but his fiction showed that he never wavered inhis belief that the future would be a time of wonders, and that humanity, giventime and common sense, would inevitably transcend the limits of gravity.
In 2007, Clarke celebrated his 90thbirthday.
"Sometimes I am asked how Iwould like to be remembered," Clarke said at the celebration. "I have hada diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter. Of allthese I would like to be remembered as a writer."
He listed three wishes on hisbirthday: for the world to embrace cleaner energy resources, for a lastingpeace in his adopted home, Sri Lanka, and for evidence of extraterrestrialbeings.
"I have always believed thatwe are not alone in this universe," Clarke said.
Humans are waiting untilextraterrestrial beings "call us or give us a sign," he said. "Wehave no way of guessing when this might happen. I hope sooner rather thanlater."
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Arthur C. Clarke, Author Who Saw Science Fiction Become Real, Dies at 90
By Gerald Jonas
- March 19, 2008
Arthur C. Clarke, a writer whose seamless blend of scientific expertise and poetic imagination helped usher in the space age, died early Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since 1956. He was 90.
Rohan de Silva, an aide, confirmed the death and said Mr. Clarke had been experiencing breathing problems, The Associated Press reported. He had suffered from post-polio syndrome for the last two decades.
The author of almost 100 books, Mr. Clarke was an ardent promoter of the idea that humanity’s destiny lay beyond the confines of Earth. It was a vision served most vividly by “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the classic 1968 science-fiction film he created with the director Stanley Kubrick and the novel of the same title that he wrote as part of the project.
His work was also prophetic: his detailed forecast of telecommunications satellites in 1945 came more than a decade before the first orbital rocket flight.
Other early advocates of a space program argued that it would pay for itself by jump-starting new technology. Mr. Clarke set his sights higher. Borrowing a phrase from William James, he suggested that exploring the solar system could serve as the “moral equivalent of war,” giving an outlet to energies that might otherwise lead to nuclear holocaust.
Mr. Clarke’s influence on public attitudes toward space was acknowledged by American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, by scientists like the astronomer Carl Sagan and by movie and television producers. Gene Roddenberry credited Mr. Clarke’s writings with giving him courage to pursue his “Star Trek” project in the face of indifference, even ridicule, from television executives.
In his later years, after settling in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Mr. Clarke continued to bask in worldwide acclaim as both a scientific sage and the pre-eminent science fiction writer of the 20th century. In 1998, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Mr. Clarke played down his success in foretelling a globe-spanning network of communications satellites. “No one can predict the future,” he always maintained. But as a science fiction writer he couldn’t resist drawing up timelines for what he called “possible futures.” Far from displaying uncanny prescience, these conjectures mainly demonstrated his lifelong, and often disappointed, optimism about the peaceful uses of technology from his calculation in 1945 that atomic-fueled rockets could be no more than 20 years away to his conviction in 1999 that “clean, safe power” from “cold fusion” would be commercially available in the first years of the new millennium.
Popularizer of Science
Mr. Clarke was well aware of the importance of his role as science spokesman to the general population: “Most technological achievements were preceded by people writing and imagining them,” he noted. “I’m sure we would not have had men on the Moon,” he added, if it had not been for H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. “I’m rather proud of the fact that I know several astronauts who became astronauts through reading my books.”
Arthur Charles Clarke was born on Dec. 16, 1917, in the seaside town of Minehead, Somerset, England. His father was a farmer; his mother a post office telegrapher. The eldest of four children, he was educated as a scholarship student at a secondary school in the nearby town of Taunton. He remembered a number of incidents in early childhood that awakened his scientific imagination: exploratory rambles along the Somerset shoreline, with its “wonderland of rock pools”; a card from a pack of cigarettes that his father showed him, with a picture of a dinosaur; the gift of a Meccano set, a British construction toy similar to American Erector Sets.
He also spent time, he said, “mapping the moon” through a telescope he constructed himself out of “a cardboard tube and a couple of lenses.” But the formative event of his childhood was his discovery, at age 13 the year his father died of a copy of Astounding Stories of Super-Science, then the leading American science fiction magazine. He found its mix of boyish adventure and far-out (sometimes bogus) science intoxicating.
While still in school, he joined the newly formed British Interplanetary Society, a small band of sci-fi enthusiasts who held the controversial view that space travel was not only possible but could be achieved in the not-so-distant future. In 1937, a year after he moved to London to take a civil service job, he began writing his first science fiction novel, a story of the far, far future that was later published as “Against the Fall of Night” (1953).
Mr. Clarke spent World War II as an officer in the Royal Air Force. In 1943 he was assigned to work with a team of American scientist-engineers who had developed the first radar-controlled system for landing airplanes in bad weather. That experience led to Mr. Clarke’s only non-science fiction novel, “Glide Path” (1963). More important, it led in 1945 to a technical paper, published in the British journal Wireless World, establishing the feasibility of artificial satellites as relay stations for Earth-based communications.
The meat of the paper was a series of diagrams and equations showing that “space stations” parked in a circular orbit roughly 22,240 miles above the equator would exactly match the Earth’s rotation period of 24 hours. In such an orbit, a satellite would remain above the same spot on the ground, providing a “stationary” target for transmitted signals, which could then be retransmitted to wide swaths of territory below. This so-called geostationary orbit has been officially designated the Clarke Orbit by the International Astronomical Union.
Decades later, Mr. Clarke called his Wireless World paper “the most important thing I ever wrote.” In a wry piece entitled, “A Short Pre-History of Comsats, Or: How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time,” he claimed that a lawyer had dissuaded him from applying for a patent. The lawyer, he said, thought the notion of relaying signals from space was too far-fetched to be taken seriously.
But Mr. Clarke also acknowledged that nothing in his paper from the notion of artificial satellites to the mathematics of the geostationary orbit was new. His chief contribution was to clarify and publicize an idea whose time had almost come: it was a feat of consciousness-raising of the kind he would continue to excel at throughout his career.
A Fiction Career Is Born
The year 1945 also saw the start of Mr. Clarke’s career as a fiction writer. He sold a short story called “Rescue Party” to the same magazine now re-titled Astounding Science Fiction that had captured his imagination 15 years earlier.
For the next two years Mr. Clarke attended King’s College, London, on the British equivalent of a G.I. Bill scholarship, graduating in 1948 with first-class honors in physics and mathematics. But he continued to write and sell stories, and after a stint as assistant editor at the scientific journal Physics Abstracts, he decided he could support himself as a free-lance writer. Success came quickly. His primer on space flight, “The Exploration of Space,” became an American Book-of-the-Month Club selection.
Over the next two decades he wrote a series of nonfiction bestsellers as well as his best-known novels, including “Childhood’s End” (1953) and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). For a scientifically trained writer whose optimism about technology seemed boundless, Mr. Clarke delighted in confronting his characters with obstacles they could not overcome without help from forces beyond their comprehension.
In “Childhood’s End,” a race of aliens who happen to look like devils imposes peace on an Earth torn by Cold War tensions. But the aliens’ real mission is to prepare humanity for the next stage of evolution. In an ending that is both heartbreakingly poignant and literally earth-shattering, Mr. Clarke suggests that mankind can escape its suicidal tendencies only by ceasing to be human.
“There was nothing left of Earth,” he wrote. “It had nourished them, through the fierce moments of their inconceivable metamorphosis, as the food stored in a grain of wheat feeds the infant plant while it climbs towards the Sun.”
The Cold War also forms the backdrop for “2001.” Its genesis was a short story called “The Sentinel,” first published in a science fiction magazine in 1951. It tells of an alien artifact found on the Moon, a little crystalline pyramid that explorers from Earth destroy while trying to open. One explorer realizes that the artifact was a kind of fail-safe beacon; in silencing it, human beings have signaled their existence to its far-off creators.
Enter Stanley Kubrick
In the spring of 1964, Stanley Kubrick, fresh from his triumph with “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” met Mr. Clarke in New York, and the two agreed to make the “proverbial really good science fiction movie” based on “The Sentinel.” This led to a four-year collaboration; Mr. Clarke wrote the novel and Mr. Kubrick produced and directed the film; they are jointly credited with the screenplay.
Many reviewers were puzzled by the film, especially the final scene in which an astronaut who has been transformed by aliens returns to orbit the Earth as a “Star-Child.” In the book he demonstrates his new-found powers by detonating from space the entire arsenal of Soviet and United States nuclear weapons. Like much of the plot, this denouement is not clear in the film, from which Mr. Kubrick cut most of the expository material.
As a fiction writer, Mr. Clarke was often criticized for failing to create fully realized characters. HAL, the mutinous computer in “2001,” is probably his most “human” creation: a self-satisfied know-it-all with a touching but misguided faith in his own infallibility.
If Mr. Clarke’s heroes are less than memorable, it’s also true that there are no out-and-out villains in his work; his characters are generally too busy struggling to make sense of an implacable universe to engage in petty schemes of dominance or revenge.
Mr. Clarke’s own relationship with machines was somewhat ambivalent. Although he held a driver’s license as a young man, he never drove a car. Yet he stayed in touch with the rest of the world from his home in Sri Lanka through an ever-expanding collection of up-to-date computers and communications accessories. And until his health declined, he was an expert scuba diver in the waters around Sri Lanka.
He first became interested in diving in the early 1950s, when he realized that he could find underwater, he said, something very close to the weightlessness of outer space. He settled permanently in Colombo, the capital of what was then Ceylon, in 1956. With a partner, he established a guided diving service for tourists and wrote vividly about his diving experiences in a number of books, beginning with “The Coast of Coral” (1956).
Of his scores of books, some like “Childhood’s End,” have been in print continuously. His works have been translated into some 40 languages, and worldwide sales have been estimated at more than $25 million.
In 1962 he suffered a severe attack of polio. His apparently complete recovery was marked by a return to top form at his favorite sport, table tennis. But in 1984 he developed post-polio syndrome, a progressive condition characterized by muscle weakness and extreme fatigue. He spent the last years of his life in a wheelchair.
Clarke’s Three Laws
Among his legacies are Clarke’s Three Laws, provocative observations on science, science fiction and society that were published in his “Profiles of the Future” (1962):
¶“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”
¶“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”
¶“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Along with Verne and Wells, Mr. Clarke said his greatest influences as a writer were Lord Dunsany, a British fantasist noted for his lyrical, if sometimes overblown, prose; Olaf Stapledon, a British philosopher who wrote vast speculative narratives that projected human evolution to the farthest reaches of space and time; and Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.”
While sharing his passions for space and the sea with a worldwide readership, Mr. Clarke kept his emotional life private. He was briefly married in 1953 to an American diving enthusiast named Marilyn Mayfield; they separated after a few months and were divorced in 1964, having had no children.
One of his closest relationships was with Leslie Ekanayake, a fellow diver in Sri Lanka, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1977. Mr. Clarke shared his home in Colombo with his friend’s brother, Hector, his partner in the diving business; Hector’s wife, Valerie; and their three daughters.
Mr. Clarke reveled in his fame. One whole room in his house which he referred to as the Ego Chamber was filled with photos and other memorabilia of his career, including pictures of him with Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.
Mr. Clarke’s reputation as a prophet of the space age rests on more than a few accurate predictions. His visions helped bring about the future he longed to see. His contributions to the space program were lauded by Charles Kohlhase, who planned NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn and who said of Mr. Clarke, “When you dream what is possible, and add a knowledge of physics, you make it happen.”
At the time of his death he was working on another novel, “The Last Theorem,” Agence France-Presse reported. “ The Last Theorem’ has taken a lot longer than I expected,” the agency quoted him as saying. “That could well be my last novel, but then I’ve said that before.”
Science Fiction Writer Arthur C. Clarke Dies at Age of 90 in Sri Lanka
Arthur C. Clarke, the writer of more than 100 science fiction novels, has died.
March 19, 2008 — -- Arthur C. Clarke, a visionary science fiction writer who won worldwide acclaim with more than 100 books on space, science and the future, died Wednesday in his adopted home of Sri Lanka, an aide said. He was 90.
Clarke, who had battled debilitating post-polio syndrome since the 1960s and sometimes used a wheelchair, died at 1:30 a.m. after suffering breathing problems, aide Rohan De Silva said.
Clarke moved to Sri Lanka in 1956, lured by his interest in marine diving which he said was as close as he could get to the weightless feeling of space.
"I'm perfectly operational underwater," he once said.
Co-author with Stanley Kubrick of Kubrick's film "2001: A Space Odyssey," Clarke was regarded as far more than a science fiction writer.
He was credited with the concept of communications satellites in 1945, decades before they became a reality. Geosynchronous orbits, which keep satellites in a fixed position relative to the ground, are called Clarke orbits.
He joined American broadcaster Walter Cronkite as commentator on the U.S. Apollo moonshots in the late 1960s.
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Arthur c. clarke collection of sri lanka.
Inside Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World
At the great science fiction writer’s Sri Lankan residence, our correspondent talks to friends and associates who remember a witty, enigmatic—and much-missed—friend.
Arthur C Clarke called this place his “ego chamber.”
And now, in a state of disbelief, here I am, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in the office of a man who was arguably the greatest British science fiction writer of all time.
I sit down at his desk. At Arthur C. Clarke’s desk. An old Mac desktop stands sentinel. The wheelchair that the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey used to get around in from about 1984 onwards—after he was struck with muscle-wasting post-polio syndrome—is parked to my side.
I allow my gaze to rake across the extraordinary collection of artifacts—including undoubted ego-builders like an Oscar nomination, countless literary awards, and a knighthood from the Queen—with which the great science fiction writer surrounded himself day in, day out, for the almost 50 years he lived and worked in Sri Lanka.
He died almost exactly seven years ago, on March 19, 2008, aged 90, but here, in his old office, everything has been preserved just the way it was when he still lived.
This is no Arthur C Clarke museum, however, and it’s not open to the public. It’s just that the Ekanayakes, the Sri Lankan family with whom he lived for almost 50 years, simply can’t bear to clear these last bits of Clarke away.
And who can blame them?
The framed pictures and knick-knacks which cover every inch of wall and shelf space are an extraordinary testament to an extraordinarily full life; Clarke meeting the Pope, Clarke enjoying a cook-out with Buzz Aldrin and his family, Clarke talking with Wehrner von Braun , the genius inventor of the V2 ‘doodlebug’ guided bomb—a fiendishly clever device that wreaked untold devastation on Clarke’s homeland, Great Britain, in World War 2.
The author loved Britain, but clearly that was no reason not to respect the enemy’s scientific genius.
Serious astrological maps jostle for place with childish depictions of the heavens, and a framed front page of the New York Times from 1969 announces, “MEN WALK ON MOON.”
The bookshelves are stuffed with a vast and esoteric collection of books, including a Holy Bible and a copy of The Holy Qur’an sitting side by side.
One whole bookshelf is given over to translations and various editions of Clarke’s most famous work, 2001: A Space Odyssey . On other shelves stand an array of toys, knick-knacks and mementoes including a window climbing toy robot, toy cats, and small casts of Lord Buddha and various Hindu gods.
A large black and white photograph of a handsome young man catches my eye. This, I guess correctly, is Leslie Ekanayake, who died in a motorbike crash in 1977 aged 29—and whom Arthur eulogized in the dedication to his 1979 book The Fountains of Paradise , writing, “To the still unfading memory of LESLIE EKANAYAKE (13 JuIy 1947—4 July 1977) only perfect friend of a lifetime, in whom were uniquely combined Loyalty, Intelligence and Compassion. When your radiant and loving spirit vanished from this world, the light went out of many lives.”
On another wall is an extract from his 1945 paper, “Extraterrestrial Relays,” which famously proposed and described how a geostationary satellite could be used for communication technology. It’s an idea that changed the world, paving the way for mobile communication we all take for granted today.
Leslie’s brother Hektor Ekanayake, now 75, and the owner of this house, tucked away behind a high wall and protected by a security guard in an upscale Colombo street, is showing me around, his voice often breaking, and tears escaping down his cheeks as he recalls his dear friend. Hektor still lives here, in the main house on the other side of the courtyard to Arthur’s digs, with his wife Valerie.
Hektor met Arthur when the writer first moved to Sri Lanka full time in 1956. Clarke, a keen amateur diver, was drawn to the country by a combination of the warm seas and the tolerant attitude towards homosexuality in the majority Buddhist nation. Homosexuality was (and remains) technically illegal in Sri Lanka, but no-one has ever been prosecuted for the ‘crime.’
Clarke was gay, but he was also extremely discrete, unlike many of the other gay ex-pats who later flocked to Sri Lanka. He would certainly never have picked up a man on the beach or in a public bar as others did, one acquaintance, Vasantha De Silva (who happens to be Sri Lanka’s most famous hairdresser) told me.
Charlie Hulse , an American who has lived near and later in Galle Fort in the south of the country since 1974, and was the partner of the gay American writer Gordon Merrick, knew Clarke well.
Hulse, now 86, told me that his closeted behavior was at least partly because Clarke had a horror of embarrassing his farming family back home in rural Somerset, England, if his homosexuality was widely reported.
Hulse describes Clarke (who spoke in a broad Somerset accent until the end of his life) as “buttoned up” and “punctilious,” but says that a major part of the attraction for his relocation from England to Sri Lanka was to be able to express his sexuality.
“Nobody cared what you did,” Hulse told me. “You were just another crazy white guy.”
Clarke in fact had a lived a life of deep respectability in the UK. He moved to London before the outbreak of World War II, working as an office clerk in a government department. But it was during the war that his interest in science became a vocation. From 1941 onwards he helped develop radar technology, and, after the war, he went back to school, getting a university degree in maths and physics.
In 1952, he met and married Marilyn Mayfield, a 22-year-old American divorcee with a young son. They separated after just six months, although the divorce was not finalized until 1964. Clarke told his official biographer that, “The marriage was incompatible from the beginning.”
His marriage was known about in Sri Lanka but “never mentioned,” Hulse recalls. Clarke was made the editor of a science magazine after finishing his degree, but turned to full time writing in 1951, publishing his breakthrough novel Childhood’s End in 1953. Along with Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein, he became celebrated as one of the “big three” of sci-fi writing.
It was therefore all the more extraordinary that he decamped to the remote former British colony of Sri Lanka just as he was starting to become truly successful in his field. His circle of friends included the most famous Sri Lankan architect of the age, Geoffrey Bawa and his brother Bevis (both of whom were gay) and also the designer Barbara Sansoni.
Clarke would frequently make the five-hour trip to see Hulse down in Galle, and would stay several days, sometimes calling in at the diving resort of Hikkaduwa en route, which he and Hektor had helped popularize.
Mim Scala, the author of the London memoir, Diary of a Teddy Boy, lived on Hikkaduwa beach for a year in 1972.
“Arthur was very modest,” Scala recalls. “He looked like a bank clerk from Guildford, and dressed like one too. I once asked him if had any royalties from his geostationary satellite and he said, ‘No. What would I do with a hundred billion dollars anyway?’”
As time went on and his older family members died off, Clarke became more relaxed about his sexuality (he also switched from wearing a suit to a sarong), but he never publicly came out. When journalists enquired, “Are you gay?” they were usually told, “No, merely mildly cheerful.”
Clarke met Hektor because Hektor worked in the diving business, and was in the process of setting up a diving school in the remote northern town of Trincomalee, which would become one of Clarke’s favorite dive locations (he discovered the underwater ruins of the famous temple of Koneswaram there in 1956) until the civil war made “Trinco” too dangerous to visit in the 1980s.
The two became friends. Clarke soon rented living and office space from Hektor—the same space that would become the ‘ego chamber’—and came to regard the Ekanayakes as family (Clarke is buried in the Ekanayake family plot, next to Leslie).
It was Hektor who introduced his brother Leslie to Clarke. Leslie—who hated diving and was afraid of water, according to Hektor—worked for Clarke, managing his household, cooking and cleaning, and the two became friends.
Hektor adamantly refutes any suggestion that his brother and Clarke were lovers, saying, “No, no. They were very good friends,” when I ask the question directly.
Clarke was not rich by Western standards when he arrived in Sri Lanka (that would have to wait till the movie of “2001” came out in 1968), but he was enormously wealthy for Sri Lanka. He had a Mercedes and a driver as well as a powder blue scooter which he used for zipping around town. Both these vehicles are preserved in Hektor’s garage.
In 1962, Clarke had suffered a severe attack of poliomyelitis. His apparently complete recovery (he even regained his form at his favorite sport, table tennis) was deceptive, and in 1984 he developed post-polio syndrome, a progressive condition characterized by muscle weakness and extreme fatigue.
It was however during these years that his greatest popular success happened. He became a household name for his television series investigating paranormal phenomena: Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World (1980), Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers (1985) and Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious Universe (1994). All of them were filmed in Sri Lanka.
Clarke surely enjoyed his success, as his “ego-chamber” attests. But he did not dine out on it, and was not much seen out and about in Colombo’s hot spots.
Hektor would sometimes not see him for weeks, despite living across the courtyard. When he did see him, he would ask, “What are you doing, Arthur?” and Clarke would invariably reply, “Writing a book.”
Clarke spent the last years of his life in a wheelchair as a result of his post-polio syndrome.
These should have been tranquil years for the grand old man of sci-fi, but the peace was shattered when, in 1998, days before he was due to be knighted, the British Sunday Mirror tabloid published a story claiming Clarke was a pedophile.
It should be noted that everyone I spoke to in Colombo who knew Clarke was adamant that the stories were completely untrue.
“He liked young men, say 20, 25, but the idea of him with children…no, no,” said one friend, who did not want to be named.
However the crowd Clarke hung out with were seen by some as lecherous towards younger native men. Another expatriate in Galle said that Clarke and his friends—Bawa et al—were collectively known as “The Lizards.”
“We just stayed away from them,” the person said.
Clarke—who was 80—denied the allegations of pedophilia and was cleared by a Sri Lankan police investigation, but he did not pursue the matter through the British courts.
Hektor Ekanayake remembers those grim days for Clarke clearly: “He was very upset. My wife told me that he cried, although I didn’t see it. Arthur is homosexual … but to put a thing like that when he was to be knighted.”
Hector was particularly disgusted that it was “English people” who “came all the way” to Sri Lanka to blacken his name.
“That’s why I am really angry,” he says.
After Clarke developed post-polio symptom, and with Leslie dead, Hektor became his main carer. “I used to sleep under his bed. When he had post-polio syndrome. There was no attendant close to him. I did. I washed him and things like that.”
Life was difficult but there were bright spots, and one of these was diving. “He went for a dive, a 90ft dive and he was perfect,” Hektor recalled. “In water he can do everything. He can swim very well, better than walking. In 90 feet of water he is very calm and quiet. Very happy—making a lot of fun underwater. Only problem that we have is when we want to bring him up into the boat, he was not strong enough to hold the ladder. So we push him into the boat. But getting into the water is nothing.”
Did Arthur have a long-term boyfriend?
“He had no particular friend like that,” says Hektor.
Was he lonely? “I think he was a lonely person, but his books were the important thing,” says Hektor. “All the time he was thinking about invention, invention, invention, write a book.”
Ultimately, however, Clarke remained something of an enigma even to those closest to him, like the Ekanayakes.
“Actually, finally, I don’t know exactly what he really wanted too much,” says Hektor. “I asked him once, ‘If you were living on an island with nobody there what will you do?’ He said, ‘If I have a typewriter, that is quite enough.’”
A tear escapes his eye.
“He was a very nice man. When those (journalists) came from England they said to me, ‘What sort of man is he?’
“I said, ‘I will tell you the truth. Write it down, get the tape. The Sri Lankan Buddhists will not like it but I don’t care. I have never seen Lord Buddha alive,’ I said. ‘But if you ask, ‘Who is Arthur Clarke?’ that is Arthur Clarke. Lord Buddha. That much I know he is. He will not harm anybody. That is Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha is Arthur C. Clarke.’”
Clarke would likely have been entertained by his friend’s epitaph. The great futurist, who claimed that religion had “hijacked” morality, left written instructions for his funeral that stated: “Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral.”
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‘Going where no man has gone before’: Meeting the Sri Lankan writers whose work is going to the moon later this year
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Famous Authors from Sri Lanka
List of the most popular authors from Sri Lanka, listed alphabetically with photos when available. For centuries authors have been among the world's most important people, helping chronicle history and keep us entertained with one of the earliest forms of storytelling. Whether they're known for fiction, non-fiction, poetry or even technical writing, the famous Sri Lanka authors on this list have kept that tradition alive by writing renowned works that have been praised around the world. You can find useful information below about these notable Sri Lanka writers, such as when they were born and where their place of birth was.
List includes Ananda Coomaraswamy, Sirilal Kodikara, more.
This list answers the questions, "Which famous authors are from Sri Lanka?" and "Who are the best Sri Lanka authors?"
Arthur C. Clarke
- # 494 of 560 People We Wish Were Still Alive
- # 4 of 165 The Best Science-Fiction Authors
- # 122 of 509 The Best Writers of All Time
Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah
J. R. Jayewardene
Sugathapala de Silva
E. w. adikaram, saman kelegama.
R. A. Chandrasena
G. B. Senanayake
9 Best Sri Lankan Authors to Begin Your Exploration Into Sri Lankan Culture
Discover our guide with the best Sri Lankan authors who have brought their country’s heritage to international light through their works.
The history of Sri Lankan literature can be traced back to ancient times, with the earliest known examples being the sacred texts of Theravada Buddhism, which were written in Pali, an ancient Indian language. These texts include the Pali Canon, considered to be the Buddhist scripture, and the chronicle of Sri Lankan kings, the Mahavamsa.
In recent years, Sri Lankan literature has been marked by a growing diversity of voices and themes. There are now many writers who write in other languages, such as Tamil, and also many who write about the experience of the Sri Lankan diaspora. The diversity of voices in Sri Lankan literature has led to a rich and varied literary tradition that reflects the complexity and diversity of Sri Lankan society, as you will see with this list of the best Sri Lankan authors. You might also be interested in our list of the best Argentine authors .
Here Are The Best Sri Lankan Authors
1. shehan karunatilaka, 1975 –, 2. romesh gunesekera, 1954 –, 3. ashok ferrey, 1957 –, 4. ru freeman, 1967 –, 5. nayomi munaweera, 1973 –, 6. michael ondaatje, 1943 –, 7. nihal de silva, 1946 –, 8. shyam selvadurai, 1965 –, 9. anuk arudpragasam, 1988 –.
Shehan Karunatilaka is a Sri Lankan novelist and screenwriter who achieved fame for his debut, award-winning novel The Legend of Pradeep Mathew . The novel is a humorous and heart-wrenching exploration of cricket, war, and the human condition. Shehan worked as a journalist and copywriter before becoming a full-time writer. He’s written feature articles for well-known publications such as The Guardian, Newsweek, GC, The Cricketer, Conde Nast, Rolling Stone, and National Geographic.
His unique writing style combines humor and a deep understanding of human emotions. His work often deals with themes of loss, identity, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world. Shehan has also written scripts for several Sri Lankan films. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. You can also check out our guide on the best Palestinian authors .
“In my life I have seen beauty only twice.” Shehan Karunatilaka, The Legend of Pradeep Mathew
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Karunatilaka, Shehan (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 416 Pages - 05/08/2012 (Publication Date) - Graywolf Press (Publisher)
Romesh Gunesekera is a Sri Lankan-born British novelist and short story writer. He was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1954 and moved to the United Kingdom in 1971 to study engineering at Imperial College London. He later studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia, receiving a master’s degree. Gunesekera’s first novel, Reef , was published in 1994 and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His second novel, The Sandglass , was published in 1998 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He has also published several collections of short stories.
Gunesekera’s writing often explores the themes of identity, displacement, and the human condition, and his work is known for its evocative and lyrical prose. He has been praised for his ability to convey the complexity of the human experience in a simple and relatable way. In addition to his writing, Gunesekera is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has held various teaching positions at universities and writing programs. He continues to live and write in the United Kingdom.
“She turned away and looked out through the summerglazed windows freckled with the soft grey rain she was so fond of.” Romesh Gunesekera, The Sandglass
- Gunesekera, Romesh (Author)
- 288 Pages - 09/16/2014 (Publication Date) - The New Press (Publisher)
Ashok Ferrey is a Sri Lankan novelist who has written five novels, including The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons and The Good Little Ceylonese Girl . His writing is characterized by wit and sharp observation of society and human nature. Ashok has a background in advertising, which is evident in his clever use of language and imagery. He often explores themes of identity, relationships, and the search for meaning in a rapidly changing world.
Ferrey’s novels have received critical acclaim both in Sri Lanka and internationally and have been translated into several languages. Ashok is known for his unique writing style, humorous and thought-provoking, and his ability to create complex and relatable characters. He is a master storyteller who keeps his readers engaged till the end of the novel. You might also be interested in our guide on the best Iranian authors .
“We’re all forced to lead many lives simultaneously. We do it out of necessity, not choice. We don’t make a virtue of it.” Ashok Ferrey, The Good Little Ceylonese Girl
- Ferrey, Ashok (Author)
- French (Publication Language)
- 288 Pages - 04/10/2018 (Publication Date) - Le Mercure de France (Publisher)
Ru Freeman is a Sri Lankan-American novelist and author known for her novels A Disobedient Girl and On Sal Mal Lane . Born in Sri Lanka, Ru Freeman has lived in various countries, including the United States and Canada. Her writing is characterized by its ability to capture the complexities of human relationships and the impact of political and social upheaval on ordinary lives. Freeman’s work often deals with themes of identity, displacement, and the search for home.
She has been honored with several awards, including the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book. Freeman’s writing is deeply rooted in her own experiences and the experiences of the people around her. Freeman’s novels are deeply personal and universal in their themes and characters. Ru’s writing style is both thought-provoking and empathetic, and her books are praised for their ability to bring a human touch to important social issues.
“In the house across the street, an old man, Mr. Niles, long confined to spending his days reclining in his armchair in languorous apathy, stirred.” Ru Freeman, On Sal Mal Lane
- Freeman, Ru (Author)
- 418 Pages - 05/14/2013 (Publication Date) - Graywolf Press (Publisher)
Nayomi Munaweera is a Sri Lankan-American novelist known for her novels Island of a Thousand Mirrors and What Lies Between Us . Born in Sri Lanka, Nayomi migrated to the United States at the age of 14. Her writing is characterized by its ability to capture the complexities of identity and the impact of political and social upheaval on ordinary lives. Nayomi’s work often deals with themes of identity, displacement, and the search for home. Her novels have been honored with several awards and accolades, including the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book.
Nayomi’s writing style is vivid and evocative, and she has a talent for bringing to life the sights, sounds, and smells of her native Sri Lanka in her novels. Her characters are relatable, complex and are often facing complex moral dilemmas. She has a unique ability to show how political and social issues affect people’s everyday lives. Her novels are a powerful exploration of the human experience and offer a window into the culture and history of Sri Lanka.
“It is into this pulsing, green space that she escapes after the boiled beef and vegetables.” Nayomi Munaweera, Island of a Thousand Mirrors
- Munaweera, Nayomi (Author)
- 290 Pages - 09/02/2014 (Publication Date) - St. Martin's Press (Publisher)
Michael Ondaatje is a Sri Lankan-Canadian novelist, poet, and filmmaker known for his novels The English Patient and Anil’s Ghost . Born in Sri Lanka, Michael migrated to Canada at the age of 19. His writing is characterized by its ability to capture the complexities of human emotions and relationships and its vivid evocation of place and history. Michael’s work often deals with themes of identity, memory, and the search for self. His novels have been honored with several awards, including the Booker Prize for The English Patient .
Ondaatje creates characters that are richly drawn and relatable. Their inner lives are explored in depth. His books are praised for their poetic and evocative style. They aren’t just stories but an exploration of the human experience. Michael’s novels and poetry offer a window into the culture and history of Sri Lanka and Canada, and his writing is considered an important contribution to world literature.
“I have spent weeks in the desert, forgetting to look at the moon, he says, as a married man may spend days never looking into the face of his wife.” Michael Ondaatje, GoodReads
- Ondaatje, Michael (Author)
- 337 Pages - 04/06/2011 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)
Nihal De Silva’s writing is characterized by its ability to capture the complexities of human emotions and relationships and its vivid evocation of place and history. His novels often deal with themes of identity, memory, and the search for self. His novels have been honored with several awards, including the Gratiaen Prize for The Road From Elephant Pass . Nihal’s writing style is evocative and lyrical. He has a talent for weaving together the past and present in his stories. De Silva attended St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, and the University of Ceylon for his education (now the University of Peradeniya, Kandy).
The 2003 publication of his work, The Road From Elephant Pass, brought him fame at age 63. The plot centers on a Tamil lady who was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and an army officer of Sinhalese descent. Despite being perceived as natural and initial foes, the couple can set aside their political disagreements to reach Colombo safely while guarding an explosive secret. The book’s original edition sold more than three thousand copies, compelling the publisher, Vijitha Yapa, to reissue it twice.
“They came onto the main road from a footpath some distance from the barrier and walked slowly towards it.“ Nihal De Silva, The Road From Elephant Pass
- de Silva, Nihal (Author)
- 298 Pages - 12/01/2011 (Publication Date) - Vijitha Yapa Publications (Publisher)
Shyam Selvadurai is a Sri Lankan-Canadian novelist known for his novels Funny Boy and Cinnamon Gardens . Shyam’s writing is characterized by its ability to capture the complexities of human emotions and relationships and its vivid evocation of place and culture. He often deals with themes of identity, sexuality, and the search for self in his novels.
His novels have been honored with several awards, including the Lambda Literary Award for Funny Boy. Shyam’s writing style is evocative and lyrical. He has a talent for weaving together the past and present in his stories. Shyam’s novels are considered to be an important contribution to Sri Lankan and LGBT literature.
“When the aunts and uncles eventually drove away, waving gaily at us children from car windows, we waved back at the retreating cars with not a even a pretense of sorrow.” Shyam Selvadurai, Funny Boy
- Selvadurai, Shyam (Author)
- 306 Pages - 07/14/2015 (Publication Date) - William Morrow Paperbacks (Publisher)
Anuk Arudpragasam is a Sri Lankan novelist known for his novel The Story of a Brief Marriage . Anuk’s writing is characterized by its ability to capture human emotions and relationships’ complexities and vivid evocation of place and culture. His novels often deal with themes of identity, displacement, and the search for self. His debut novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage , was published in 2016 and was shortlisted for the 2017 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and was awarded the 2016 Betty Trask Prize.
Arudpragasam was born in 1988 to Tamil parents in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and raised in a wealthy household. His Tamil ancestors originated from the country’s northeast. However, he never had direct contact with the civil conflict that lasted from 1983 to 2009 in the northeast. His parents pushed him to read literature from an early age despite not coming from a literary background. Arudpragasam didn’t heed their counsel until he was 15 or 16 when he discovered a fondness for philosophical reading at the local Vijitha Yapa bookstore.
“Things just happen and we have to accept them. Happiness and sadness are for people who can control what happens to them.” Anuk Arudpragasam, The Story of a Brief Marriage
- Arudpragasam, Anuk (Author)
- 210 Pages - 09/06/2016 (Publication Date) - Flatiron Books (Publisher)
Are you a fan of thrillers? Check out our list of authors like David Baldacci !
Kate has been writing since she was 10 years old, tapping away on an old typewriter in her childhood bedroom. Today, Kate is a seasoned freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing for print and online media. She’s an avid reader and believes in the power of words to transport readers to new worlds, and inspire and nurture creativity. Kate is also a published author and is currently working on her next project.
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