Amirthanayagam was born in 1960 in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). When he was eight years old, he moved with his family to London, England, and at age 14, his family moved again to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he began writing. He studied at Punahou School in Honolulu and played cricket at the Honolulu Cricket Club. He then studied English Literature at Haverford College where he also captained their cricket team during his last year. Amirthanayagam has a Master's in Journalism from Columbia University.
He writes poetry and essays in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. His Spanish collections include El Infierno de los Pajaros (Resistencia, Mexico City), El Hombre que Recoge Nidos (CONARTE/Resistencia, Mexico), "Sol Camuflado" (Lustra Editores, Lima, May 2011), Sin Adorno, lirica para tiempos neobarrocos (Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo León, Mexico, 2013). A new collection, Ventana azul, has just been published by El Tapiz del Unicornio in February 2016 in Mexico City. His first collection in French, Aller-retour au bord de la mer. was published in 2014 by Legs Editions. He has also published The Splintered Face (Hanging Loose Press, 2008) and Ceylon R.I.P. (International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Sri Lanka, 2001). The poem "So Beautiful" was broadcast on the PBS series The United States of Poetry. Univision reported on Amirthanayagam's Spanish poems in a news report in August, 1999. His poems have been anthologized in The United States of Poetry, World English Poetry, Language for a New Century, ALOUD: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America, The Nuyorasian Anthology, Black Lightning, Living in America, The Four Way Reader #1. His poems have also been published in Grand Street, The Kenyon Review, The Massachusetts Review, Exquisite Corpse, Hanging Loose, BOMB and elsewhere in the U.S.. Poems written originally in French and Spanish have been published in Côte d'Ivoire, Haiti, Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua and Argentina. His translations of Mexican poet Manuel Ulacia were included in Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poetry. Translations of Jose Eugenio Sanchez have been published online. His poetic history of the Sri Lankan Civil War, Uncivil War, was published in 2013. Amirthanayagam read in the international poetry festivals in London (1996), San Salvador (2005), Rosario (2005) Medellin (2010), Lima(2012), Granada, Nicaragua (2009 and 2014,) and Santo Domingo (2015).
Amirthanayagam's The Elephants Of Reckoning won the 1994 Paterson Poetry Prize. The poem "Juarez" won the Juegos Florales of Guaymas, Sonora in 2006. Amirthanayagam has received the Superior Honor Award and the Meritorious Honor Award from the Department of State for his diplomatic work.
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