Brannavan Gnanalingam


NameBrannavan Gnanalingam (he/him)
Country of BirthSri Lanka
Place of ResidencePōneke Wellington
EthnicitiesSri Lankan
Decades Active2010s, 2020s


Brannavan Gnanalingam is a writer, columnist and lawyer based in Pōneke Wellington whose prolific body of novels critically examines race, politics and class in Aotearoa.

Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Gnanalingam immigrated to Te Awakairangi ki Tai Lower Hutt with his parents and siblings when he was three years old. “The first meal my family had in New Zealand was at the Avalon KFC,” he recalls in an essay for The Spinoff. “It was probably a big deal for my dad to take us newbies from Sri Lanka via Zimbabwe to a KFC.” He describes a childhood where “my own difference felt normal. It was simply part of the overall community. Initially, there was Bharatanatyam (South Indian classical dance) and Tamil school classes that my sister and I went to, along with other kids of the first generation.” Alongside this, he read prolifically, citing Enid Blyton, history books, Peter Gossage’s Māui books and Tintin as his childhood loves.

As a teenager, Gnanalingam had aspirations of becoming a filmmaker or musician, but ended up studying to become a lawyer “because it was the longest degree I could think of that didn’t involve cutting up people”. While he was at university, he started writing for the university magazine, Salient, and from there, kept writing. His first novel, Getting Under Sail, was published in 2011 with non-profit publishing co-operative Lawrence & Gibson, of which Gnanalingam is now part (“the members have never taken money out of the organisation, though authors get paid a royalty of half the profits from each book”).

Semi-autobiographical, Getting Under Sail follows three friends from New Zealand as they travel through West Africa. “The narration’s wry honesty, miles away from the usual Africa travelogue clichés, and the inherent humour of the events are both lifted by Gnanalingam’s knack for the striking image,” wrote Sam Finnemore in the NZ Listener at the time.

Since then, Gnanalingam has published six more novels (or, as critic Uther Dean observed, “Since 2011 Brannavan Gnanalingam has pumped out Major Work after Major Work”). His sixth novel, Sprigs (2020) tackles rape culture and privilege against the backdrop of high school rugby, looking at how “institutions circle the wagons when responding to accusations of sexual violence”. “Gnanalingam has always been deft with character voice but here betters himself,” observed The Spinoff, while the Academy of New Zealand Literature reflected that, “Given the subject matter, it may be presumed that Sprigs comes wrapped with a ‘message’. It doesn’t. What it does do, with a whole lot of insight, tenderness and fearlessness, is open up the conversation.” Sprigs received the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel in 2021.

In addition to writing novels, Gnanalingam works as a lawyer and fortnightly columnist for The Sunday Star-Times. His writing has been published in a variety of outlets including The Spinoff, The Post, NZ Listener, The Pantograph Punch and Lumière Reader.

Gnanalingam holds a BA(Hons) in Film and Criminology, an LLB, and an MA from Victoria University of Wellington.


Key works / presentations

Key awards

2021 — The Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel (Sprigs)

2009 — Qantas Media Awards 2009 Results: Best Feature Website (The Lumière Reader)

Related entries

Last updated: 3 March 2024 Suggest an Edit


A brown foot sits in a puddle of white yoghurt, with swirls of yellow and orange spices through it.

The cover of Slow Down, You're Here (2022), which features a work by Aotearoa Sri Lankan artist Dilohana Lekamge

Comic-style drawing documenting an event with portraits of the speakers and speech bubbles with quotes.

Tara Black, Comic documentation of 'Made in Wellington' at Verb, Pōneke, 2020