5 Female Indian diaspora authors telling stories of a mixed culture

Jotting down Indian experiences in globally renowned works of literature


October 18, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

5 Female Indian diaspora authors telling stories of a mixed culture

Jhumpa Lahiri was awarded 2014 National Medals of Arts & Humanities by US President Barack Obama for her exemplary writings on Indo- American experience

Often drawing a parallel between different cultures and varied experiences of women across the globe, female authors of Indian diaspora have to their credit a plethora of critically acclaimed pieces of literature.

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Comparing experiences the two worlds, female authors of Indian diaspora have created a diversity of their brand of literature. From Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake to Anita Desai’s In Custody and many more, female authors in Indian diaspora across the globe have not only created rich compilation of popular fiction but also jotted down the unique experiences of a female in a mixed culture.

With themes of nostalgia, alienation and dilemmas of cultural identity and ethnicity at forefront, these authors have cleverly placed a feminist’s spectacle and question the norms of all societies alike. Here is a list of five female authors that are a must read.

Jhumpa Lahiri

indian diaspora author Nilanjana Sudeshna

Lahiri’s debut novel, The Namesake (2003), was adapted into the popular film

Nilanjana Sudeshna, better known as Jhumpa Lahiri, is known for her short stories, novels and essays in English and Italian. Lahiri was born in London in 1967 to Indian immigrant parents from West Bengal. She is currently a professor of creative writing at Princeton University in the United States.

Her debut collection of short-stories Interpreter of Maladies (1999) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her first novel, The Namesake (2003) was adapted into the popular film of the same name. In these works, Lahiri explored the Indian-immigrant experience in America. In 2011, Lahiri moved to Rome, Italy and has since then published two books of essays. In 2019, published her first novel in Italian called Dove mi trovo and also compiled, edited and translated the Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories which consists of 40 Italian short stories written by 40 different Italian writers.

Lahiri’s work highlights Indian diasporic womanism as a composite of feminism, womanhood and motherhood of the immigrant Indian women. It highlights the shades of each aspect such as double marginalisation, patriarchal dominance, ideological pressures, gender inequality, gender discrimination, power relations, sexism, stereotyping, emancipation and sexuality.

Anita Desai

indian diaspora author anita desai

Desai has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times

Born in Dehradun, Uttarakhand in 1937, Anita Desai is the daughter of a German immigrant mother and a Bengali father. She has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times. She received a Sahitya Akademi Award in 1978 for her novel Fire on the Mountain (1977). Desai also won the British Guardian Prize for The Village by the Sea in 1982.

In 1993, her novel In Custody was adapted by Merchant Ivory Productions into an English film by the same name, directed by Ismail Merchant. Her 1999 Booker Prize finalist novel Fasting, Feasting increased her popularity. Her novel The Zigzag Way, set in 20th-century Mexico, was published in 2004 and her latest collection of short stories, The Artist of Disappearance, was published in 2011.

Desai has taught at Mount Holyoke College and Smith College in Massachusetts and  Baruch College in New York, US. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and of Girton College, Cambridge. At present, Desai is the Emerita John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

indian diaspora author Banerjee

Banerjee’s work, Arranged Marriage, won American Book Award in 1996

Born in Kolkata in 1956, Banerjee is an Indian-American author and poet. Her short story collection, Arranged Marriage won American Book Award in 1996 and two of her novels The Mistress of Spices (1997) and Sister of My Heart (1999) as well as a short story The Word Love were adapted into popular films. Currently, her works Oleander Girl, Palace of Illusions, and One Amazing Thing have all been optioned to be made into movies.

Divakaruni’s works are largely set in India and the United States. It often focuses on the experiences of South Asian immigrants. She writes for children as well as adults and has published novels in multiple genres, including realistic fiction, historical fiction, magical realism, myth and fantasy.

At present, Banerjee is the Betty and Gene McDavid Professor of Writing at the University of Houston in the United States for its creative writing programme.

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Meena Alexander

indian diaspora author Meena Alexander

Alexander taught at the University of Hyderabad & later at Columbia University

Born in Allahabad, India, poet Meena Alexander was raised in Kerala and Sudan. Described as one of the finest poets of contemporary times by The New York Times, she was the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Atmospheric Embroidery (2018), Birthplace with Buried Stones (2013) and PEN Open Book Award-winner Illiterate Heart (2002) to name a few.

In her poetry, which has been translated into several languages, she explores migration, trauma, and reconciliation. Alexander’s honours included grants and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, National

Alexander explores migration, trauma, and reconciliation

Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, National Council for Research on Women, Arts Council of England, the Imbongi Yesizwe International Poetry Award and New York Foundation for the Arts, as well as the South Asian Literary Association’s Distinguished Achievement Award in Literature.

Alexander taught at the University of Hyderabad, Columbia University and was a National Fellow at the Indian Institute for Advanced Study in Shimla. She lived in New York City for many years, where she was Distinguished Professor of English at the Graduate Center/Hunter College, CUNY. She passed away in 2018 after a prolonged illness.

Shani Muthoo

indian diaspora author Shani Muthoo

Through her works, Muthoo explores the themes of gender, sexuality and race

A writer, visual artist and cinematographer, Shani Muthoo was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1957 to Trinidadian parents of Indian origin. She grew up in Trinidad and relocated to Vancouver, Canada at the age of 19.

Through her works, Muthoo explores the themes of gender, sexuality and race. Her work resonates with her real life experiences as an adolescent in Trinidad and as an immigrant adult in Canada.

Muthoo’s first literary publication, Out on Main Street, a collection of short stories, was solicited by the Vancouver-based feminist publishing house Press Gang in 1993 and was the beginning of her literary career. Her first full-length novel, Cereus Blooms at Night, published by Press Gang in 1996, was shortlisted for the Scotia Bank Giller Prize in 1997. In 2002, Muthoo followed her first novel with a collection of poetry, The Predicament of Or.

Muthoo’s novels are found on course lists in the Departments of English, Liberal Arts, Women’s Studies, and Cultural Studies at universities in the Caribbean, Canada, the United States, England, Europe, India and Australia. She is currently a teacher for the creative writing program at the University of Toronto in Canada.

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