Doctor of Letters
Born in India of a German mother and an Indian father, Anita Desai
has continued to inhabit and contend with at least two worlds at once. Her novels
and collections of short stories12 volumes to datehave been translated
into French, German, Danish, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Romanian. In 1992 her novel
In Custody was made into a Merchant-Ivory film for which she wrote the
screenplay. She has been short-listed for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize
and has won a number of other literary awards including the Guardian Award
for Children's Fiction for The Village by the Sea.
Since 1993 Desai has been professor of writing at M.I.T. She has taught also at
Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Barnard Colleges and at Cambridge University. Described
as "a novelist of the human psyche," she has a fictional range that
encompasses Indian, American and European cultures. Although her writing often
depicts the conflicts and struggles within Indian families against a background
of historic events or social change, Desai has disavowed attempts to label her
a social commentator. "My novels are no reflection of Indian society, politics
or character. They are my private attempt to seize upon the raw material of life."
Growing up in a house full of books led her to the early decision that writing
would be her life. Later, even as the very young mother of four children, she
managed to carve out productive time at her desk. Praised by students for her
generosity, she nevertheless believes that writing cannot be taught. Instead,
her role as a teacher, she has said, is to show students what books to read and
how to learn from other writers. Then she simply provides the all-important "time
and space in which to write."