Anita Desai

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 stories—12 volumes to date—have 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."

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