Contemporary Indian Women Writers who Should be on Your Reading List
24th March, 2017
This month, being the Women’s History month, I came up with a hashtag #femmemarch on Instagram to celebrate women writers. This was open to everyone on Bookstagram, the book lover’s community on Instagram. In addition there were featured posts from twelve wonderful ladies and myself (Check the above link where all twelve accounts are tagged. There are some amazing recommendations).
For more recommendations from women writers around the world, and I mean 400+ recommendations, check the hashtag #femmemarch. Such an enthusiastic response got me thinking about contemporary writers from India. This is a question I am frequently asked on my Instagram account (where I run a daily blog); so it feels like a perfect time to list out fifteen prominent women writers from India. This list is in no way a comprehensive one. And maybe I might make a Part 2 to add to the ones already mentioned.
Enough of the introduction and onto the list.
1. Arundhati Roy
No surprises here because Arundhati Roy is one of my favourite writers. Her debut novel, The God of Small Things, is one that ‘crashed on me like a tidal wave’. I talk more about my reasons for not reading Roy’s novel for nearly eighteen years inspite of my admiration for the author on an exclusive post. Arundhati is a political activist and is active in environmental and human rights issues. She has several essay collections to her credit. Her new novel, the first fiction in nearly twenty years, is titled The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and is scheduled for release in June, 2017.
2. Anita Desai
Anita Desai is one of my favourite writers. She dwells on descriptive passages and vivid imagery to bring alive nuances of the human mind. She has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times, won the Sahitya Akademi award and Padma Bhushan for her contribution to literature. In Custody (about a lecturer in a small town) is her most acclaimed novel. Some others are Fasting, Feasting (about difference in lifestyle in India and America) and Cry, the peacock (a woman haunted by a prediction made in her childhood). For someone new to her work, Games at Twilight, a personal favourite, is a great start. This story appears in the recently published short story collection, A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces.
3. Anita Nair
Anita Nair is a prolific writer, best known for her novels Mistress (focussing on Kathakali dance of Kerala), Ladies Coupe (conversations between women in a train compartment), Idris: Keeper of Light (Somalian trader visiting southern India in 17th century) and Better Man (about friendships). She has also written a poetry collection and non fiction books to her credit. Recently she stepped into crime genre with her Inspector Gowda series.
4. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is best known for Mistress of Spices (a shopkeeper who helps customers satisfy their desires with spices tinted with magic) and Oleander Girl (journey across post 9/11 America to find the protagonists true identuty). The Palace of Illusions, a retelling of Mahabharatha through Draupadi’s POV is an excellent one on Indian mythology. Divakaruni’s works are largely set in India and the United States, and often focus on the experiences of South Asian immigrants. Her novels fall into multiple genres, including literary fiction, historical fiction, myth and fantasy.
5. K. R. Meera
K.R. Meera is a prominent writer in Malayalam. Many of her works have been translated to English, some being Yellow is the Colour of Longing, Hangwoman (thoughts on capital punishment and the story of a woman who has to continue her family tradition), The Gospel of Yudas(love and betrayal in post- Naxalite era) and The Poison of Love (story of a woman with a philandering husband). Araachar (translated as Hangwoman) is her most acclaimed novel, receiving several awards including the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award (2013), Odakkuzhal Award (2013), Vayalar Award (2014), Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award (2015) and a position in the shortlist for the 2016 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.
6. Sudha Murty
Sudha Murthy is best known for her social work and her contribution to literature in Kannada and English. She has written literature both for adults and children. Some famous works are How I Taught My Grandmother to Read, The Old Man and His God: Discovering the Spirit of India, The Day I Stopped Drinking Milk, The Bird with Golden Wings: Stories of Wit and Magic and Dollar Bahu.
7. Kavita Kane
Kavita Kane specialises in Indian mythological retellings. Karna’s Wife is said to her best work. Her most recent novel is Lanka’s Princess, that tells the story of the war between Lord Rama and Ravana through the POV of Surpanaka.
PS: There is a giveaway running on my Instagram sponsored by Aleph and Rupa, to celebrate women writers from India. You can win yourself a copy of Karna’s Wife. Details towards the end of the post.
8. Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri is an American writer with Indian origins. Her stories capture the nostalgia faced by immigrants and have a distinct Indianness to them. The Namesake, her debut novel is well acclaimed and her latest one, The Lowland got into the Man Booker longlist, 2013. My personal favourites are the short story collections, Interpreter of maladies and Unaccustomed Earth.
9. Janice Pariat
Janice Pariat is a prominent writer from North East India. In 2013, Pariat’s debut collection of short stories Boats on Land won the Sahitya Akademi Young Writer Award for the English language. Her debut novel Seahorse was shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize.
10. Kiran Desai
Kiran Desai is the daughter of Anita Desai. Her first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, won the Betty Trask Award. Her second book, The Inheritance of Loss, won the 2006 Man Booker Prize, as well as the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award.
11. Indira Goswami (1942-2011)
Indira Goswami is an Assamese author. She is also well known for bringing about social change through her books and acting as a mediator between the government and militant groups. Her works have been translated into English from her native Assamese which include The Moth Eaten Howdah of the Tusker, Pages Stained With Blood and The Man from Chinnamasta. She won the Sahitya Akademi Award (1983) and the Jnanpith Award (2001).
12. Kamala Surayya (1934-2009)
Kamala Surayya, also known as Kamala Das or Madhavikutty is a prominent writer and poet who has written both in Malayalam and English. She was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1984. Her writings are personal and she did not shy away from topics such as female sexual awakening, much to the dismay of the conservative society that existed then. My Story, her semi autobiographical book is a famous work and stirred up much controversy during its publication.
13. Namita Gokhale
Namita Gokhale has written over fourteen books, both fiction and non fiction. Her debut novel Paro: Dreams of Passion, was a satire on the elite of Bombay and Delhi was known for its frank sexual humour. Things to Leave behind is her latest novel that came out in 2016.
14. Nilanjana Roy
Nilanjana S Roy is the author of two novels, The Wildings (2012) and The Hundred Names of Darkness (2013), and a collection of essays on reading, The Girl Who Ate Books (2016). The Wildings won the 2012 Shakti Bhatt First Book Award and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize.
15. Meena Kandasamy
Meena Kandasamy is an Indian poet, fiction writer, translator and activist based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Feminism and disapproval of caste system are recurring themes in her works. She has better known as a poet. She has also translated the works of Periyar E. V. Ramasamy, Thirumavalavan and Tamil Eelam writers such as Kasi Anandan, Cheran and VIS Jayapalan into English. Gypsy Goddess is her debut novel.
1. As part of #femmemarch, I have partnered with Aleph and Rupa Publications for a giveaway. You can enter the #SatchelAlephFemmeGA through Instagram or Twitter. THREE winners will each win a set of the three books shown in the picture. The last date is 27th March, 2017.
2. There is also an ongoing giveaway (#SatchelFemmeGA) to win a copy of Ann Beattie’s The State We Are in by Granta Books. Simply follow me and Granta Books on social media to enter. More details on Instagram and Twitter. The last date to enter is 31st March, 2017.
3. Next week, there will be another amazing giveaway collaboration with Bloomsbury India. So make sure you are following The Book Satchel on Instagram and Twitter to qualify. Come over and say hi if you are not following me already.
Have you read any of these writers? Are you curious to add any of them to your TBR? Please add more of your favourite Indian women writers to the list.