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Contemporary Indian Women Writers who Should be on Your Reading List

24th March, 2017

Contemporary Indian Women Writers who Should be on Your Reading List

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.

Giveaways

#SatchelAlephFemmeGA

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.

Let's discuss

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.

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This Post Has 47 Comments
  1. You show – in many of your posts – such a wealth of creativity in India. And I am sorry to say I’ve only read Arundhati Roy. Shame on me. (Well, plus Kamala Markandaya, or Satyajit Ray, beyond classics now I guess.) 🙂
    I guess I will have to go (back) to India to look for a good bookstore…
    Have a lovely week-end.
    Brian

  2. I read The God of Small Things years ago, but I remember just being floored by Roy’s writing. I wish I still had the book because I believe I wrote notes in it. Thanks you so much for all the recommendations. I definitely want to check out these other authors.

  3. Thanks for this post, so much to read! I have only read Roy’s The God of Small Things from your list (to be honest, I found it middling) and I have some books from other on your list, but there are many I had not heard from that I think I’d love to explore, especially Anita Nair’s Mistress, because Kathakali is amazing.

    1. I agree that God of Small things is not for everyone. You might like checking out Roy’s non fiction. Whether one agrees with her views or not, her voice is a strong and convincing one. I hope you will enjoy Mistress.:)

  4. That’s an interesting list, the book industry is often too westernized that we don’t really get the chance to see what other cultures as to offer. That’s why I liked the diverse read tag you made. As for Indian writers, I only read Rupy Kaur – Milk and Honey, she’s Canadian from Indian origin. Which one do you recommend for a start? I’m tempted to start by Kamala Surayya

    1. Thank you so much. It is wonderful when I get feedback like this. God of Small Things is a favourite of mine. But it is not a book that everyone would enjoy. I think Jhumpa Lahiri is a safe start. I have enjoyed her short story collections Unaccustomed Earth and Interpreter of maladies and also her novel Namesake. Her short stories are available online (many in The New Yorker), so you can read and see if her style of writing suits you.

  5. Thanks for introducing these to me. I regret to say though, that I didn’t like The God Of Small Things at all… but I’m looking forward to reading The Namesake one day. And looks like there’s a lot more to look forward to 🙂

  6. I’ve read and enjoyed Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni possibly because they are the most likely to have been promoted in the UK, but I love that blogs and readers like yourself, help us to discover the lesser known names. Last year I read and enjoyed Where the River Parts by Radhika Swarup and the Bangadesh trilogy by Tahmima Anam (a neighbour of India).Thanks for sharing these authors with us!

    1. I am glad you have read many of the prominent names which is an impressive feat in itself. Thank you, Claire, for recommending Swarup and Anam. Both are new for me and I will definitely check them out.

  7. I’m afraid I’ve only heard of four of these authors, and have only read two of them – Arundhati Roy and Jhumpa Lahiri. I’m looking forward to Roy’s new one coming out, and have been meaning to read some Anita Desai for a long time – one day! Great list – nice to be introduced to some writers who are lesser known over here. 🙂

  8. I added quite a few of these authors to my TBR. I love Jhumpa Lahiri’s books and have read (so far) Unaccustomed Earth, Interpreter of Maladies, and The Namesake. I think The Namesake was my favorite of the bunch. Her books aren’t what I would call exciting, but they have a way of drawing you in and wrapping you up in the story rather than sweeping you away in it.

    I have heard of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni because of her novel Mistress of Spices and the movie adaptation, but I have to admit I haven’t read it yet. It just got lost in the middle of my never ending TBR.

    1. I am glad you have enjoyed Jhumpa Lahiri. Yes, I get what you mean by her books not being ‘exciting’ but they transport you to the world she is talking about. I guess, that is her style of writing. Mistress of Spices is a book I have read and I thought it would work better as a movie. I am eager to see the movie adaptation.

  9. So far I’ve only read Jhumpa Lahiri from this list, but I loved her writing so much when I read Interpreter of Maladies that I have since added Lowland and The Namesake to my TBR. I look forward to reading some of the other authors as well.

    1. I enjoyed Interpreter of Maladies as well. I did not enjoy Lowland. But Namesake was a good one. If you are short of time you can check out her story Namesake on NewYorker(I think). The story was later expanded to a novel.

    1. I am so glad to find another person who loves Anita Desai. She is not everyone’s cup of tea because of her slow prose and descriptive language. Hope you find new favourites from the list

  10. Love this! Contemporary books by Indian women authors is definitely a gap in my reading, well actually I need to make more of an effort with Indian women authors in general. The God of Small Things was already on my TBR list, but I need to look into all these recs!

    Great post!

  11. What fun! I’ve read four of these authors (love Anita Desai and wish that her work was still being read as widely) and have had three on my TBR for awhile, but the others are new to me, so thank you! Looking forward to exploring more now.

  12. I am just discovering the world of books. I am follow you on Instagram. I’ve bookmarked this page for future reads 🙂 I’ve discovered a passion of books. I just reviewed Unaccustomed Earth on my blog. I am new to blogging and it is my first post. Although my blog is still work in progress, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback as your one of the bloggers on bookstagram who has inspired me to blog.
    https://sushmamanava.wordpress.com/

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I am so glad you decided to start a blog. It is so wonderful to have a space of your own to write about. I just hopped over to your review and I wish you all success.

      Thanks for visiting me here too. 🙂

  13. An absolutely amazing list of brilliant and accomplished women! I love authors that write from the heart, talking about the experiences and cultural aspects of their backgrounds and incorporating it throughout their work. This is brilliant sweetheart and off to check these brilliant ladies out now <3 <3

  14. My sister is going to a reading by the author of the God of Small things very soon and she is really looking forward to it. I know I need to read that novel soon now!

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