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Anita Mazumdar Desai (born June 24, 1937) is an Indianmarker novelist and Emeritus John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technologymarker. She has been shortlisted for the Booker prize three times. Her daughter, the author Kiran Desai, won the 2006 Booker prize.


Born as Anita Mazumdar to a Germanmarker mother, Toni Nime, and a Bengali businessman, D. N. Mazumdar in Mussooriemarker, Indiamarker. She grew up speaking German at home and Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and English outside the house. She first learned to read and write in English at school and as a result it became her "literary language" . Despite German being her first language she did not visit Germany until later in life as an adult.

She was a student at Queen Mary's Higher Secondary School in Delhi and received her B.A. in English literature in 1957 from the Miranda House of the University of Delhi . The following year she married Ashvin Desai, a businessman. They raised four children. Her daughter Kiran was born in Chandigarh and spent her childhood years in Bombay, on Alatamont Road. Kiran Desai is also the author of quite a few books including her first one Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard. She recalls that as children they were taken to Thul (near Alibagh) for weekends, and this is where Anita Desai set her novel The Village by the Sea .


Indian novelist and short story writer, especially noted for her sensitive portrayal of the inner life of her female characters. Several of Desai's novels explore tensions between family members and the alienation of middle-class women. In her later novels Desai has dealt with such themes as German anti-Semitism, the demise of traditions, and Western stereotypical views of India.She published her first novel in 1963, Cry The Peacock. She considers Clear Light Of Day (1980) her most autobiographical work as it is set during her coming of age and also in the same neighborhood in which she grew up . In 1984 she published In Custody - about an Urdu poet in his declining days - which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In 1993 she became a creative writing teacher at Massachusetts Institute of Technologymarker. Her latest novel published in 2004, The Zigzag Way, is set in 20th-century Mexico.

Desai has taught at Mount Holyoke Collegemarker, Baruch College and Smith Collegemarker. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and of Girton Collegemarker, Cambridge Universitymarker. In addition, she writes for the New York Review of Books.


In 1993 Merchant Ivory Productions released In Custody, directed by Ismail Merchant, with a screenplay by Shahrukh Husain. It won the 1994 President of India Gold Medal for Best Picture and stars the noted actors Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri.


  • 1978 - National Academy of Letters Award - Fire on the Mountain
  • 1978 - Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize - Fire on the Mountain
  • 1978 - Sahitya Akademi Award - Fire on the Mountain
  • 1980 - Shortlisted, Booker Prize for Fiction - Clear Light of Day
  • 1983 - Guardian Children's Fiction Prize - The Village By The Sea
  • 1984 - Shortlisted, Booker Prize for Fiction - In Custody
  • 1993 - Neil Gunn Prize
  • 1999 - Shortlisted, Booker Prize for Fiction: Fasting, Feasting
  • 2000 -Alberto Moravia Prize for Literature (Italy)

Selected works

See also


  • Abrams, M. H and Stephen Greenblatt. "Anita Desai." The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 2C, 7th Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000: 2768 - 2785.
  • Alter, Stephen and Wimal Dissanayake. "A Devoted Son by Anita Desai." The Penguin Book of Modern Indian Short Stories. New Delhi, Middlesex, New York: Penguin Books, 1991: 92-101.
  • Gupta, Indra. India’s 50 Most Illustrious Women. (ISBN 81-88086-19-3)
  • Selvadurai, Shyam (ed.). "Anita Desai:Winterscape." Story-Wallah: A Celebration of South Asian Fiction. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005:69-90.

External links


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