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Kiran Desai wins Booker, Emory bags Salman Rushdie

November 2006
Kiran Desai wins Booker, Emory bags Salman Rushdie

Kiran Desai, the 35-year-old author of The Inheritance of Loss, recently became the youngest female recipient of Britain's Man Booker Prize, perhaps the best-known award for novels written in English. Though she has mostly lived in the West for the past twenty years, this India-centric writer hasn't given up her Indian citizenship. "I feel less like doing it every year because I realize that I see everything through the lens of being Indian," she said in an interview, shortly after winning the award. "It's not something that has gone away – it's something that has become stronger. As I've got older, I have realized that I can't really write without that perspective." Like Anita Desai, her mother, who was nominated three times for the Booker, Kiran is known for her feisty independence and dedication to literary endeavor. She worked on her prize-winning novel for seven years, and there was another year of anxiety and uncertainty before it was published to near-universal acclaim. Set in the Himalayan region and New York during the ‘80s, the novel probes the life-altering effects of political upheaval and economic migration. As Pankaj Mishra puts it, "Although it focuses on the fate of a few powerless individuals, Kiran Desai's extraordinary new novel manages to explore, with intimacy and insight, just about every contemporary international issue: globalization, multiculturalism, economic inequality, fundamentalism and terrorist violence." There has also been some literary news with a local angle. Salman Rushdie, who has agreed to sell his personal archive to Emory University, is joining its English Department as Distinguished Writer in Residence. The literary heavyweight's five-year appointment at Emory, beginning next year, will be his first extended relationship with any university. During each of those five years, according to Emory, Rushdie will teach for at least four weeks, lead a graduate seminar, participate in undergraduate classes, advise students, engage in symposia and deliver a public lecture. It was Rushdie, interestingly, who first brought attention to Kiran Desai's work. Back in the ‘90s, he included an excerpt from her still-to-be-published debut novel in his widely read anthology, Mirrorwork: 50 Years of Indian Writing.

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