Harman Writer-In-Residence, Spring 2003
Anita Desai, the distinguished fiction writer, is the Spring 2003 Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence at Baruch College. Ms. Desai’s novels include Cry, The Peacock; Voices in the City; Bye-Bye, Blackbird; Where Shall We Go This Summer?; Fire on the Mountain; Clear Light of Day; In Custody; Baumgartner’s Bombay; Journey to Ithaca; and Fasting, Feasting. She is also the author of two collections of short stories, most recently Diamond Dust and Other Stories; several books for children, including The Peacock Garden, Cat on a Houseboat, and The Village by the Sea; and the screenplay for the screen adaptation of In Custody, filmed by Merchant Ivory Productions.
A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in England and an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ms. Desai has been awarded numerous prizes and honors, including the Winifred Holtby Prize of the Royal Society of Literature, the Padma Sri Award from the Government of India, the Moravia Prize for Literature, and the Neil Gunn Prize for International Literature from the Scottish Arts Council.
Born in Mussoorie, India, Ms. Desai is a graduate of Miranda House, University of Delhi, and is fluent in English, German, and Hindi. Her extensive teaching career includes positions as the Elizabeth Drew Visiting Professor at Smith College, the Gildersleeves Professor at Barnard College, the Purington Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College, and a visiting scholar at the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, Italy. From 1993 through the fall of 2002, Ms. Desai was the John E. Burchard Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
“He stood by the window, studying the scene with great seriousness, knowing himself to be tricked. It was the first of India’s tricks. But was it a trick? Was it not India’s way of revealing the world on the other side of the mirror? India flashed the mirror in your face, with a brightness and laughter as raucous as a street band. You could be blinded by it. But if you refused to look into it, if you insisted on walking around to the back, then India stood aside, admitting you where you had not thought you could go. India was two worlds, or ten. She stood before him, hands on her hips, laughing that bloodstained laugh: Choose! Choose!”
-From Baumgartner’s Bombay
Anita Desai is the Emeritus John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She regularly contributes to The New York Review of Books, and her work has been included most recently in the anthologies The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work (2003) and Away: the Indian Writer as an Expatriate (2004). Ms. Desai is the subject of the 2008 volume Anita Desai and Her Fictional World.
Published in 2004, The Zigzag Way, her latest novel, is set in 20th-century Mexico. (June 2009)