The Top 10 Women Writers in India
chillibreeze writer — Saudha Kasim
Indian women writers have garnered critical praise for their scintillating literary prowess and making social issues a key part of their work. Indian women authors writing in English such as Kiran Desai and Arundhati Roy have earned international renown. But a number of Indian women writing in regional languages such as Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada, among others, have gained wider recognition thanks to a strong and growing market for quality Indian fiction in translation.
When it comes to English fiction in India, the following five women writers are probably the most well known and successful in the country:
Only the second Indian woman to ever win the Man Booker prize in 2006 for her second novel The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai has literary talent in her very DNA. She’s the daughter of Anita Desai, the acclaimed Indian English writer and won rave reviews for her debut novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1998). Though Desai lives in the US, her work has focused on the tumult of 21st century India, migration, globalization and the effect of the country’s rapid progress on all social classes.
Arundhati Roy made headlines around the world when she became the first Indian woman to win a Man Booker prize for her debut novel, The God of Small Things (1997). In the decade following that momentous achievement, Roy has become an ardent advocate of social and economic justice for the country’s oppressed minorities. She has published a number of essays on subjects varying from India’s rapid industrialization to the continuing problem of Kashmir.
Anita Desai has been writing some of the best English language fiction in India for almost four decades. She’s been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize thrice and won the Sahitya Akademi Award, one of India’s most prestigious literary prizes, in 1978 for her second novel, Fire on the Mountain. Familial relationships and their evolution have been the main themes of Desai’s fiction. She has taught at various colleges in the US, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her latest book is The Zigzag Way (2004).
Shashi Deshpande is the critically acclaimed writer of nine novels, a number of short stories, children’s books and essays. Her novel, That Long Silence, won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1990. Trained as a journalist, Deshpande’s work focuses on the reality and truth of the lives of Indian women. Deshpande has described her literary style as “really a very simple and stark style, which rarely draws attention to itself.” She received the Padma Sri award in 2009. Her latest book is the novel, In the Country of Deceit (2008).
Shobhaa De, India’s best selling woman writer recently published her 16th book, sweet sixteenth (2009). De, a prolific columnist and blogger, writes books filled with privileged protagonists from Bombay’s high society. Known as the Indian Jackie Collins and “The Maharani of Muck”, De shows no signs of slowing down after two decades of scaling commercial highs.
Good translators and publishers of quality fiction in translation such as Katha and Zubaan have propelled the success of regional language literature in India. This boom has also helped a wider audience gain access to the work of many writers, including the following five acclaimed women authors:
Indira Goswami is one of the leading lights of Assamese and contemporary Indian literature. She won the Jnanapith Award, India’s highest literary honor given for a lifetime’s work, in 2000. Besides her writing, poetry and scholarly work, Goswami is a well-respected professor and social activist. Goswami’s work has focused on women and various aspects of Assamese society. Her most famous works are Pages Stained with Blood and The Moth-Eaten Howdah of a Tusker.
A social activist and acclaimed Bengali writer, Mahasweta Devi hails from a family of literary luminaries. Devi has worked as a college lecturer and journalist. The main themes of her fictional work have been the brutalities inflicted upon the tribal minorities by the authorities and upper classes. Devi won the Jnanapith award in 1996 and the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1997 for her contribution to literature. A number of her works have been made into acclaimed films, including Rudaali and Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa.
Janaki Srinivasa Murthy, who writes under the pseudonym Vaidehi, is one of Kannada literature’s most talented contemporary writers and poets. Her work has a strong social focus, especially the condition of women in modern society. She won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2009 for her collection of short stories. Girish Kasaravalli’s award winning 2008 film, Gulabi Talkies, is based on one of Vaidehi’s short stories.
C.S. Lakshmi (Ambai)
C.S. Lakshmi, one of modern Tamil literature’s most acclaimed women writers, has written numerous stories under the pseudonym Ambai. The English translation of her collected stories was published under the title, The Purple Sea. C.S. Lakshmi is also one of India’s most respected experts in women’s studies and was the founder-trustee of Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW), of which she is the current Director.
Since the passing of Kamala Das in 2009, B.M. Suhara has emerged as one of Malayalam literature’s leading women authors. Her work focuses on the social problems of the Malabar Muslim community in Kerala. Her most famous works are Nizhal (Shadow) and Venal (Summer). She won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 2008 for her contribution to Malayalam literature.
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