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Meet, 77 year-old novelist, Anita Desai

desai, anita
Anita Desai

My Literature Lesson, today, focuses on an amazing lady who has been writing for almost seven decades. For readers of the anthology “When the Sun Goes Down and Other Stories from Africa and Beyond”, the name Anita Desai might be familiar – and it should be – since she is the author of “Diamond Dust” one of the sixteen short stories in this collection. For those who haven’t read the story, here’s a summary of the story. 

Anita Desai was born Anita Mazumdar on 24th June, 1937 to in Mussoorie, india to a German mother and a Bengali father. In fact, while many people think of her as Indian, Ms Desai grew up speaking in German at home but other languages like Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and English outside the house.  Anita first learnt English at school and chose it as her literary language.

Did you know that Anita published her first story at the age of just nine?

Indeed, Anita began writing short stories at the age of seven and two years later, she published her first story. She attended Queen Mary’s Higher Secondary School in Delhi and then the Miranda House of the University of Delhi, where she graduated with a B.A in English and Literature in 1957.

A family of writers!

In 1958 Anita married Ashvin Desai, a director of a computer software company, who is also the author of the book Between Eternities: Ideas on Life and The Cosmos. One of their four children, Kiran Desai is an accomplished novelist and winner of the Booker-Prize.

Anita has won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (1983), a prestigious, once-in-a-lifetime book award in the UK.

Great Novelist

Desai published her first novel, Cry The Peacock, in 1963. 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 neighbourhood 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.

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In 1993 Anita became a creative writing teacher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her novel, The Zigzag Way, set in 20th-century Mexico, appeared in 2004 and her latest collection of short stories, The Artist of Disappearance was published in 2011.


Even at the age of 77, Anita still writes for the New York Review of Books and is a distinguished Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and of Girton College, Cambridge.

For a full analysis of Anita Desai’s short story “Diamond Dust” click here.

John Nyakoyo

Does written Literature rock your boat like it does mine? I think so… that’s why you’re here 🙂 Join me as I take a look at some of East Africa’s most prolific writers and their works.

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