Amit Chaudhuri
Born15 May 1962 Edit this on Wikidata (age 59)
Kolkata Edit this on Wikidata
LanguageEnglish language Edit this on Wikidata
Notable awardsSahitya Akademi Award Edit this on Wikidata
Website
www.amitchaudhuri.comEdit this at Wikidata
Amit Chaudhuri
Amit Chaudhuri

Amit Chaudhuri (born 15 May 1962) is a novelist, poet, essayist, literary critic, editor, singer and music composer. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009.[1] He was Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia from 2006 to 2021,[2] Since 2020, he has been at Ashoka University, India as Professor of Creative Writing and is also since 2021, Director of the Centre for the Creative and the Critical, Ashoka University.[3] Awards for his fiction include the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Betty Trask Prize, the Encore Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, and the Indian government's Sahitya Akademi Award. He received the Rabindra Puraskar from the Government of West Bengal for his book On Tagore. He was also given the Sangeet Samman by the Government of West Bengal for his contribution to Hindustani classical music. He is an honorary fellow of Balliol College, Oxford.

In September 2020, he was elected as an Honorary Fellow of the Modern Language Association (MLA).[4]

In 2013, Amit Chaudhuri became the first person to be awarded the Infosys Prize for outstanding contribution to the humanities in Literary Studies, by a jury comprising Amartya Sen, Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia University), Homi Bhabha (Harvard), Sheldon Pollock (Columbia), former Indian chief justice Leila Seth, and legal thinker Upendra Baxi (Warwick). In his prize-giving address, Amartya Sen said: 'He [Chaudhuri] is of course a remarkable intellectual with a great record for literary writing showing a level of sensibility as well as a kind of quiet humanity which is quite rare. It really is quite extraordinary that someone could have had that kind of range that Amit Chaudhuri has in terms of his work and it could be so consistently of the highest quality.' [5]

In 2015, Chauhuri was invited to write the libretto for the opera composed by Ravi Shankar, Sukanya. It had its world premiere at the Royal Festival Hall, London, in 2017.

Life

Amit Chaudhuri was born in Calcutta (renamed Kolkata) in 1962 and grew up in Bombay (renamed Mumbai). His father was the first Indian CEO[citation needed] of Britannia Industries Limited. His mother, Bijoya Chaudhuri, was a highly acclaimed singer of Rabindra Sangeet, Nazrulgeeti, Atul Prasad and Hindi bhajans.[6] He was a student at the Cathedral and John Connon School, Bombay. He took his first degree in English literature from University College London, and wrote his doctoral dissertation on D. H. Lawrence's poetry at Balliol College, Oxford.

He is married to Rosinka Chaudhuri, Professor of Cultural Studies and Director of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC).[7][8] They have one daughter.

Chaudhuri began writing a series for The Paris Review titled The Moment from January 2018.[9] He also wrote an occasional column, 'Telling Tales', for The Telegraph.[10]

Fiction, Non Fiction, Poetry

Fiction

A Strange and Sublime Address, Chaudhuri’s first novel published in 1991, was republished by Penguin Random House India in 2016 as a 25th anniversary edition, with a foreword by Colm Toibin.[11]

Afternoon Raag,  his second novel, interleaves experiences of Oxford with memories of Bombay. It was published in 1993 and won the Encore Award.[12] The 25th anniversary edition was published by Penguin Random House India in 2019 with a foreword by James Wood.[13]

Freedom Song, his third novel, was published four years later. Set against the background of the post-Babri Masjid demolition, it is a record of both the artificial quiet that such a socio-political situation creates as well as the evocation of a Calcutta winter where everyday life must go on. Published in America with the first two novels, in 2000 it won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

A New World (2001), Chaudhuri’s fourth novel tells the story of Jayojit Chatterjee, who returns after a divorce with his seven-year-old son Vikram (“Bonny”) to Calcutta to visit his aging parents. It won the Sahitya Akademi Award.

Real Time, Chaudhuri’s collection of short fiction, was published in 2002. The title story, ‘Real Time’ is prescribed reading for English in the GCSE syllabus in the UK.

The Immortals, his fifth novel, published in 2009, follows Nirmalya and his music teacher, Shyamji, as they learn and practice Indian classical music in a changing world.

Odysseus Abroad, Chaudhuri’s sixth novel, appeared in 2014-15. It unfolds over the course of a single day, in July in 1985 London, following the student protagonist, Ananda.

Friend of My Youth is Chaudhuri's seventh novel. It was published in the UK and India in 2017 and in the US in 2019. It is an account of a narrator and novelist called Amit Chaudhuri who visits Bombay, a city where he grew up, for a book event.

Non-Fiction

Chaudhuri’s D.Phil. dissertation at Oxford was published by Clarendon Press as a monograph titled D.H. Lawrence and Difference in 2003. It was called a ‘classic’ by Tom Paulin in his preface to the book, and a ‘path-breaking work’ by Terry Eagleton in the London Review of Books.[14]

Chaudhuri edited the influential anthology, The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature in 2001.

He has also edited Memory’s Gold: Writings on Calcutta (2008)

His first major work of non-fiction, Calcutta: Two Years in the City, was published in 2013 as was Telling Tales Chaudhuri’s second book of essays.

On Tagore, a collection of Chaudhuri’s essays on Rabindranath Tagore, was awarded the Rabindra Puraskar in 2012.

Origins of Dislike, a third collection of essays, was published in 2019.

Literary Activism, a collection of essays by a variety of participants at the first symposium of the same name (see below) was published in 2017 by Boiler House Press in the UK, and by OUP in India and the US.

Finding the Raga, an exploration of Hindustani classical music,  was published by Faber in the UK, NYRB Books in the US and Penguin in India in 2021.

Poetry

St. Cyril Road and Other Poems, Chaudhuri’s first collection of poems, was published in 2005 by Penguin in India.

Sweet Shop, his second book of poems, appeared from Penguin Random House India in 2018, and from Salt (UK) in 2019.

Ramanujan, his third collection of poems, was published by Shearsman Books in the UK  in 2021.

Critical responses

James Wood, writing about Chaudhuri in The New Yorker, said, "He has beautifully practiced that 'refutation of the spectacular' throughout his career, both as a novelist and as a critic. ... how little Chaudhuri forces anything on us — there is no obvious plot, no determined design, no faked 'conflict' or other drama ... The effect is closer to documentary than to fiction; gentle artifice — selection, pacing, occasional dialogue — hides overt artifice. The author seems to say, Here he is; what do you think? The literary pleasure is a human pleasure, as we slowly encounter this strolling, musing, forceful self."[15]

Afternoon Raag: ‘It is a meditation, a felicitous prose poem.’ Karl Miller, The Independent. [16]

A New World: ‘The condition of a stranger in a familiar land is dramatized with beguiling simplicity and tact in this deeply moving fourth novel…. A pitch-perfect analysis of repressed and stunted emotion, and another triumph to set beside those of Desai, Rushdie, Roy, and especially (the Chekhovian master Chaudhuri most closely resembles) R.K. Narayan.’ Kirkus Reviews [17]

The Immortals: ‘Amit Chaudhuri, himself a composer and musician, excels in the passages devoted to music, "the miracle of song and its pleasure". Steven Poole, The Guardian. [18]

Odysseus Abroad: ‘Chaudhuri is a singular writer. He defies form; instead he has perfected an observational fiction based on insight and memory.’ Eileen Battersby, Irish Times [19]

Telling Tales: ‘Chaudhuri’s intellectual project is not so much to cross academic boundaries as to remove the sign that says: “No playing on the grass”. Like Barthes (and Lacan), he sees merit in concentrating less on the meaningful and more on the apparently meaningless.' Deborah Levy in the New Statesman [20]

Friend of My Youth: 'With the publication of Friend of My Youth, Amit Chaudhuri is now the author of seven novels, greatly admired, especially by his peers... The drama of the self, spun from Chaudhuri's meditations and recollections, is artfully composed and utterly absorbing.' Kate Webb in the Times Literary Supplement.[21]

Activism

Literary Activism

In response to the marginalisation of the literary by both the market (that is, mainstream publishing houses) and by academia, Amit Chaudhuri began, in December 2014, a series of annual symposiums on what he called ‘literary activism’, thereby attempting to a create a space akin neither ‘to the literary festival or the academic conference’, bringing together writers, academics, and artists each year. One of the features of Chaudhuri’s initiative has been a resistance to specialisation, or what he calls ‘professionalisation’. The project has involved the fashioning of a new terminology by Chaudhuri, in which he creates terms like ‘market activism’, and assigns very particular means to words like ‘literary activism’ and deprofessionalisation’. Some of his positions are contained in his mission statement (http://ueaindiacreativewritingworkshop.com/symposium-on-literary-activism/), and in his n+1 essay (https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/the-piazza-and-the-parking-lot/). ‘So there may well be in literary activism a strangeness that echoes the strangeness of the literary. Unlike market activism, whose effect on us depends on a certain randomness which reflects the randomness of the free market, literary activism may be desultory, in that its aims and value aren’t immediately explicable.’ From Amit Chaudhuri’s mission statement for the first symposium on literary activism.

A collection of essays titled Literary Activism: A Symposium from the first symposium was published in 2017 by Boiler House Press in the UK, and by OUP in India and the US. A new website for literary activism, www.literaryactivism.com, edited by Chaudhuri, came into existence on 4 August 2020.

Architectural Activism

In 2015, Chaudhuri began drawing attention to Calcutta’s architectural legacy and campaigning for its conservation. Writing about these houses made in the twentieth century, he lists their characteristics:

These were the house’s features: a porch on the ground floor; red oxidised stone floors; slatted Venetian or French-style windows painted green; round knockers on doors; horizontal wooden bars to lock doors; an open rooftop terrace; a long first-floor verandah with patterned cast-iron railings; intricately worked cornices; and ventilators the size of an open palm, carved as intricate perforations into walls. (Some houses built in the 1940s also incorporate perky art-deco elements: semi-circular balconies; a long, vertical strip comprising glass panes for the stairwell; porthole-shaped windows; and the famous sunrise motif on grilles and gates.) .... What is remarkable, though, is that no two houses are identical: a house with a broad facade might stand next to a thin house, both sharing various characteristics – and there are many other ways in which each house you encounter is a fresh conjuring-up or experiment. This makes for an unprecedented, sui generis variety in a single lane or neighbourhood; a variety I have seen nowhere else (think, in contrast, of the identical Victorian houses on a London street). And the style – which can only be described as Bengali-European – is neither renaissance (hardly any Corinthian pillars, as you might spot in the North Calcutta villas) nor neo-Gothic (as Bombay’s colonial buildings are) nor Indo-Saracenic, which expresses a utopian idea of what a mish-mash of Renaissance, Hindu and Moghul features might be. It’s a style that is, to use Amartya Sen’s word, “eccentric” and beautiful, and entirely the Bengali middle class’s.[22]

Music

Amit Chaudhuri is a singer in the North Indian classical tradition, who has performed internationally.[23] He learned singing from his mother, Bijoya Chaudhuri, and from the late Pandit Govind Prasad Jaipurwale[24] of the Kunwar Shyam gharana. HMV India (now Saregama) has released two recordings of his singing, and a selection of the khayals he has performed on CD. Bihaan Music brought out a collection called The Art of the Khayal in 2016. A selection of classical recordings:

In 2004, he began to conceptualise a project in experimental music, This is Not Fusion, released in Britain on the independent jazz label, Babel LabelK. His second CD, Found Music, came out in October 2010 in the UK from Babel and was released in India from EMI. It was an allaboutjazz.com Editor’s Choice of 2010.[25] Songs from This is Not Fusion include: Berlin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfPIf4NiVA0 and The Layla Riff to Todi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5oNQqJkITs

Awards and honours

Bibliography

Novels

Collected short stories

Poetry

Libretto

Non-fiction

Edited Anthologies

Critical studies and reviews

Reprints

Reprint Details Originally Published
A strange and sublime address. Minerva. 1992. Heinemann, 1991

Newspaper Articles

References

  1. ^ "Royal Society of Literature » Amit Chaudhuri". rsliterature.org. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  2. ^ "Your Teachers - UEA". uea.ac.uk. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  3. ^ "Faculty/Staff".
  4. ^ "Honorary Members and Fellows". Modern Language Association. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  5. ^ "Infosys Prize - Laureates 2012 - Prof. Amit Chaudhuri". www.infosys-science-foundation.com. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  6. ^ Amit Chaudhuri (22 April 2017). "Bijoya Chaudhuri - Eso Nipabane (Tagore)". Archived from the original on 19 December 2021. Retrieved 15 July 2018 – via YouTube.
  7. ^ "Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta". cssscal.org. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  8. ^ "First ever Global South professor announced | University of Oxford". ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  9. ^ "The Paris Review - The Moment of the Houses".
  10. ^ Samhita Chakraborty, 'There's something about a Calcutta childhood' Talking Tales with Amit Chaudhuri, The Telegraph, 19 February 2014. Accessed 30 August 2020.
  11. ^ Blog, The Penguin India (2 November 2016). "Foreword to the 25th anniversary edition of Amit Chaudhuri's 'A Strange and Sublime Address'". Penguin India Blog. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  12. ^ "BOOK REVIEW / Long, short and beautifully formed: 'Afternoon Raag' -". The Independent. 23 October 2011. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  13. ^ Wood, James. "'Afternoon Raag' reminds us Amit Chaudhuri wrote 'autofiction' 25 years before it became a trend". Scroll.in. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  14. ^ Eagleton, Terry (5 February 2004). "Anti-Humanism". London Review of Books. 26 (3). ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  15. ^ "Nothing Happens. Everything Happens". The New Yorker. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  16. ^ "BOOK REVIEW / Long, short and beautifully formed: 'Afternoon Raag' -". The Independent. 23 October 2011. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  17. ^ A NEW WORLD | Kirkus Reviews.
  18. ^ "Review: The Immortals: A Novel by Amit Chaudhuri". The Guardian. 21 March 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  19. ^ Battersby, Eileen. "Bloom, Odysseus ... and Ananda: Odysseus Abroad, by Amit Chaudhuri". The Irish Times. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  20. ^ "Telling Tales by Amit Chaudhuri: The principle mode of our epoch isn't business, but business". www.newstatesman.com. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  21. ^ "The only way to be - Fiction". TLS. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  22. ^ Chaudhuri, Amit (2 July 2015). "Calcutta's architecture is unique. Its destruction is a disaster for the city". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 July 2021.
  23. ^ a b c Alex Tickell (2002). "Chauduri, Amit". In Alison Donnell (ed.). Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture. Routledge. p. 72. ISBN 978-1-134-70025-7.
  24. ^ "Amit Chaudhuri | Outlook India Magazine". www.outlookindia.com/. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  25. ^ Jazz, All About. "Amit Chaudhuri: Found Music album review @ All About Jazz". All About Jazz. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  26. ^ "UEA professor Amit Chaudhuri wins £30,000 literary prize - Press Release Archive - UEA". uea.ac.uk. Retrieved 18 November 2018.