Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Biography

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(Short Stories for Students)

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Divakaruni was born in Calcutta, India, on July 29, 1956, into a traditional, middle-class Indian family. She lived in several Indian cities while she was growing up and then attended the University of Calcutta, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in English. Her family expected that she would get married after she finished her education and spend her time raising a family in India. However, in 1976, when she was nineteen, she immigrated to the United States. In 1978, she graduated with a master’s degree in English from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. The next year, she married S. Murthy Divakaruni, although not in a traditional arranged marriage. In 1985, she graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with her doctorate in English. While she was a student at Berkeley, she volunteered at a women’s center, where she worked with abused women. This experience would inspire her in many ways. After school, she taught creative writing at Diablo Valley College (1987–1989). She also began writing her own poems.

In 1989, Divakaruni began teaching creative writing at Foothill College. While teaching there, she published several works. In her poetry collection Black Candle (1991), the poems concern the various issues faced by women in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The same year, she helped form Maitri, a nonprofit organization in the San Francisco Bay area that assists South Asian women facing domestic violence, emotional abuse, or family conflict. Maitri is a Sanskrit word that means friendship. Her volunteer work with other immigrant women at Maitri—where she also served as president for several years—inspired her to write Arranged Marriage: Stories (1995). This collection of short stories, which won the American Book Award in 1996, examined the experiences of immigrant Indian women who are torn between their Indian heritage and American culture. In 1997, she published two works, her first novel, The Mistress of Spices, and a poetry collection, Leaving Yuba City: New and Selected Poems. The latter was awarded the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize and the Pushcart Prize. In 2001, Divakaruni published her second collection of short stories, The Unknown Errors of Our Lives (2001), which includes the story ‘‘Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter.’’ Her latest novel, The Vine of Desire (2002), is a sequel to her 1999 novel, Sister of My Heart. Divakaruni lives and works in the San Francisco Bay area.


(Short Stories for Students)

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni was born on July 29, 1956, in Calcutta, India, the daughter of R. K. and Tatini Banerjee. One of her earliest memories is that of her grandfather telling her stories from the ancient Indian scriptures, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. She noticed that unlike the male heroes, the main relationships the women had were with men; they never had any important women friends. This realization was to greatly influence Divakaruni's writing, which focuses on women's relationships.

Divakaruni was brought up and continued to be in adulthood a devout Hindu. As a child, however, she attended a convent school run by Irish nuns. She gained a bachelor's degree from Calcutta University in 1976 and, in the same year, immigrated to the United States. In 1978, she received a master's degree from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and in 1985, she received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She began to write fiction after graduating from Berkeley.

Divakaruni has drawn on her own experiences as an immigrant and those of other immigrant Indian women in her poetry, short stories, and novels. Her poetry collection, Black Candle (1991), recounts stories of women from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Arranged Marriage (1995), a collection of short stories which marked her first foray into prose and which includes "Meeting Mrinal," portrays immigrant Indian women who are caught between two cultures: the Indian culture of their birth and the Western culture of their adopted country, the United States. Her novel The Mistress of Spices (1997), a blend of poetry and prose, draws on Indian mystical and cultural traditions to portray a woman who has acquired immortality through a rite of fire and the knowledge of how to use spices for healing. Eventually, she is forced to choose between her own culture and that of the non-Indian man she comes to love.

In 1999, Divakaruni published a novel, Sister of My Heart. The book explores the conflicts between Indian people who embrace their traditional culture and those who embrace new Western ideas. Divakaruni published another collection of poetry, Leaving Yuba City, in 1997. These poems also deal with immigrant women and their struggles to find an identity in their new country.

When asked why she writes, according to the quote posted on the Random House website, Divakaruni replied, "There is a certain spirituality, not necessarily religious—the essence of spirituality—that is at the heart of the Indian psyche, that finds the divine in everything…. It was important for me to start writing about my own reality and that of my community."

While arranged marriages have formed a major theme in her work, Divakaruni herself opted for love; on June 29, 1979, she was married to S. Murthy Divakaruni. As of 2006, the couple had two sons, Abhay and Anand. As of 2006, she lived in Sunnyvale, California, and was a professor of creative writing at Foothill College, Los Altos, a position to which she was appointed in 1989. Divakaruni is active within the Asian American community. In 1991, she established Maitri, a hotline for South Asian women who suffer domestic abuse.

Divakaruni has received many awards for her work. In 1996, for Arranged Marriage, she received the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Prize for Fiction, the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for Fiction, and an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. The Mistress of Spices was named a best book of 1997 by the Los Angeles Times and a best paperback of 1998 by the Seattle Times. For poems that were later collected in Leaving Yuba City, she won a Pushcart Prize (1994), an Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize (1994), and a Gerbode Foundation Award (1992).