Author discusses national identity
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 19:04
National identity is always in flux, internationally acclaimed author Bharati Mukherjee said, describing both her own life and her literary works.
As part of the Transnational Authors visiting writers’ series, Mukherjee spoke Wednesday in the Roselle Center for the Arts about her latest novel, “Miss New India”. The novel is about a girl, Anjali, who migrates from a small Indian town to the new urban center Bangalore and experiences issues of identity, feminism, changing values, generational differences, wealth and ethnic or linguistic identity.
Born in Calcutta, Mukherjee earned her master of fine arts at University of Iowa, when it was the only place in the world to receive a graduate degree in creative writing, she said.
She intended to move back to India to marry a groom of her father’s choosing. Instead Mukherjee moved to Canada, after marrying her husband, author Clark Blaise, and now calls herself an “accidental immigrant.”
“Life has a way of tricking you, or making you think more provocatively,” Mukherjee said in an interview.
The author now teaches a creative writing and literature course called “Narrating the Nation” at University of California, Berkley.
Mukherjee said she was forced to reform her ideals of life and creative writing when immigration suddenly became important to her. She unexpectedly was faced with issues of identity, national allegiance, citizenship and a person’s role in a new country, she said.
Her literature describes the immigrant experience, of which she personally felt the emotional and intellectual challenges. However, she said none of her works are autobiographical.
“I realized that as a writer I needed to find metaphors, characters, situations for thinking through the conflicts that I was having to resolve for myself,” Mukherjee said in an interview.
The authors’ series is designed to bring in internationally known writers, including two Nobel literature prizewinners to campus, English professor Emily Davis said.
“Students are not getting only a creative writer, but someone who is working on issues of migration, transnationalism, things that are really important in the world right now, that they might not necessarily get a chance to talk about in their classes,” Davis said.
The series lets students see authors up-close and interact with them, said Davis, who hosted Mukherjee in her world literature class “Women in Globalization.” Mukherjee answered students’ questions about the writing process, how her stories originate and develop, why stories end in certain ways and how characters should be viewed.
“For the creative writing students, especially, that was really exciting,” Davis said. “Those aren’t the kinds of questions you can just answer in a class if you don’t have the author there, so it’s an incredible opportunity for them.”