Each week, the My America blog series will introduce you to one of the writers featured in our newest exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers Today, now open. The exhibit is designed to elicit thoughtful dialogue on a wide array of issues with contemporary immigrant and refugee writers delving into questions about writing influences, being multilingual, community, family, duality, otherness and what it means to be American. Check back every Wednesday to learn more about these writers and their thoughts on these themes, as we highlight select quotes from the exhibit as well as reading recommendations. Today, it’s our pleasure to introduce award-winning writer Amitav Ghosh.
Amitav Ghosh has been writing a long time. Born in Calcutta, India, Ghosh felt the pull toward writing as young reader. “In the culture that I’m from, from eastern India, Bengal, reading and education is very highly prized. So I knew from quite an early age, because I read a lot, that I wanted to write.” And write he did. Ghosh is the author of nine novels, six works of nonfiction, and numerous essays and other writings. He is also holds two Lifetime Achievement awards and four honorary doctorate degrees. In 2007 he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest honors, by the President of India and in 2018 he became the first English-language writer to receive the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary honor.
Ghosh came to the United States in 1988 when he was invited to be a visiting professor at the University of Virginia. He would go on to split time between the U.S. and India, eventually meeting and marrying his American wife. They now live in New York City with their children, but still spend plenty of time visiting family in India. This lifestyle has afforded Ghosh many blessings, but he realizes it also has its drawbacks. “For me as a writer [living in different places] has been a great help, in many ways. But I think it also, perhaps, takes something away. I certainly don’t have the deep sense of rootedness that, say, some of my uncles had, or people that I know in New York have.”
The following are excerpts from our newest exhibit My America: Immigrant and Refugee Writers, now open. You can read more about Ghosh and hear him speak on these topics in more depth by exploring My America. Plan your visit today!
Selected Quotes from My America
On Writing in Different Languages
“My writing emerges from that borderland between many languages. Bengali, Italian, English. I draw on these resources all the time. Whenever I feel sort of stuck with a story I always go back to other languages and try to think of writing that same story in another voice.”
On Finding Home
“I’m like a turtle, I carry my world on my back…I try and make myself at home where I happen to be. And for someone like me, having grown up in these circumstances of having been in different places at different times, I find it quite easy to go to a place and get on. So you could say I belong everywhere and nowhere.”
“My family is, in many ways, central to my writing. And I like to think that in one way or the other, all my books begin with some story one of my uncles told me. And fortunately I have a lot of uncles.”
On The Writing Life
“Certainly I’ll never be an American writer in the cast of Eudora Welty or someone. But then no one will. We are in a different world. I would say that I’m a writer who’s profoundly rooted in our time…Most American writers that I meet, their circumstances are not unlike mine, they shuttle between cities. That’s kind of become, as it were, the writing life.”
On The Storytelling Voice
“The storytelling voice varies a lot between languages. I think in English the contemporary storytelling voice is very ironic, it’s very distant. And that’s something that’s come about over the last 60 or 70 years. In Bengali, especially, the storytelling voice is much more intimate. It’s much more inviting. It reaches out to the reader much more. So when I try to think of a story in that voice, the whole stance changes, the whole way of telling a story changes. So the difference is not in the material that you’re narrating, it’s in the voice that you’re trying to reach for.”