SHORT THIRD-PERSON BIO
Meena Kandasamy is a poet, fiction writer, translator and activist who was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. She has published two collections of poetry, Touch and Ms Militancy, and the critically acclaimed novel, The Gypsy Goddess. Her second novel, When I Hit You, was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2018. Her latest novel is Exquisite Cadavers. Her op-ed/essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, The White Review, Guernica, Al Jazeera, Financial Times, Himal Southasian, The Hindu, Outlook among other places. She divides her time between Tamil Nadu and East London.
Meena Kandasamy was born in 1984 in Chennai. Her maternal grandparents were lower-caste Shudras who fell in love against social norms and left the country for Ethiopia where her mother, Vasantha, was born. They subsequently returned to India. Her father, Kandasamy, born in the nomadic tribe of Andi Pandaram in a tiny village in the Pudukottai District, was the first in his family, and village, to finish school, college, and university. He went on to receive a PhD in Tamil literature. He came from a landless family, and was himself of mixed-caste heritage. His father, Karuppiah was a witch-doctor, and the hereditary professions were fortune-telling and begging. Even today, the words Andi and Pandaram continue to be slur words in Tamil and Malayalam that denote ‘beggars’.
Meena's father grew up in an orphanage after his father abandoned the family. Her parents’ marriage in 1981 was considered anti-caste (jaathi maruppu thirumanam). Her mother worked at IIT Madras for three decades as a faculty of mathematics, a period during which she led a legal battle for the implementation of the reservation policy and for her work to be recognised by a hostile Brahmin academia. Her father taught Tamil for a time at the Madras University. Their involvement in the anti-caste struggle led Meena to work alongside Dalit movements and it influences all her work.
In her late teens (2002) she was the editor of The Dalit, a bimonthly “that provided a platform to record atrocities, condemn oppressive hierarchies and document the forgotten heritage.” Subsequently, she translated the essays and speeches of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi founder-leader Thol.Thirumavalavan into English: Talisman: Extreme Emotions of Dalit Liberation (2003) and Uproot Hindutva: The Fiery Voice of the Liberation Panthers (2004). In 2007, she translated Dravidian ideologue Periyar's feminist tract Penn Yaen Adimai Aanaal? (Why Were Women Enslaved?) and co-wrote the first English biography of Kerala's iconic Dalit leader Ayyankali.
Her debut collection of poems, Touch (2006) was themed around caste and untouchability, and her second collection, Ms Militancy (2010) was an explosive, feminist retelling/reclaiming of Tamil and Hindu myths.
Her critically acclaimed first (anti)novel, The Gypsy Goddess, (2014) smudged the line between powerful fiction and fearsome critique in narrating the 1968 massacre of forty-four landless untouchable men, women and children striking for higher wages in the village of Kilvenmani, Tanjore, Tamil Nadu. Her second novel, a work of auto-fiction, When I Hit You: Or, The Portrait of the Writer As A Young Wife (2017) drew upon her own experience within an abusive marriage, to lift the veil on the silence that surrounds domestic violence and marital rape in modern India. It was selected as book of the year by The Guardian, The Observer, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times; and was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2018, among others. Her third novel, Exquisite Cadavers, a work of experimental fiction was published in November 2019, and like her other novels was longlisted for the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize.
She received a PEN Translates award for her translation of Salma's Manamiyangal (Women, Dreaming; Titled Axis Press, Penguin-Randomhouse India, 2020). At present she is exploring her non-fiction writing through an Arts Council, Developing Your Creative Practice (DYCP) grant. This support enabled her to write two long-form essays exploring female militancy in the LTTE/ Eelam Tamil liberation struggle (The Orders Were to Rape You (The White Review) and The Poetry of Female Fighters (Guernica)).
She holds a PhD in sociolinguistics from Anna University, Chennai (2010). Her work has appeared in eighteen languages. She lives in East London with her children and her partner. She is represented by David Godwin Literary Associates.
International Writing Program, University of Iowa (USA), Aug-Dec 2009
UGC Visiting Fellow, School of Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi), March 2010
British Council- Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow, University of Kent (UK), Jan - April 2011
Visiting Fellow, University of Newcastle (UK), May 2011
UGC Visiting Fellow, School of English, University of Hyderabad (India), March 2012
Writer-in-Residence, International Writers' Workshop, Hong Kong Baptist University, Oct 2012
Institute of Advanced Studies, Visiting Fellow, University of Warwick (UK), May 2015
Writer-in-Residence, Literarisches Colloquium Berlin, May 2016
NYU Gallatin Global Faculty in Residence, New York University, Fall 2018
Hope Street Writer-in-Residence, The White Review, & University of Liverpool (UK), May 2018
City of Stories Writer-in-Residence, Spread the Word & Assoc. of London Chief Librarians, 2018
Festival appearances (selected)
International Literature Festival, Berlin (2020) * Cheltenham Literature Festival (2017, 2019) * Melbourne Writers Festival (2017) * Edinburgh International Book Festival (2019, 2017, 2014) * Festival of Ideas (Bristol, 2017) * Bare Lit Festival, London, 2017 * International Literature Festival Utrecht, 2016 * Poetry on the Road, Bremen, 2016 * Heidelberg Literatur Festival 2015 * Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2014 * Jaipur Literature Festival 2011/2015 * Goa Arts and Literary Festival 2012/ 2013 * Hindu Lit for Life Festival 2013 * Poetry Outloud (Hong Kong) 2012 * Solothurn Literatur Festival 2012 * Kovalam Literary Festival 2011 * Blue Metropolis Literature Festival 2011 * Ottawa Writers Festival 2011 * Poetry Africa Durban 2010 * City of Asylum Jazz Poetry Concert Pittsburgh 2009