Meena Kandasamy honored as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature-Art-and-culture News, Firstpost
In 2022, the RSL launched a program to induct fellows from “communities, backgrounds and experiences currently underrepresented in British literary culture”. This includes writers of color, LGBTQI+ writers, working class writers, writers with disabilities and writers outside of London to ensure diversity.
Meena Kandasamy has made a name for herself as a public figure wearing various hats. She is an anti-caste activist, poet, novelist and translator with a long list of publications, fellowships and residencies to her credit. The distinctions continue to flow as his work grows. Earlier this week she was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (RSL), a UK-based charity which works for the “advancement of literature”.
The author, born in Chennai in 1984, holds a doctorate. in sociolinguistics, announced the news on Twitter with a photo of her signing her name in the historic RSL Roll Book with a pen that once belonged to British novelist George Eliot who wrote Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), and Middle-walk (1871-72), among other books.
The RSL was founded in 1820. According to their latest press release, the organization’s mandate is to be “a bridge between authors and audiences of all backgrounds and experiences to engage as many people as possible with the great diversity literature in the UK”. The RSL Roll Book is considered an honor because it contains the signatures of elected fellows over two centuries. Fellows sign their names in the book using pens belonging to writers like Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, Jean Rhys, Andrea Levy, Arnold Wesker, among others.
This year the RSL launched a program called RSL OPEN to nominate fellows from “communities, backgrounds and experiences currently under-represented in British literary culture”. This includes “writers of colour, LGBTQI+ writers, working class writers, writers with disabilities and writers outside of London” to ensure diversity. Nominations were made by readers and writers across the UK, and the final selection of Fellows was made by a panel of writers chaired by Bernardine Evaristo, who won the Booker Prize in 2019.
Meena Kandasamy is one of 29 writers elected to the scholarship in the first year of RSL Open. We have reached out for his response to this major achievement. Over email, she replied, “There are dreams that have come true for me as a writer – to get a book of poetry or a novel published; see it gain press, a readership, generate debate in society. Then there is that which exists beyond the realm of aspiration, something so distant and remote – something reserved only for the very best in your field of work. The Royal Society of Literature Fellowship was something like that – sacred, prestigious, inaccessible.
Those who missed his work have a sizable stack to wade through. She has four books of poetry – The eighth day of creation (2005), To touch (2006), Ms Militancy (2010), #ThisPoemWillProvokeYou and other poems (2015). His novels are The gypsy goddess (2014), When I hit you or, portrait of the writer as a young woman (2017), and exquisite corpses (2019). She wrote The orders were to rape you: tigresses in the struggle of Tamil Eelam (2021), and co-author Ayyankali: a Dalit leader of biological protest (2007) with Abdul M. Nisar. She has translated six books from Tamil to English.
Anand, publisher and director of Navayana, welcomed the news of her scholarship. He said: “Meena is an artist with words that I have known for 20 years now. I was his first editor in many ways. I admired his evolution as an intrepid artist, always concerned with testing the limits of form and character. She makes language both laugh and cry with her. He published Ms Militancy and The orders were to violatewhich Meena wrote, and the edited volume of Ravikumar Waking up is another dream (2010), which she co-translated.
Anand then described Meena’s writing style. “His English has a Tamil undertone. She cares about the language as she cares about herself. She is central to her work and unapologetic. Yet there is a carefree ease in everything she does. She is very careful about that. I want to see more of Meena the poet – for me, for Navayana and for the world of words.
Manasi Subramaniam, Associate Editor and Head of Rights at Penguin Press, a division of Penguin Random House India, published Women, Dreaming (2019), which is Meena’s English translation of Salma’s Tamil novel Manamiyangal (2017). Calling Meena “the most delicious bundle of contradictions”, Manasi added: “She is as sweet as she is fierce, as shy as she is bold, as open-minded as she is opinionated. My interactions with her have had a rare quality, a feeling, even as her editor, that I am an equal partner in her work She listens to feedback with self-confidence, but also with curiosity, a real desire that her work be enriched by collaboration This kind of thing requires a real generosity of spirit.
Working on this translation involved collaborating not only with Salma and Meena, but also with Saba Ahmed, who is Meena’s editor at the non-profit British publishing house Tilted Axis Press. Manasi said, “It was powerful to be part of this group of women working together.” Next year she will publish Meena’s translation of Book 3 (known as Inbam) from the Tamil classic Thirukkural, attributed to the poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar.
She noted: “It is only the second time, to my knowledge, that this extremely important work has been translated by a woman, although its first English translation was published in 1794, and there have probably been more than ‘one hundred. translations since. What she brought to the text was a keen sense of aesthetic pleasure”. For those unfamiliar with him, Manasi said, “…it’s love poetry, sure, and it’s very sensual, but it’s also full of hyperbole and pathos, and Meena is very sensitive to this contradiction between the solemn and the melodramatic. It’s such a joy to see her engage with the text and unravel its liveliness.
Meena’s induction as a Fellow was applauded by Delhi-based historian William Dalrymple, who is co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival. He said: “I am a huge fan of Meena’s work. She is one of the most powerful and angry voices in Indian poetry and a major talent. I am delighted to welcome her as member of the RSL!”. Meena was part of the festival in 2015, 2019 and 2022. She also spoke at JLF London in 2019 and 2022.
Chintan Girish Modi is a Mumbai-based journalist who tweets @chintanwriting
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