Friday, February 10, 2017

RIP Bharati Mukherjee

RIP Bharati Mukherjee, who died January 28th at the age of 76. This wonderful Indian-American writer was part of the exciting and long overdue burst of multicultural writing of the 1970s and beyond. She, along with writers such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan, were true pioneers who broke the boundaries and opened up American fiction to a much broader range of writers and topics and experiences, and fiction has been the better for it ever since. It is perhaps hard for younger readers to realize the huge contrast between the pre-1970s and now, when we perhaps take for granted the much wider and more inclusive universe of writers and writing available in the U.S. now. Mukherjee’s writing was generally about immigrants, many Indian-American but also many from other backgrounds. This author was born in India, studied at the famed University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, lived and taught at several places in Canada and the United States, notably UC Berkeley, and spent many years in San Francisco, where I live. I heard her read at least twice. My friend J. was her colleague and friend at a college in the East where their teaching overlapped for a while, and spoke highly of her. Mukherjee was scheduled by her parents for an arranged marriage, but she made her own decision when in Iowa and married the writer Clark Blaise; they were married for 53 years, and he survives her. Her fiction includes “The Tiger’s Daughter,” “Wife,” “The Middleman and Other Stories,” "Jasmine," and “Desirable Daughters,” among other books. I read most of her books, always with great interest and pleasure. She was a terrific writer and an influential one. On a personal note, I feel connected to her and her work not only through the San Francisco connection but also because of my childhood in India. But most of all, as a longtime voracious reader of English and American literature, I was thrilled when at last there were more books being written and published in the United States by women and more books by people from various national and ethnic backgrounds.

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