Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No. 2

September 25, 2003


Anita Rau Badami: She's a writer on the move

by Angie Gaddy

Photo of Anita Rau Badami

Author Anita Rau Badami is Concordia’s new writer-in-residence. While juggling teaching and editing her latest novel, she wants to meet aspiring writers and find that “new voice.”
Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

The stories we tell define us, linking families to places and people to each other. They can traverse continents and can land, sometimes with mythic proportions, in our own back yard.

Such is the story of Anita Rau Badami, one of Canada’s most talented storytellers, and Concordia University’s new writer-in-residence. Only two novels into her writing career, she is the youngest recipient of the Marian Engel Award.

After her first book, Tamarind Mem, the Globe and Mail said, “A new and exciting talent [has] borne its first fruit on the Canadian literary scene.” Critics summed up her second novel, The Hero’s Walk, more bluntly: “Read it.”

The soft-spoken author reacts with humility, joking that she’s never been a writer-in-residence before, “except at my own home.”

Since moving to Montreal two years ago when her husband, Madhav, got a job teaching at McGill University, she has been working quietly on her third novel. A year ago, she received a call from Concordia offering her the position.

“I was quite excited about it, actually, because I lead a lonely existence,” she said, laughing. “You know, very self-absorbed, because I’m sitting in my room all day.”

When not teaching her advanced creative writing class, Badami will look at manuscripts, works in progress and fiction from writing hopefuls. “I love the idea of reading excerpts from other people’s works in progress. There’s something so intimate about that writing. It’s somebody’s mind exposed. I’m curious about what’s on that page — mind and soul and heart,” she said. “And there’s always that excitement of finding a new voice.”

Her own voice was developed by a mobile childhood. Born in 1961 in India, she was the daughter of a mechanical engineer who worked for the railway company and was transferred every two to three years to another city.

Badami credits that lack of rootedness for her writing. It takes her to a place that is only hers, where she can set up shop, put out a welcome mat and call it home.

She is fascinated by myths and the tales people weave. “I grew up with these mythologies. I never learned them as such in class. They were just in the air,” she said. “When I moved away here, I found those mythologies were really powerful.”

At age 18, she wrote and published her first short story for 75 rupees, and for 10 years after, she worked as a freelance journalist. In 1991, she and her young son moved to Calgary, following her husband, who was pursuing a master’s degree in environmental science.

They later moved to Vancouver, where he earned his doctorate in planning, and she published her two novels. It was there that she began working on her third novel, Can You Hear the Night Bird Sing, to be published next fall.

In the meantime, fan sites have appeared on the Internet. Last year, she participated in the Salon Étranger in Paris, which focused on Indian writers.

She has been contacted by her publishers in India and England to republish her children’s stories, and she has had an idea for book number four. The working title is The Guest, an appropriate one for an author who makes a home wherever she lands.