Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

novelist, short story writer, poet, and essayist

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (July 29, 1956) is an Indian-American author, poet, and the Betty and Gene McDavid Professor of Writing at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program.


  • This novel was born out of a combination of visits I paid to Kolkata and my own musings on family secrets (yes, my family has some!). It struck me that that's an element that transcends culture and country -- the family secret, things we consider shameful or dangerous and keep hidden from outsiders. And what a burden this can become. I was also musing on how the inability to live in amity with difference can cause so much strife and grief, both in the larger political arena and in the home. All these came together in Oleander Girl.
  • I did not think I had a story to tell…Moving to a very different culture and learning to live on my own made me see the world much more clearly…. I thought about India more than I had ever before. I realized what I appreciated about it; the warmth, the closeness of extended family, the way spirituality pervades the culture. But I also recognized problems [with regard to] how women are often treated.
  • I spent childhood vacations with my grandfather in a little village three hours outside of Kolkata. At night, he would bring me and my cousins together, light a kerosene lamp, because there was no electricity, and tell us wonderful stories from folktales, fairy tales, and epics. Sometimes he’d tell family stories, or make up ghost stories. I enjoyed it at the time but didn’t realize what an effect it would have on me. It made me understand the power of storytelling, and how, through stories, so much is communicated and passed on from generation to generation.
  • …some characters would be more androgynous by nature and maybe by nurture. But as I’ve continued to write, I’ve made it a point, for my own growth, to write from the point of view of both men and women. I’m also interested in how some women can be unsympathetic to women’s issues, especially as they grow older and attain positions of power over other women. That relationship between women, and the power struggle that ensues, is interesting. I want to explore the fact that things are not as simple as saying, okay, men are the bad guys, they’re the only villains…
  • When I wrote Arranged Marriage, many of the women in that book were isolated...That isn’t so for women coming here now. They have access to generations of wisdom, from recipes to how to bring up children to husband problems. There are also fewer chances of abuse, because domestic abuse flourishes in isolation. We are seeing less abuse, at least in the newer generation. There is more accountability.
  • It has definitely influenced my writing. I put appropriate Bengali words in among the English ones because I want that weaving of languages. Concepts from Bengali are sometimes difficult to translate but I want them to have a role. It’s complicated. How do you bring them in without putting little explanatory notes? How do you write so you are at once inviting everyone into your book but also creating a special texture that people of your language background would especially appreciate?
  • Food is an important symbol. It’s particularly important for immigrants as the one thing they hope to be able to carry forward that’s relatively easy to recreate, although it was much harder in the early days when there weren’t many Indian groceries. Immigrants learned to make substitutions, like using Bisquick for gulab jamuns, tricks like that. I’m interested in food in my personal life, too. But food exists on many levels in my books. It reflects changes in our culture as we take shortcuts in how we cook our food, how it remains a comfort regardless.
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