Amit Chaudhuri was born in Calcutta in 1962, and grew up in Bombay. He read English at University College, London, where he took his BA with First Class Honours, and completed his doctorate on critical theory and the poetry of D.H. Lawrence at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was a Dervorguilla Scholar. He was Creative Arts Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford, from 1992-95, and Leverhulme Special Research Fellow at the Faculty of English, Cambridge University, until April 1999, where he taught the Commonwealth and International Literatures paper of the English Tripos. He was on the faculty of the School of the Arts, Columbia University, for the Fall semester, 2002. He was appointed Samuel Fischer Guest Professor of Literature at Free University, Berlin, for the winter term 2005.
He is now Professor in Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia. He was made Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009.
His criticism and fiction have appeared regularly in most of the major journals in the world, including the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, the Observer, the Spectator, Granta, the New Republic, and the New Yorker. A short film was made about him by the BBC for their ‘India Week’ on the Late Show. He was one of the London Observer’s Twenty One writers for the Millennium, and one of India Today’s ‘Faces of the Millennium’.
In 2008, the Guardian wrote an editorial, 'In Praise of... Amit Chaudhuri', calling him a 'publisher's nightmare'.
He was one of the judges for the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and judged the IMPAC Dublin International Literary Prize 2001. In 2009, he was one of the judges of the Man Booker International Prize.
He has written five novels. The first, A Strange and Sublime Address, published in 1991, won the first prize in the Society of Authors’ Betty Trask Awards for a first novel and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book (Eurasia). The second, Afternoon Raag (1993), won the Society of Authors’ Encore Prize for best second novel and the Southern Arts Literature Prize. Both books were shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize. His third novel, Freedom Song, appeared in 1998. All three novels were published in a single omnibus volume, Freedom Song: Three Novels, by Knopf in America in 1999. This omnibus volume was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and an Independent bestseller in America; it was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Fiction, 2000, and was one of the New York Public Library’s 25 Books to Remember, 2000. His fourth novel, A New World, won the Sahitya Akademi award 2002, India’s highest literary honour for a single book. His fifth novel, The Immortals, was published in 2009, and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book. It was a New Yorker Book of the Year 2009, a San Francisco Chronicle Book of the Year 2009, and Reviewers Choice, Best Books of 2009, in the Boston Globe and the Irish Times.
His first novel, A Strange and Sublime Address, is included in Colm Toibin and Carmen Callil’s Two Hundred Best Novels of the Last Fifty Years. His second novel, Afternoon Raag, was on Anne Enright’s list of 10 Best Short Novels in the Guardian.
His writing has been translated into several languages. He is the editor of the Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature, which was also published in the US by Vintage in September 2004.
His book of short stories, Real Time, was published in 2002 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the U.S.A, and in Britain and India by Picador.
His dissertation on D.H.Lawrence, D.H.Lawrence and ‘Difference’: Postcoloniality and the Poetry of the Present, appeared to critical acclaim from the Clarendon Press, Oxford, in June 2003, with an introduction by the renowned Irish poet-critic, Tom Paulin, who called it a ‘classic’. Terry Eagleton, in the London Review of Books, called it ‘probably the single best study of Lawrence’s poetry to date’.
His collection of critical essays, Clearing a Space: Essays on India, Literature, and Culture, was published in the UK and US in 2008 by Peter Lang, and in India by Permanent Black, receiving in-depth and laudatory reviews in papers like the TLS, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, the Economist, Outlook etc. ‘Amit Chaudhuri’s essays and reviews constitute an intellectual autobiography of the first importance,’ said Prof Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (NYU). The philosopher Charles Taylor referred to it as an ‘extraordinary and wide-ranging collection’, which, ‘through a series of highly-focussed apercus, puts in question the key terms of self-understanding of much modern literature’. Prof Gillian Beer observed that ‘Chaudhuri... asks hard questions of himself as well as others, and he engages us as readers with the warmth and acuity of his observations across a wonderful range of writing.’ The sociologist Shmuel Eisenstadt called the book ‘a wonderful key to the understanding of the vitality and specificity of Indian modernity... worth the serious attention of scholars in the social sciences as well as the humanities.’ Michael Gorra, in the Times Literary Supplement, noted ‘how unusual a mind Amit Chaudhuri has... no one interested in either postcolonial literature or the hegemonic discourse called postcolonial studies will be able to ignore this book.’
A book of poetry, St Cyril Road and other poems, was published by Penguin India in 2005.
He has given lectures and readings at various universities and institutions, including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, New York University, Smith College, the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, the Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, Wellesley College, the University of Chicago, Penn State University, and Emory University.
Recently, in October 2010, he spoke with the English philosopher Simon Critchley at the Rubin Museum in New York City about 'nothing' and then gave a concert with his band.
A Note on the Music
Amit Chaudhuri is a trained and critically acclaimed singer in the North Indian classical tradition; he has received high praise for his singing from various newspapers and journals, including the Times of India, the Hindustan Times, Ananda Bazar Patrika and India Today. He learned singing from his mother, the well-known exponent of Tagore songs and devotionals, Bijoya Chaudhuri, and, extensively, from the late Pandit Govind Prasad Jaipurwale of the Kunwar Shyam gharana. He was then guided in Hindustani music by Pandit A. Kanan. He has performed at several venues, including the National Centre of Performing Arts, the Nehru Centre, and the World Social Forum, Bombay; the India International Centre and the India Habitat Centre, Delhi; the Dover Lane Music Circle, the Sangeet Research Academy, the Bhowanipore Sangeet Sammelan, the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre, the CIMA art gallery, and the Raj Bhavan, all in Calcutta; the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune; the Bengal Foundation, Dhaka; the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and the Nehru Centre, London; at the California Institute for Integrated Studies, San Francisco and at Columbia University, New York. HMV has released two cassettes of his singing, and recently brought out a selection of the khayals he’s sung on CD.
In 2004, he began to conceptualise a project in experimental music, ‘This is Not Fusion,’ which received great critical acclaim and an overwhelming response from the audience upon its inaugural performance in Calcutta on January 15, 2005. Since then, it has travelled to the ‘Building Bridges: 60 Years of the UN’ concerts in Delhi, to the Indian Embassy and the Museum of Indian Art, Berlin, the theatreschauspiele, Frankfurt, the Lille 3000 Festival in France, the School of Music, University of East Anglia, Norwich, the British Museum, London, and the Palais de Bozar in Brussels. Since 2007, he's been a regular performer at the legendary London jazz club, the Vortex.
In 2009, the Amit Chaudhuri Band performed for the second time to acclaim at the London Jazz Festival, and also at the Brecon Jazz Festival and the Hay on Wye Festival.
The CD of This is Not Fusion was released by Times Music in February 2007. In February 2010, it was released to acclaim by Babel Label and the Vortex in the UK.
In October 2010, his second CD, Found Music, was released in the UK by Babel; it will be released in India By EMI. It has, like the first CD, received excellent reviews in the British music press.
In connection with the CD, Chaudhuri performed and was interviewed widely on British radio in October 2010: on World on 3/ Late Junction; Loose Ends; Global Gathering (Radio Scotland); The Strand; and Bobby Friction on the Asian Music Network. He performed on UK television's leading culture programme, BBC 2's The Review Show, in 2010.