Writer CS Lakshmi, popularly known by her pseudonym Ambai, has won the Shakti Bhatt Literary Prize for her decades of fiction and non-fiction on women’s rights and activism.
“I began writing at the age of 16 and I am going to be 79 next month,” shared Lakshmi, who was born in Tamil Nadu and has published in both English and Tamil, “So my worldview has surely changed, not in terms of its fundamental aspects but in terms of its practical aspects.”
Lakshmi has been an active academic in women’s studies and founded SPARROW (Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women) in 1988, a project to archive women’s art. It includes banks of oral narratives, text and visuals, and digital art. Funding was hard to come by at first, but after multiple exhibitions and workshops to encourage art out of young people, money started coming in from foundations and governments.
“I write only what I honestly want to write and not for whatever is demanded by a group of readers. I don’t even know if I have a committed readership. The need for compromise comes when one feels that money is an important factor in life. That has not been so for me,” she shared in a statement.
Stories like In a Forest, a Deer, about a woman unable to have children deciding to find another wife for her husband, or collections like A Purple Sea, including tales of puberty, marriage and sexuality, have won widespread acclaim.
“Ambai’s writing has a powerfully resonant quality that speaks to the very intimate emotions and experiences of one’s life, while also being razor-edged, trenchant in its renderings of collective and systemic realities,” shared illustrator Sharanya Manivannan in a statement.
“Her work has been brought into English thanks to good translators who have understood the many small wavelets beneath her words. As a reader in English, and as a writer informed by my own Tamilness, I am grateful both to the original author for her evocative writing and to her creative emissaries for their beautiful renditions,” she added.
Lakshmi won the Sahitya Academy Award in 2021 for her story collection, Civappuk Kazuttu Tan Oru Paccaip Parava. She also won the Tata Literature Live! Lifetime Achievement Award in 2023.
The Shakti Bhatt Prize is one of India’s oldest literary awards, instituted in the memory of publisher Shakti Bhatt, by her husband and poet Jeet Thayil.
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