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Ambai at the Brooklyn Book Festival
September 22, 2019 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Breaking Out: Women and Girls on Their Own Terms
Mona Eltahawy (The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls), Tamil writer Ambai (A Kitchen in the Corner of the House), and Téa Obreht (Inland) bring to life strong female voices of the past and present. From Eltahaway’s powerful #MeToo manifesto to Obreht’s reimagining the American West with a tale of an unflinching frontierswoman to Ambai’s courageous characters grappling with motherhood, self-assertion and sexuality – all three writers address issues of confinement and liberation in the face of larger cultural and historical forces.
Moderated by Rivka Galchen
C.S. Lakshmi, writing under the pseudonym of Ambai, is a feminist Tamil writer. She was born in 1944 in Tamil Nadu, and grew up in Bangalore and Mumbai. She received her PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her publications include In a Forest, A Deer, Fish in a Dwindling Lake, A Meeting on the Andheri Overbridge, The Purple Sea, and A Night with a Black Spider and articles in newspapers such as The Hindu, The Times of India, and Political Weekly. Her short stories portray the reality of the lives of women, communicating their silence through words. She has worked in research projects such as:The Face Behind the Mask: Women in Tamil Literature. In 1988, Lakshmi founded SPARROW (Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women) a non-governmental organization for documenting and archiving the work of female writers and artists. She is currently a member of the University of Michigan’s Global Feminisms Project.
A Kitchen in the Corner of the House collects twenty-five gem-like stories from the innovative and perceptive Tamil writer Ambai.
Ambai’s narrators are daring and courageous, stretching and reinventing their homes, marriages, and worlds. With each story, her expansive voice confronts the construction of gender in Tamil literature. Piecing together letters, journal entries, and notes, Ambai weaves themes of both self-liberation and confinement into her writing. Her transfixing stories often meditate on motherhood, sexuality, and the liberating, in turn inhibiting, contours of the body.
In one story, a young girl is frozen in terror, waiting to tell mother that she’s just gotten her period. She thinks, “I need my mother. My heart yearns for her…” Fueled by such longing, each of Ambai’s characters seek a freer form of language and expression in Tamil. In another, a yellow fish flits into the ocean with an arrogant snort – at one moment on the brink of death and in the next, freely merging with the ocean’s blue-grey depths.