Amitava Kumar

Visiting Hurst Professor: Amitava Kumar - Workshop

Washington University Department of English is proud to welcome Professor Amitava Kumar as part of its Hurst Visiting Professors Series.

A Workshop  -  The Rancidity of the Butter: Big Ideas and Actual Writing

Recalling when she had to make weekly train trips down to Berkeley from Sacremento to fulfill the English department's Milton requirement, Joan Didion couldn't quite recall what she wrote about Milton that summer but what she could recall was "the exact rancidity of the butter" in the train's dining car. Didion is saying she is a writer and not a presenter of big or abstract ideas.

This workshop will be dedicated to the question of that tension between what we think (say, political ideas) and what we are looking at (say, the pictures in your mind or, for that matter, the taste of butter). To be a good scholar or a good writer, you have to have both: abstract notions smeared with rancid butter. We will discuss examples from both fiction (Alice Munro, J.M. Coetzee, Toni Morrison) and nonfiction (James Baldwin, Teju Cole, and Didion herself). Brief writing exercises will follow each example and there will be time at the end for questions and a discussion.


About Amitava Kumar:

Amitava Kumar is a writer and journalist. He was born in Ara, and grew up in the nearby town of Patna, famous for its corruption, crushing poverty and delicious mangoes. Kumar is the author of several books of non-fiction and four novels. For 2023-24, he is a Cullman Center Fellow at the New York Public Library. In 2016, Kumar was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (General Nonfiction) as well as a Ford Fellowship in Literature from United States Artists. He has also been awarded writing residences by Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, the Rockefeller Foundation at Bellagio, the Norman Mailer Writing Center, Writers Omi at Ledig House, and the Lannan Foundation.

Kumar lives in Poughkeepsie, in upstate New York, where he is the Helen D. Lockwood Professor of English at Vassar College. He serves on the board of the Corporation of Yaddo.

Kumar’s new novel, My Beloved Life, will be published in February, 2024 by Knopf. His last novel, A Time Outside This Time, was published in October, 2021 by Knopf. It was published by Hamish Hamilton in Canada, Aleph in India, and  by Picador in the UK. The New Yorker described it as “a shimmering assault on the Zeitgeist.” His earlier novel Immigrant, Montana: A Novel, published by Faber in the UK, Knopf in the US, and in translation by other publishers worldwide, was named a notable book of the year by The New York Times, a book of the year by The New Yorker, and listed by President Barack Obama as one of his favorite books of 2018. The book came out in India under the title The Lovers: A Novel.

For more information, as well as a full bio, visit his website, here.