“[Raja Rao is] perhaps the most brilliant—and certainly the most interesting—writer of modern India.”—Santha Rama Rau, as quoted in “The Quality of Presence” (WLT Vol. 62, Autumn 1988)
Raja Rao (1908-2006) was born in Hassan, in what is now Narnataka in South India. Though his father taught Kannada at the college where he worked, Rao studied in France for his post-graduate studies and most of his publications were written in the English language. His first stories began appearing in various magazines and journals in 1933, and he published his first book in 1938. Upon his return to India in 1939, Rao became involved in the nationalist movement emerging there. From 1966-1983, he relocated back to the United States and taught Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin.
Nominating author Edwin Thumboo said of Rao and his work, “Rao’s greatest achievement, which I suspect only he can surpass, is the degree to which his works, especially The Chessmaster, contain the insights, emblems, mantras, metaphors, and other carriers of meaning and instruction that enable the individual to achieve, through his own meditations, a better understanding of self through Knowledge and Truth,” (“Encomium for Raja Rao,”WLT Vol. 62, Autumn 1988).
Rao’s works of fiction include Kanthapura (Oxford, 1947), The Serpent and the Rope (Pantheon, 1963), The Cat and Shakespeare (Macmillan, 1965), and The Chessmaster and His Moves (Vision Books, 1988). Much of his writing appeared in various periodicals, including “A Client” (Mercure de France, 1934), “The Cow of the Barricades” (Asia, 1938), “The Policeman and the Rose” (Illustrated Weekly of India, 1963), “Jupiter and Mars” (Pacific Spectator, 1954), and “The Writer and the Word” (Literary Criterion, 1965).
1988 Neustadt Jurors and Finalists
|Andrei Codrescu (Romania/USA)||Ghérasim Luca (Romania/France)|
|Lars Gustafsson (Sweden)||Stanislaw Lem (Poland)|
|Raymond Jean (France)||René Char (France)|
|Algirdas Landsbergis (Lithuania/USA)||Milan Kundera (Czechoslovakia /France)|
|Jean-Luc Moreau (France)||Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal)|
|Nélida Piñon (Brazil)||João Cabral de Melo Neto (Brazil)|
|Jutta Schutting (Austria)||Peter Handke (Austria)|
|Jon Silkin (England)||Roy Fisher (England)|
|Susan Sontag (USA)||Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)|
|Edwin Thumboo (Singapore)||Raja Rao (India)|
|George Lamming (Barbados)||Paule Marshall (Barbados/USA)|
“I am a man of silence. And words emerge from that silence with light, of light, and light is sacred. One wonders that there is the word at all—Sabda—and one asks oneself, where did it come from? How does it arise? I have asked this question for many, many years. I’ve asked it of linguists, I’ve asked it of poets, I’ve asked it of scholars. The word seems to come first as an impulsion from nowhere, and then as a prehension, and it becomes less and less esoteric—till it begins to be concrete. And the concrete becoming ever more earthy, and the earthy communicated, as the common word, alas, seems to possess least of that original light.”
—Raja Rao (India), 1988 Neustadt Laureate