Vazirani, Reetika 1962–2003

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Vazirani, Reetika 1962–2003

PERSONAL: Born August 9, 1962, in Patiala, Punjab, India; immigrated to the United States, c. 1967; died of apparent suicide, July 16, 2003, in Chevy Chase, MD; daughter of Sunder J. (an oral surgeon) and Heea (an attorney; maiden name, Halder) Vazirani; married, June, 1989 (divorced, June, 1997); children: Jehan (son; deceased). Education: Wellesley College, B.A., 1994; University of Virginia, M.F.A., c. 1997.

CAREER: University of Virginia, Charlottesville, instructor, 1996–97; University of Oregon, Eugene, visiting assistant professor, 1997; Sweet Briar College, Sweet Briar, VA, Margaret Banister Writer in Residence, 1998–2000; William and Mary College, Williamsburg, VA, writer in residence, 2002–03. Also worked as personal secretary to Derek Walcott and as assistant to Rita Dove.

MEMBER: Poetry Society of America.

AWARDS, HONORS: Thomas J. Watson fellow in India, Thailand, Japan, and China, c. 1985; Sewanee Writers' Conference, Tennessee Williams scholarship in poetry, 1993; Discovery/Nation Award, 1994; Barnard New Women Poets Prize, 1995, for White Elephants; Walter E. Dakin fellowship, 1996; Virginia Faulkner Award for Literary Excellence, 1997, for several poems in Prairie Schooner; selected to participate in Poets and Writers Writers Exchange program, 1998; Pushcart Prize, 1999, for the poem "Daughter-Mother-Maya-Seeta;" Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, 2003, for World Hotel; Glenna Luschei Award, Prairie Schooner, for the essay "The Art of Breathing"; fellow at Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.


White Elephants (poetry), Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1996.

World Hotel (poetry), Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2002.

Work represented in anthologies, including How We Live Our Yoga, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2001. Contributor of poetry to publications, including Nation, Kenyan Review, Callaloo, Prairie Schooner, International Quarterly, Paris Review, and American Voice. Translator of poetry from Urdu. Shenandoah, contributing editor, 1997–99, and guest poetry editor; contributing editor and book review editor, Callaloo, beginning 1997; senior poetry editor, Catamaran.

Some of Vazirani's work has been translated into Italian.

SIDELIGHTS: Reetika Vazirani's first book of poetry, White Elephants, "feels like a finely calibrated emotional instrument," according to a reviewer in the Virginia Quarterly Review. Vazirani uses Hindi words and phrasing in writing of the experience of the Indian immigrant in the United States and draws upon images of friends and family in creating her poetry. The first section of the book features the voice of Mrs. Biswas in poems titled "Mrs. Biswas Gives Advice to a Granddaughter," "Mrs. Biswas Goes through a Photo Album," and others. The reviewer noted that "Letter to a Husband" "recalls and rivals" poems found in Ezra Pound's Cathay.

"The Rajdhani Express" is the title of the second part of White Elephants. The final section is titled "White Elephants," and consists of forty-two "sonnetlike pieces," explained Barbara Hoffert, writing in the Library Journal. Hoffert felt that Vazirani "treats the immigration as an extended voyage" and said the poems "never fall into the trap of seeming exotic."

Vazirani once told CA: "My writing is most often a response to writers I deeply admire; it is an act of thanks and a way to experience a kind of communion.

"My reading, travels, and daydreams influence my work. Train travel in India particularly influenced White Elephants. In that collection of poems I wanted to imitate and learn everything I could from Derek Walcott's Schooner Flight, Seamus Heaney's Glanmore Sonnets, and Clearances; as well as Joseph Brodsky's A Part of Speech. All three of them lived and worked in the Boston area in 1987 and 1988 when I was working at various odd jobs and auditing Derek Walcott's workshops at Boston University. So many strokes of good luck seemed to hit me all at once; I met my best friend, George Kalogeris, in Derek's class. George is an extraordinary reader and writer and read my drafts for eight years until the book was finished. I was fascinated by what constituted a 'line,' and what drove me on for so many years, and still does, is the effort to learn how to make poems. I have very wide-ranging taste I think, and I try to learn from everybody, poets who write in English and just as often from poets abroad.

"In White Elephants I tried to write about the mysteries of immigration, changing nations, languages, one set of sensory experiences for another. I was born in India and moved to America when I was six. I still feel that parts of myself reside in different parts of the world. So I suppose it's travel and geography that got me started. And I am fascinated by the accents that have always caught my inner ear: I grew up in a house full of different accents, British-Indian, Indian, British-American, American. It delights me that so many voices reside in me and that I can range from one into another. This always gives me the sense that I'm traveling."



Library Journal, June 1, 1996, Barbara Hoffert, review of White Elephants, p. 114.

Publishers Weekly, January 20, 2003, review of World Hotel, p. 78.

Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1996, review of White Elephants, p. 135.

World Literature Today, autumn, 2000, review of White Elephants, p. 784.


Life of the Mind Web site, (September 26, 1999), Sophie Wackenhut, "Stories from the Academic World at Sweet Briar College: Reetika Vazirani Wins Pushcart Prize."

University of Maryland Web site, (September 8, 2003).



Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 18, 2003, p. F6.

New York Times, July 18, 2003.

Times (London, England), July 19, 2003, p. 22.

Washington Times, July 24, 2003, p. B2.


Deccan Herald Online, (July 18, 2003), obituary by L.K. Sharma. Web site, (July 18, 2003), obituary by Savio Figueiredo.