Acclaimed Hackney writer is named one of the top British writers under 40
07:00 01 June 2013
Tahmima Anam is an award-winning writer and self-confessed foodie.
The Gazette meets her round the corner from her home at her favourite café, an American bakery called Violet, in Wilton Way, Hackney, that is bursting with heavenly smells and mouth-watering cakes.
She is petite, warm and friendly and tells me that I need to write a review of the bakery, all the while urging me to try out their home-made goodies.
The 37-year-old, who was born in Bangladesh but has lived all over the world, was recently voted as one of the Top 20 authors under 40 by Granta – no small achievement.
The literary magazine has predicted the success of British writers such as Martin Amis, Pat Barker, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, Will Self, Jeanette Winterson and Zadie Smith over the last 30 years.
Speaking about the accolade, she said: “I was absolutely thrilled. I love Granta and have loved them for many years. The first thing I had commissioned was by Granta.
“It’s great that it’s a recognition of not just the work you have done but the promise of your work in the future.”
The first chapter of her debut novel A Golden Age was published in Granta in 2007. The novel was then shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award later that year and went on to win the best first book in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2008. The historical novel tells the true story of her grandmother helping freedom fighters during the Bangladesh Liberation War.
Her follow-up novel, The Good Muslim, chronicles the lives of two siblings who are reunited a decade after the war and looks at the different paths they’ve taken. It was nominated for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize longlist, an award given to the best novel in English by an Asian writer.
Despite coming from a literary family – her father is a journalist and editor of the largest circulating English language newspaper in Bangladesh and her grandfather was a writer, journalist and politician – Ms Anam almost went into a life of academia. She studied social anthropology as an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College in the US and went on to do her PhD at Harvard University.
Looking back, she said: “I just decided not to pursue the academic route. I always wanted to write novels. I think we make our own destiny but I definitely had help along the way.”
Eight years ago, she moved to England to do an MA in creative writing at the Royal Holloway University, in Surrey. “I really fell in love with it”, she tells me.
“I also think London is great. It’s so international and cosmopolitan. We both (she and her American husband) find it very stimulating and exciting.”
She moved with her husband to Hackney a year ago to be closer to his work – and loves living in the borough. “I find it so stimulating”, she says. “It’s a great place to work. There’s so many creative people. I would not want to live anywhere else.”
But her roots in Bangladesh also have a huge influence on her work. “I did not grow up there but I still think about it as a source of my creative energy,” she said.
“I definitely feel connected. I go home two or three times a year. It’s a place that invites storytelling. I get lots of inspiration including family stories. I don’t think I will always write about Bangladesh but it will always be a mainstay for my ideas.”
Ms Anam is currently finishing off her third novel, which will not be out until 2015 after it has gone through a process of revisions. The only thing she gives away about it is that it is set in Dubai, Bangladesh and the US – and moves between the three locations.
Looking forward, she said: “I just want to tell interesting stories about the world and hopefully touch people’s hearts when they read my books.”