The Saint Louis University Library Associates conferred Arundhati Roy with the St Louis Literary Award on 28 April 2022. Roy was awarded the literary prize at a function at the Sheldon Concert Hall. The ceremony also included a book discussion between the author and Amber Johnson, PhD and interim vice president – Diversity and Innovative Community Engagement at the University. Roy was thrilled that the campus reading program at Saint Louis University sought to explore the work of the prize winners.
The annual St Louis Literary Award, presented by the Saint Louis University Library Associates, is considered one of the top literary honors in the US. The prize is awarded to an author who ‘deepens our insight into the human condition and expands the scope of our compassion.’ Salmon Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Tom Wolfe, Eudora Welty, August Wilson, John Updike, Stephen Sondheim, and Saul Bellow are some of the previous winners of the St Louis Literary Award.
A well-known political and environmental activist, Roy shot to freedom when her debut novel The God of Small Things won the 1997 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the year India celebrated 50 years of independence. Roy grew up in the backwaters of Kerala, which formed the perfect backdrop for her best-selling work. The book made it to the New York Times best-seller list and went on to sell more than 60 lakh copies. It was simultaneously published in 16 languages and 19 countries and is widely regarded as an ‘exceptional piece of literature.’ Roy has been compared to the literary greats like Tiger Woodsian, Gabriel García Márquez, William Faulkner, and John Updike for her elegant and sometimes fiery prose and her first novel has now been translated into 30 languages. It delves into the themes of misogyny, family dynamics, social discrimination, sexual abuse, and Indian history.
Her depiction of a sexual encounter between a Hindu untouchable and a Syrian Christian in The God of Small Things stirred a nationwide debate on obscenity and morals. The New York Times reported on the charge, “On one hand it’s so ridiculous,” she said in a telephone interview from New Delhi, where she lives. “On the other hand, any writer can be harassed in this way. It comes to the point where one citizen can hold literature to ransom.” She later donated the Booker prize money to the Narmada Bachao Andolan, a group protesting against the construction of dams on the Narmada and the forced displacement of lakhs of villagers. In 2019, an Alabama high school pulled out the book from its summer reading list after receiving complaints from parents.
Roy’s second book – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was again longlisted for the Man Booker in 2017. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Some of her non-fiction works include The End of Imagination (1998), The Cost of Living (1999), The Greater Common Good (1999), Power Politics (2001), The Algebra of Infinite Justice (2002), War Talk (2003), Come September (2003), Public Power in the Age of Empire (2004), The Hanging of Afzal Guru and the Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament (2006), Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers (2009), Broken Republic: Three Essays (2011), Walking with the Comrades (2011) and Capitalism: A Ghost Story (2014), The Doctor and the Saint: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate: Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste (2017), My Seditious Heart: Collected Nonfiction (2019), Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction (2020). Her writing has been embraced by Indians irrespective of differences in class, ethnicity, caste, and religion.
Her efforts for human rights activism have been recognized through the Lannan Cultural Freedom Award (2002), the Sydney Peace Prize (2004), and the Sahitya Akademi Award (2006).