News | 26 October 2023

Award-winning author and poet Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni will be the honored guest speaker at this year’s Morton Marcus Poetry Reading

By Dan White



Chitra Divakaruni, the featured guest speaker at the 14th annual Morton Marcus Poetry Reading, is honored to read at a poetry event named after her early mentor. “Mort Marcus had a significant influence on my writing when I was starting out,” she said.

The award-winning author, poet, activist and professor Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has a special connection to the late poet, author, teacher, film critic and activist for the arts Morton Marcus (1936–2009), who was her friend and mentor. 

Back in the late 1990s, when Marcus, a longtime Santa Cruz resident, was teaching at the Foothill College Writing Conference in Los Altos Hills, Divakaruni was one of his colleagues. 

Now, Divakaruni, widely praised for her loving and vivid portraits of South Asian culture and the immigrant experience, will have a chance to honor the memory of her former poetry workshop leader. 

Divakaruni, the McDavid Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Houston, will read her work at the 14th annual Morton Marcus Poetry Reading at 6 p.m. on Thursday, November 2, at the Merrill College Cultural Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

 Divakaruni, the featured guest speaker, is honored to read at a poetry event named after her early mentor “Mort Marcus had a significant influence on my writing when I was starting out,” she said. 

At the time, Divakaruni was teaching at Foothill College and was helping to organize the annual writers conference there. She and Marcus became friends. Divakaruni sat in on several of the workshops that he taught at the conference.

“Mort read many of my early poems and gave me good suggestions, particularly related to the use of imagery to express emotion,” Divakaruni said. “He also encouraged me to write prose poems, and later, to move into fiction, as I was very interested in storytelling.

“I remember Mort very warmly as a clear-sighted but encouraging presence,” Divakaruni said. “As such, he has also influenced my teaching. Kindness was always central to Mort when dealing with student writers, and I have remembered and followed this in all my years as a professor of creative writing.”

The poetry reading is presented by The Humanities Institute at UCSC.

The event is free and open to the public but advance registration is required.

This is a special year for the poetry series.  This fall, Special Collections at UCSC published the Poetry Show Recordings online. 

Morton Marcus was a longtime co-host of this show on KUSP-FM, which was the longest running poetry show in the United States on public radio.  The content ranged from insights on thematic works to interviews and readings with nationally recognized poets.

This unique resource of over 200 recordings includes interviews with such literary luminaries as Gerald Vizenor and Adrienne Rich. The interviews in the archive were conducted by Marcus, as the host of the Poetry Show from 1985-2009.

The online recordings are all part of the Morton Marcus Poetry Archive, also housed in Special Collections, and now available to anyone with internet access. 

“The collection is an invaluable resource for educators and students as well as anyone just interested in learning about the rich literary history of the Central Coast,” said Teresa Mora, Head of Special Collections and Archives at UCSC. “We are thrilled to be able to share this extraordinary collection with the public.

A sensitive look at the immigrant experience 

Donna Mekis, co-chair of the poetry series, said that reading Divakaruni’s book Mistress Of Spices was magical. 

“I was mesmerized by her imagery,” Mekis said. “You can see the colors and smell the spices. Chitra writes about South Asian culture and the immigrant experience lovingly, with all of the beauty and anguish of cultural transition. 

In addition to Mistress Of Spices, Divakaruni is the author of 19 other books, including Sister of My Heart, Oleander Girl, Before We Visit the Goddess and Palace of Illusions.  

Her latest novels are The Forest of Enchantments, a feminist retelling of the epic The Ramayana in the voice of Sita, and The Last Queen, the story of Maharani Jindan, the indomitable queen regent of Punjab who fought the British in many ingenious ways.

Divakaruni often writes about contemporary life in America and India, women’s experiences, immigration, history, magical realism and mythology.

​Her awards include, among others, an American Book Award, a PEN Josephine Miles award, a Premio Scanno (also known as the Italian Nobel) award, a Light of India award, a SALA award, two Pushcart prizes, an Allen Ginsberg poetry award, a Rona Jaffe Award, a Barbara Deming Memorial Award, and a Houston Literary Award.

In 2022, The Last Queen received the Times of India Best Fiction Award and the Best Book Award from The International Association of Working Women.

The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, have been made into movies. Several others are under option in Hollywood and in India. 

Divakaruni’s short story “The Word Love,” was made into an award-winning short film, “Amaar Ma.” Arranged Marriage has been made into a play and performed in both USA and Canada. Palace of Illusions has been performed on the stage in the USA and India. Mistress of Spices is in the process of being made into an opera. 

Her novel One Amazing Thing has been chosen as a city-wide or campus-wide read in over 36 cities and institutions across the U.S.

Seating is limited at the cultural center so sign up here to reserve a place at the event. Seating will be first come, first served.

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