Dr. Sunita Jain was an influential Indian poet, novelist, short-story writer, and scholar. One of India’s most celebrated contemporary female writers, she has the rare distinction of having made her mark in two literary universes, writing in both English and Hindi and spanning multiple genres.
Born in Ambala, India in 1941, she moved to Delhi during her teenage years and graduated from the University of Delhi’s Indraprashta College for Women at only 18 years of age. She completed her master’s degree at the State University of New York, Stonybrook, and earned her doctorate in English from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. During her time at UNL, she won graduate literary awards three years in a row—the Vreeland Award in 1969 and the Mari Sandoz/Prairie Schooner Fiction Award in both 1970 and 1971.
The number of awards conferred on Dr. Jain are a testament to her achievements. She was conferred the Honorable Padmashri by the President of India in 2004 (India’s fourth highest civilian award). She was also a recipient of the Indira Gandhi Memorial Fellowship from 2002-2004. More recently, in 2015, she received the Vyas Samman from the K.K. Birla Foundation for her outstanding contributions to Hindi literature. She was featured as a prominent Indian writer in the 2005 edition of the Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English.
During her extensive career as an educator, Dr. Jain served as the Head of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, from where she retired as a Professor of English in 2002. In 2015, she was conferred a D. Lit. by the University of Burdwan for her extensive literary contributions.
Her works in English include the novel A Girl of Her Age (2000); two collections of shorts stories, A Woman is Dead (1980) and Eunuch of Time (1982); seven volumes of poetry republished under the title Sensum: Collected Poems 1965-2000 (2000); and an additional poetry collection entitled American Desi and Other Poems (2007). One of her short stories, “Fly the Friendly Skies,” was included in two anthologies, Short Short Stories Universal (1993) and Concert of Voices: An Anthology of World Voices in English (1995). She also published a children's fiction book entitled The Mango Tree (2002).
Her equally large body of work in Hindi includes an autobiography, five short novels, five collections of short stories, and over fifty volumes of poetry. In 2010, her collected writings at the time were published in a fourteen-volume set. Her works in Hindi have been translated into all of the major Indian languages, as well as into English, German, and Russian, among other languages. She has also published a number of Hindi-to-English translations, including a five-volume religious work entitled Inner Light (1993), Jainendra Kumar’s Premchand: A Life and Letters (1993), Classical Sanskrit poetry by author and playwright Kalidasa, and poems by the Jain monk Muni Kshamasagar.
Dr. Sunita Jain passed away on December 11, 2017. A comprehensive collection of her writings, awards, and personal papers is part of the permanent collection in the Premchand Archives & Literary Center at the Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi, India.