Queer Women History Forgot: Suniti Namjoshi

The Indian lesbian feminist author is prolific and passionate about creating a better world for women.

For Women’s History Month, GO is celebrating LGBTQ women we wish we could have learned about in high school history class. 

Born in Mumbai in 1941, Suniti Namjoshi went to school at American mission school in the Himalayan foothills and eventually served as an officer in the Indian Administrative Services before relocating to the U.S. for college. Namjoshi earned her Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Missouri and a Ph.D. from McGill University where she studied Ezra Pound. She then became a teacher, lecturing in the Department of English at the University of Toronto in the 1970s and ’80s while also beginning to publish some of her groundbreaking women-focused works.

Photo by Penguin India

In 1981, Namjoshi released “Feminist Fables,”  a reworking of traditional fairy tales and mythologies that highlighted the oppression, marginalization and inequality women face in fiction and in real life. Her celebrated work continued with 10 novels, 10 collections of poetry, and 14 children’s books, several of which follow a young Indian protagonist named Aditi. She even wrote a book about her cat.

“My fables don’t preach; they question. As do my children’s books,” she said in 2010. “Of course, there is a difference between writing for children and for adults. In the latter, the satire is harsh, while it’s gentler for children.”

She left the University of Toronto in 1987 to write full-time and became active in Canada’s women-focused and LGBTQ political movements, inspired in part by Kate Millett‘s “Sexual Politics” as well as “the work of writers like Virginia Woolf and Adrienne Rich.” The majority of her work has been not only inclusive of but focused on the intersectional parts of her identity, especially her being a lesbian and a feminist.

“See, the feminist analysis applies equally to any underprivileged group or to the less powerful,” she told The Hindu. “It only shows how the powerful work to keep status quo. Now, questioning that is important, necessary. If wanting a fairer, more decent society is being feminist, then I’m a feminist.”

Namjoshi eventually moved to the UK to become a research fellow at the Centre for Women’s Studies at Exeter University and now lives with her partner, English writer Gillian Hanscombe, in Devon, England. Intellectual but accessible and with a worldly point of view, Namjoshi’s writing challenges, educates and entertains. Now if only she’d join Twitter.

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