The child of Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants, Vidyan Ravinthiran grew up in a mixed area of Leeds (in the North of England), studied at Oxford and Cambridge, and is now an Associate Professor of English Literature at Harvard. He's the author of two books of verse. Grun-tu-molani (Bloodaxe, 2014) was shortlisted for several first collection awards, with individual poems appearing in The Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Financial Times. The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here (2019) won a Northern Writers Award, was a PBS Recommendation, and was shortlisted for the Forward and the T.S. Eliot Prizes. Poems toward a third book have appeared in Poetry and The London Review of Books, among other magazines. To read Vidyan's verse online, click on "Links and reviews".
His first monograph, Elizabeth Bishop's Prosaic (Bucknell UP, 2015) won both the University English Prize and the Warren-Brooks Award for Outstanding Literary Criticism. He has put together editions of Indian poets (with Shash Trevett and Seni Seneviratne, he's currently editing an anthology of Sri Lankan poetry) and has published a range of both scholarly and journalistic articles on the cognitions of form in both poetry and prose, encompassing works from multiple time-periods and nations. He helps organise Ledbury Emerging Critics, a UK/US scheme for increasing racial diversity in review-culture. His essays for Poetry (see links) won the Editor's Prize for Reviewing, and he has published over forty shorter review pieces, not listed here (for The Times Literary Supplement, The Telegraph, and assorted poetry magazines). As of May 2020, he lives in Acton, MA with his son Frank and his wife Jenny Holden, who writes fiction.
Vidyan is finalising three books: Spontaneity and Form in Modern Prose (OUP), Worlds Woven Together: Essays on Poetry and Poetics (Columbia UP) and Asian/Other: A Life in Poetry (Icon / Norton).
Spontaneity and Form analyses post-Romantic prose whose authors—in terms of race, gender, class, nationality and more—occupy a range of subject-positions, for, in it, the dialectical interplay of spontaneity with form. Modern literary prose has no rhetorical repertoire, unlike poetry no structures (beyond those of grammar) one could tabulate. As a result, it becomes a zone of experimentation as to what spontaneous creativity might be like, as well as a means to investigate the concept of spontaneity, understood as post-secular. Heeding separate histories and peculiar particularities, these readings nevertheless conjointly foreground a literary shaping that reveals writers discovering their ideas as they go, in a prose whose sound, rhythm, syntax and imagery escapes the preordained and makes intensely available to the reader—and therefore both contagious, and vulnerably susceptible to demurral—the experiential morphing of impulse into structure. There are chapters on William Hazlitt, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman (and Hindu philosophy), Gerard Manley Hopkins, Herman Melville, D.H. Lawrence and Saul Bellow, Virginia Woolf and Marion Milner, Gwendolyn Brooks, Adil Jussawalla, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Worlds Woven Together considers Samuel Johnson's claim, that the task of criticism is to “improve opinion into knowledge”. Our anxieties today around subjective truth—an idea essential to the humanities—shape academic and journalistic writing about poetry in different ways. Refusing parochialisms of all stripes, Vidyan discusses passionately, with open-ended curiosity, poets never seen this way before; so-called “world” authors neglected by an Anglo-American scene less open to otherness than it claims; and minoritized poetries previously discussed (if that) in reductive, patronizing, style-inattentive ways. Politics isn’t extraneous to literary form but inherent: fascinated by the relation of the creative consciousness to the violence of history, Vidyan writes against echo-chambers and about multiple kinds of both lyric and non-lyric verse, placing modern poetry in conversation with works written elsewhere and elsewhen. There are essays on Mir Taqi Mir, Ana Blandiana, A.K. Ramanujan, Marianne Moore and Stevie Smith, Eunice de Souza, Czeslaw Milosz, verse-sound, Elizabeth Bishop, Ted Hughes, Rae Armantrout, Vinod Kumar Shukla, Srinivas Rayaprol and Gāmini Salgādo, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Thom Gunn, Galway Kinnell, A.R. Ammons, Dawn Lundy Martin, and Vahni Capildeo.
Asian / Other: A Life in Poetry combines memoir with literary criticism. The title comes from the Equal Opportunity box that Vidyan, being Sri Lankan Tamil-British, has had to tick many times—not fitting into the given categories. It's a book about what it's like to be a minority within a minority: to never or rarely see anyone who looks like you on TV; to not have powerful spokespeople for your subject-position in the legacy media or online; and to suffer forms of racism many would no longer dare to aim at other races. But it's also about the need to press beyond a harsh identitarianism which doesn't allow for conversations between cultures at all, and which treats differences as ungetroundable rather than points of imaginative contact. Extracts have appeared in Poetry London, Granta, and the Cambridge Literary Review.