Tanuja Desai Hidier is an award-winning author/singer-songwriter and innovator of the ‘booktrack’. She is the recipient of the 2020 SCBWI/Jane Yolen Grant, the 2015 South Asia Book Award (for Bombay Blues), the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and the London Writers/Waterstones Award, and her short stories/essays have been included in numerous anthologies.
Her pioneering novel, BORN CONFUSED, and heroine of both her novels, Dimple Lala, recently turned 15. The first ever South Asian American coming of age/YA novel, Born Confused was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and became a landmark work. Originally released in 2002, the novel was recently hailed by Rolling Stone Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and Paste Magazine as one of the greatest YA novels of all time on lists including such classics as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Little Women, the Harry Potter series, and Huckleberry Finn. The book was also a recent Barnes & Noble/BNTeen Top 6 Books That Have Voice for Days (alongside The Hate U Give and The Sun is Also a Star) and was featured in Teen Vogue (“life-changing”), the Atlantic (“seminal”) NBC News (“‘Flagship’ South Asian Young Adult Novel ‘Born Confused’ still resonates after 15 years”), FirstPost (“How One YA Novel Opened the Gates to Desi Representation in American Pop Culture”), Literary Hub, and Shondaland (a top 7 pick for women of color authors).
The hashtag#BornConfused15 was launched in celebration of its 15th anniversary, which included in part a Brown Girl Magazine series of essays by ten authors on how protagonist Dimple Lala opened doors for their own writing path.
Upon its release, USA Today commended the novel as “compelling and witty…gives voice to a new generation of Americans…a rare and daring portrayal.” In starred reviews, Publishers Weekly praised it as “absorbing and intoxicating…sure to leave a lasting impression,” and Kirkus Reviews called it “a breathtaking experience.”
Born Confused is a Sunday Times (Times of London) Book of the Week (“Romantic, absorbing, thoughtful and original, this is a book to lose yourself in”); a Financial Times Magazine best of summer tales pick (“A stunning debut… An exhilarating read”); a top five pick in The Observer; a year’s finest teen fiction pick in The Scotsman; and a Sugarscape top 10 coming of age novel. “Spellbinding,” says The Independent on Sunday.
In 2003, the novel was awarded the APALA Children and YA Honor Award.
WHEN WE WERE TWINS, Desai Hidier’s album of original songs based on Born Confused, was featured in Wired Magazine for being the first-ever “booktrack.”
Tanuja’s award-winning crossover/adult novel BOMBAY BLUES (the sequel, but also a standalone novel) is deemed “a journey worth making” in a starred Kirkus review, “an immersive blend of introspection, external drama, and lyricism” by Publishers Weekly, “teeming with energy and music…a chronicle of Bombay cool” by The Hindustan Times, and “Chock-a-block with musical references as well as linguistic leaps of faith that only a musician could have pulled off” by The Sunday Guardian (“Bibliophiles Plug In” cover story). Homegrown says of her accompanying album of original songs BOMBAY SPLEEN, “the hypnosis cast by words and music is a vortex we might be tempted never to leave.”
Featuring twelve tracks of infectious electro-dream-pop ‘wreckage rock’, the album is produced by Dave Sharma, with special musical guests world-renowned trumpet player Jon Faddis and bassist Gaurav Vaz (of The Raghu Dixit Project).
The music video for Bombay Spleen track, ode-to-Bombay, “Heptanesia” was on rotation on MTV Indies and was a Closing Night selection in the DC South Asian Film Festival (2018). Track “Seek Me In The Strange” was selected for the soundtrack of director Liz Hinlein’s award-winning feature film Other People’s Children (starring Diane Marshall-Green and Chad Michael Murray) and “Deep Blue She”for the #VogueEmpower playlist (Vogue India’s social awareness initiative for women). The award-winning music video/PSA remix project–the Deep Blue She #Mutiny2Unity #MeToo WeMix–has screened at numerous festivals, and is a London Film Awards winner. The remix was featured on the BBC’s The Big Debate, SOAS Radio, and selected for Madame Gandhi’s #TheFutureIsFemale Spotify Playlist.
Bombay Blues (and the new edition of Born Confused) and Bombay Spleen launched in the USA in August 2014 with Tanuja’s appearance at the National Book Festival (co-chaired by President and First Lady Obama) in Washington, D.C., and in India in January 2015 with Tanuja’s appearance on both the book and music stages at the Zee/Jaipur Literature Festival. The official book/album release party in Bombay was a Mumbai Mirror pick of the day.
Tanuja has also collaborated with the legendary State of Bengal (Björk, Massive Attack, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Cheb i Sabbah). Directed by Tim Cunningham and edited by Atom Fellows, the music video for their track “Between the Rock & the Ether“ (itself a ‘rock-n-reading’, the dance track interwoven with passages from Bombay Blues) released on August 5, 2015.
Tanuja wrote and directed the award-winning short film The Test, and was a finalist for the Asian Women of Achievement Awards for the United Kingdom as well as voted one of the world’s 50 Coolest Desis by Desiclub.com. She has been selected as a KultureShop cultural and artistic “Influencer” and is part of the #PinkLadyResists campaign as well as a Leading Face for Triveni Sarees’ Dare2Drape campaign. Soon after Born Confused launched, Time Out New York brought her on board as Guest Consulting Editor for their groundbreaking issue: Time Out New York’s South Asian New York Special.
Tanuja’s books and music have been included in university, graduate school, and high school curriculums worldwide. She has guest-taught/lectured worldwide as well.
Tanuja was recently included in Brown Girl Magazine’s top ten roundup of South Asian women for International Women’s Day 2020 (for writing about the immigrant experience and coming of age as a South Asian woman, and “creating a role model when there wasn’t one”) along with Mindy Kaling, Rupi Kaur, Jameela Jamil, Lilly Singh, Madame Gandhi, Deepica Mutyala, and Kavita Krishnan, as well as key historical firsts figures Noor Inayat Khan and suffragette Sophia Duleep Singh.
Tanuja serves on the Board of Directors of The Telling Room, whose mission is to empower youth, including immigrants and refugees, through writing and share their voices with the world.
She is currently working on her next novel and album.
READ Tanuja’s tribute to Prince HERE.
Tanuja grew up in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, and moved to New York City after attending Brown University. During her NYC years she worked jobs as a copyeditor, magazine writer/editor, interned at the literary magazine The Paris Review, hostessed at a Tex Mex restaurant, worked as a secretary in the Whitney Museum’s Film & Video Department, walked a saluki dog (who one day escaped and sent her on a 100 mph chase through Central Park), co-hosted an online streaming music program, party promoted at nightclubs, wrote and directed the award-winning short film The Test, and was the front-woman in punk-pop band io, regularly playing the downtown circuit—in other words, she assiduously avoided writing a novel (which she did as well trans-Atlantically during a year of living in Paris, France).
It was only when she moved into a flat on Portobello Road in London that the tale of Dimple Lala became clear: Born Confused was born after nine months of writing around the clock in nearby cafes and at a desk by the flat’s window overlooking the fruit and veg vendors of Portobello Market, Intoxica Records, and a betting joint. Bombay Blues—well, that’s another story.
And now, full-circling to the other side of the sea, she is working on the next one.