Tanuja Desai Hidier is an award-winning author/singer-songwriter and innovator of the ‘booktrack’. She is the recipient of 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 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 and NBC News (“‘Flagship’ South Asian Young Adult Novel ‘Born Confused’ still resonates after 15 years…a decade and a half after it was first released, continuing to leave a lasting impression on its readers.”) Upon its release, USA Today commended it 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.” In 2003, the novel was awarded the APALA Children and YA Honor Award.
In celebration of the novel’s 15th anniversary, and the 15th real-time birthday of Born Confused and Bombay Blues protagonist Dimple Lala, Brown Girl Magazine launched #BornConfused15, an ongoing series of tributes by authors/writers for whom the book played a critical role in their own writing journey.
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 is currently working on her next novel and album. She is also collaborating on a multimedia project with artist Lisa Cirenza.
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.