Tanuja Desai Hidier (she/her) is an award-winning author/singer-songwriter and innovator of the ‘booktrack’. She is 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 was selected this year to be a Good Morning America Inspiration List headliner for ABC’s network-wide project for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2021.
Her pioneering debut BORN CONFUSED, considered to be the first South Asian American YA novel, was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and hailed by Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone Magazine, Sugarscape, and Paste as a Best YA Novel of all time, on lists including such classics as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, Little Women, Harry Potter, and Huckleberry Finn. USA Today commends the novel as “compelling and witty…gives voice to a new generation of Americans…a rare and daring portrayal.” “Seminal”, says The Atlantic. The book received numerous starred reviews, including from Publishers Weekly (“absorbing and intoxicating, this book is sure to leave a lasting impression”) and Kirkus (“a breathtaking experience beyond virtually anything being published for teens today”). 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; and a year’s Finest Teen Fiction pick in The Scotsman. “Spellbinding,” says The Independent on Sunday. This year, Born Confused was included in Best Asian-American Books in both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Public Library’s Recommended Reads. #BornConfused15, its anniversary celebration, included tributes by acclaimed authors for whom the novel was a vital part of their own writing path.
Kirkus in a starred review said of Tanuja’s award-winning sequel BOMBAY BLUES: “[Desai] Hidier quietly revolutionized YA literature with Born Confused, and this sequel indicates she’s intent on a repeat…Dense, lyrical, full of neologic portmanteaus and wordplay: This is a prose-poem meditation on love, family and homecoming. A journey worth making.” Says The Hindustan Times: “Teeming with energy and music…a chronicle of Bombay cool.” Bombay Blues launched at the National Book Festival (US) and India’s Zee Jaipur Literary Festival, and is recipient of the South Asia Book Award.
The screen adaptation of the DIMPLE LALA/BORN CONFUSED series is currently in development.
Tanuja’s album WHEN WE WERE TWINS (original songs based on Born Confused) was featured in Wired (as the first ‘booktrack’). Music video “Heptanesia” (from her Bombay Blues booktrack album BOMBAY SPLEEN) was a BuzzPick on rotation on MTV Indies and an official selection at DCSAFF (the South Asian Film Festival of Washington, DC). Track “Deep Blue She” was selected for the #VogueEmpower playlist (Vogue India’s social awareness initiative for women). Tanuja also produced the Deep Blue She #Mutiny2Unity #MeToo WeMix music video/PSA: an award-winning intersectionality project featuring 100+ artist/activists, mostly women of color (“the ‘We Are The World’ of our times” —Outlook Magazine). The video received the Gold Lion Award at the 2018 London Film Awards, was an official Closing Night selection at DCSAFF, and was featured in the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Resource Project’s Art As Voice Festival for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The project/remix was also featured on the BBC’s The Big Debate, SOAS Radio, and Madame Gandhi’s #TheFutureIsFemale Spotify playlist. Tanuja has also collaborated with the legendary State of Bengal (Björk, Massive Attack, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Cheb i Sabbah).
Tanuja wrote the foreword to Untold: Defining Moments of the Uprooted anthology (Mango & Marigold Press, 2021), a nonfiction anthology featuring more than thirty new Brown womxn writers; Untold is a Vogue Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and LoudMouth Ladkis pick. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, and her poetry included in Scholastic’s 100 Reasons to Love Reading (2020). She was recently featured in Scroll, Apartment Therapy, and on the The Woke Desi and 5 Author Questions (5AQ) podcasts. Recent events include Tasveer South Asian Litfest, CBS: Literary Mothers: Influence & Inspiration, Boca del Oro Festival (new work Muse of the Girl).
In 2021, Tanuja was selected to be a Good Morning America Inspiration List headliner for ABC’s network-wide project for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month 2021 and was delighted in this role to nominate Urooj Arshad, Anjali Enjeti, Valarie Kaur, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, and Paula Yoo for their artist/activist work. In 2020, she was included in Brown Girl Magazine’s top ten roundup of South Asian women for International Women’s Day (for“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 wrote and directed the award-winning short film The Test, and was a finalist for the Asian Women of Achievement Awards for the UK 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.
She currently serves on the Board of Directors of The Telling Room, whose mission is to empower youth, including immigrants and refugees, through writing and sharing their voices with the world.
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. She is working on her next book/album, and would like to acknowledge with gratitude the land of the Dawn/the Wabanaki, upon which she is doing so. Please visit www.ThisIsTanuja.com/blog/for resources on how to help with India’s Covid crisis (note: though the #BooksForHope auction has closed, you can still donate here).
“[Tanuja] is a writer, musician, and activist who works tirelessly building cultural bridges and bringing awareness about pressing issues relating to women at the intersections of race and class to the forefront.”
After a babyhood in Bombay, Boston-born Tanuja grew up in Wilbraham, Massachusetts (home of Friendly’s ice cream!), 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.