By Ela Dutt
Arundhati Roy, the passionate Indian rights activist and author, slammed aspects of American foreign policy and lashed out at the Indian government for using its armed forces against its own citizens at a high-profile event in New York City on Nov. 8, attended by, among others, President Bill Clinton.
Roy was speaking at the fundraising gala organized by the Norman Mailer Center at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City, where she was awarded the prestigious Norman Mailer Award for Distinguished Writing.
The award was presented to her by renowned movie director Jonathan Demme of "Silence of the Lambs" fame, whom she had met at the Cannes Film Festival some years ago, according to Lawrence Schiller, president and founder of the Norman Mailer Center and Norman Mailer Writers Colony.
Other award recipients included Nobel Prize Winner Elie Wiesel, who was honored with the Norman Mailer Lifetime Achievement Prize; Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards for Distinguished Biography; and Gay Talese who received the Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Journalism.
Roy is in the United States for a series of appearances, among them a Nov. 11 talk at the Asia Society in New York City before traveling to other states, including California.
Wearing a black sari with a printed blouse, Roy gave an eight-minute speech while accepting the award, in which she talked of how she developed her skills as a writer and also about how she lived in a country that had enormous resources and beauty but had not reconciled its internal differences, Schiller told News India Times.
She spoke of how Kashmir remained an unresolved problem, and commented that using one’s military force on one’s own people is not the way to solve problems.
Roy broke into the world literary scene when she won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel "The God of Small Things," which is said to have sold 6 million copies.
Since then, she has become an activist on environmental and poverty issues, taking confrontational stands on global and national problems.
“Arundhati Roy emerged on the literary scene as a writer of great integrity, style and skill,” said Schiller who collaborated and worked with Mailer for 35 years.
“But even in that first book, there was a voice of action. But as time went on, her’s was a voice that needed to be heard. Even as she gave up one area of communication, much like Norman Mailer, she began communicating on other things.” That's why, he said, Roy was their choice despite the fact that she has only one novel to her name.
“I was the one who called her in India and told her (about the award). She was overwhelmed that it was an award for her writing. I said we were not giving it for writing alone but for her actions,” Schiller said.
Mailer, who died in 2007, was an acclaimed novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and film director, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and co-founder of The Village Voice.
“Mr. Mailer and I collaborated and worked together for 35 years. One thing we had in common – we were both people of action,” said Schiller, a writer, movie producer and director who has won several awards.
The gala raised around $460,000 for the writers colony in Massachusetts, which invites aspiring and established authors from around the world to be in residence.
The event was attended by many renowned writers from around the world, Schiller said. “There were Nobel Prize winners, Booker Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, big business from the United States and the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Russia. It was the biggest literary event in the country,” he contended.
Schiller, who was with Mailer when he died, said the two had decided to start the writers center that has on its board Salman Rushdie, Joan Didion and others.