A. K. Ramanujan
A. K. Ramanujan
Photograph, 1981 University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf7-00503

A poet, essayist, folklorist, linguist, and translator, A. K. Ramanujan (1929-1993) was an influential scholar of South Asian languages and literatures and one of the twentieth century's celebrated transcultural poets.

Born in Mysore, India, Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan came to the United States in 1959 to pursue a doctorate in linguistics at Indiana University. In 1962 he joined the University of Chicago, where he helped shape the South Asian Studies program and became an important presence among the pioneering generation of South Asia scholars. Ramanujan taught as a professor in the Departments of South Asian Languages & Civilizations and Linguistics, and in the Committee on Social Thought until his death in 1993.

A true cosmopolitan who with characteristic wit referred to himself as "the hyphen in Indo-American," Ramanujan was a discerning and sensitive cultural mediator between India and the West. In 1976 the Indian Government honored him with the Padma Shri, its fourth-highest civilian award.



               I resemble everyone
               but myself, and sometimes see,
               in shop-windows
               despite the well-known laws
               of optics,
               the portrait of a stranger,
               date unknown,
               often signed in a corner
               by my father.

               —A.K. Ramanujan, Collected Poems (1995)


While Ramanujan wrote poetry mostly in English, he translated from Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam. His many books of poetry and translation, including Speaking of Siva (1973), now a modern classic, introduced English-speaking audiences to the rich world of South Indian literature and folklore. Throughout his prolific career as a scholar and poet, Ramanujan engaged the complexities of the cross-cultural encounter. His oeuvre spans the worlds of East and West in an exemplary fashion, looking at South Asia from both inside and outside and through multiple lenses.