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Cheat Sheet: Tishani Doshi

When Tishani Doshi speaks, it's hard not to listen. From poetry to journalism, to dance and cricket, Doshi is an artistic powerhouse. Here's everything you need to know about the multi-talented All About Women headliner.

Divya Venkataraman
Sydney Opera House

Her astute lyricism combined with an ability to harness movement for meaning has made All About Women speaker Tishani Doshi a critical voice in contemporary literature, as well as an all-round artistic powerhouse. 

The poet, writer, journalist and dancer was born in the city formerly known as Madras in India – now known as Chennai – to Welsh and Gujarati parents. Her career has been littered with accolades, from the Eric Gregory Award for poets under 30 that she was awarded in 2001, to two decades on, finding her place on the 2021 Forward Prize shortlist for her latest collection, A God at the Door

Here’s what you need to know about the inimitable Tishani Doshi (and what you should be reading of hers next).

A poet at heart

When Doshi writes, it’s hard not to listen. She reveals the hidden layers of topics as far-reaching as the migrant experience, the delicate balance of the natural world, and the trauma wrought on the female body into poetry, shaping them through her dextrous phrases and infusing them with her trademark dry wit. 

Doshi’s debut poetry collection, Countries of the Body (2006), won the prestigious Forward Prize in 2006. It reflects on womanhood, the metaphysical, and on the many places she has called home: from India, to London, to North Carolina and the innumerable other places her work and travels have taken her, dissecting the way women and people in motion inhabit their bodies. It is raw and anthemic, but not without a sense of subtle lightness – a contrast which plays out in much of Doshi’s work, even when it touches on the most serious of subject matter. Her process of carefully unravelling her inner world is continued through her collection Everything Begins Elsewhere (2012) as well as her latest work A God at the Door (2021). A God at the Door has already received much critical acclaim, making the Guardian’s list of the best poetry books of 2021, and being shortlisted for the Forward Prize. 

Aside from poetry, Doshi has also written two novels: The Pleasure Seekers (2010) and Small Days and Nights (2019). In them, like in her poetry, her lyricism shines through: she has a knack for creating vivid, evocative images through prose as well as verse, so bright that they stain your mind. 

One movement speaks a thousand words

The multi-talented Doshi has been a performer all her life, first taking the stage to transform into a flower, at the blooming age of three. She began working professionally as a dancer at 26, after crossing paths with the acclaimed Indian choreographer Chandralekha. Doshi went on to travel with Chandralekha’s troupe internationally for 15 years, dancing from Tokyo to Salzburg. 

Now, Doshi bridges the space between poetry and dance in her work, sewing together literature and action, words and movement. 

At the All About Women Opening Night Gala, she will perform her poem ‘Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods’, written in 2017, and pair it with the rhythm and movement of an interpretive dance on stage. 

“Girls are coming out of the woods,” writes Doshi in the poem. “Lifting their broken legs high, leaking secrets/from unfastened thighs, all the lies/whispered by strangers and swimming/coaches, and uncles, especially uncles…” 

The poem speaks to the power of disclosure as a woman, while the public, outward nature of her dance aims to underscore the empowerment that comes with bringing pain and trauma to an open forum, and demanding recompense for the damage that a woman’s body endures.

Beyond the arts

Aside from her creative work, Doshi has made a name for herself as a journalist, freelancing for multiple notable publications around the world. Her work has appeared in newspapers and journals such as the Guardian (including this great piece), the National, Vogue and the Hindu, and she writes a regular column for the New Indian Express.

Beyond her writing and performing, Doshi also passes on her wisdom to the next generation: she is a Visiting Associate Professor of Practice, Literature and Creative Writing at New York University, Abu Dhabi.

A good sport

Fittingly for a woman from Chennai, Doshi also has a passion for the city’s favourite sport. In 2009, she wrote a blog on cricket website Cricinfo called Hit or Miss, giving her hot takes on the goings-on of the Indian Premier League (IPL). A woman of many talents, indeed.

Catch Tishani Doshi at the All About Women Opening Night Gala on Saturday, March 12.

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