Biography

Vikram Chandra

Photo Credit: Melanie Abrams

Vikram Chandra was born in New Delhi.

He completed most of his secondary education at Mayo College, a boarding school in Ajmer, Rajasthan. After a short stay at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, Vikram came to the United States as an undergraduate student.

In 1984, he graduated from Pomona College (in Claremont, near Los Angeles) with a magna cum laude BA in English, with a concentration in creative writing.

He then attended the Film School at Columbia University in New York. In the Columbia library, by chance, he happened upon the autobiography of Colonel James “Sikander” Skinner, a legendary nineteenth century soldier, born of an Indian mother and a British father. This book was to become the inspiration for Vikram’s novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain. He left film school halfway to begin work on the novel.

Red Earth and Pouring Rain was written over several years at the writing programs at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Houston. Vikram worked with John Barth at Johns Hopkins and with Donald Barthelme at the University of Houston; he obtained an MA at Johns Hopkins and an MFA at the University of Houston.

While writing Red Earth and Pouring Rain, Vikram taught literature and writing, and also worked independently as a computer programmer and software and hardware consultant. His clients included oil companies, non-profit organizations, and the Houston Zoo.

Red Earth and Pouring Rain was published in 1995 by Penguin/India in India; by Faber and Faber in the UK; and by Little, Brown in the United States. The book was received with outstanding critical acclaim. It won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book and the David Higham Prize for Fiction.

A collection of short stories, Love and Longing in Bombay, was published in 1997 by Penguin/India in India; by Faber and Faber in the UK; and by Little, Brown in the United States. Love and Longing in Bombay won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Eurasia region); was short-listed for the Guardian Fiction Prize; and was included in “Notable Books of 1997” by the New York Times Book Review, in “Best Books of the Year” by the Independent (London), in “Best Books of the Year” by the Guardian (London), and in “The Ten Best Books of 1997” by Outlook magazine (New Delhi). Two of these stories have been formerly published in the Paris Review and The New Yorker. The story “Dharma” was awarded the Discovery Prize by the Paris Review, and was included in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin’s Press, 1998).  The book was received with extensive critical acclaim.

A novel, Sacred Games, was published in 2006 by Penguin/India in India; and by Faber and Faber in the UK. It was published in January 2007 in the United States by HarperCollins.  Sacred Games won the Hutch Crossword Award for English Fiction for 2006 and a Salon Book Award for 2007; it was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.  It was included on numerous “Best of the Year” lists and received lavish critical acclaim.  In 2016, Sacred Games was chosen by Netflix to be their first original series from India.

A non-fiction work about the culture of computer programming and classical Indian aesthetics was published in 2013 by Penguin India as Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code; and in 2014 by Faber & Faber as Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software.  The book was published in the US as Geek Sublime: The Code of Beauty, the Beauty of Code by Graywolf Press in September 2014.

In June 1997, Vikram was featured in the New Yorker photograph of “India’s leading novelists.” His work has been translated into nineteen languages.  In 2015, he was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

He has co-written Mission Kashmir, an Indian feature film starring Sanjay Dutt, Hrithik Roshan, Preity Zinta, and Jackie Shroff, that was released internationally in late October, 2000.

Vikram’s mother, Kamna Chandra, is the writer of several Hindi films including Prem Rog and 1942: A Love Story; she has also written plays for All India Radio and Doordarshan. His sister, Tanuja Chandra, is a director and screenwriter, who has directed several films including Sur and Sangharsh. His other sister Anupama Chopra is a film critic; she has written Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, a BFI book about the hugely popular 1995 hit. Her first book, Sholay: The Making of a Classic, won the Swarn Kamal, a national award for the best Indian book on cinema in 1995. Vikram’s father, Navin Chandra, is a retired executive.

Vikram Chandra currently divides his time between Mumbai and Berkeley, California, where he teaches creative writing at the University of California. He lives with his wife Melanie Abrams, who is also a novelist.