Jayanta Mahapatra is an Indian English poet. He is the first Indian poet to win a Sahitya Akademi award for English poetry. He is known as part of a trio of poets who laid the foundations of Indian English Poetry, which included A. K. Ramanujan and R. Parthasarathy. Jayant Mahapatra’s poetry is known for its graphic imagination, meticulous craftsmanship, and the ability to capture the essence of human experiences.
Jayanta Mahapatra was born on Monday, 22 October 1928 (age 95 years; as of 2023) in Cuttack, Bihar and Orissa Province, British India. His zodiac sign is Libra. Mahapatra went to Stewart School in Cuttack, Odisha. Mahpatra had a tough childhood with a father who put his wife before his children. His mother threw all his diaries away which he used to write during his difficult time in school. Mahapatra ran away from his house twice as a teenager but was later bought back by his father. He completed his M. Sc. in Physics from Patna University, Bihar in the year 1949-50. Being from a middle-class Odia Christian family, among the areas of Hindus, he was mocked at school by his peers which led him to seek escapism in Fiction and poetry. His work reflects all the pain and hardship he went through during his childhood.
Parents & Siblings
His father’s name was Lemuel Mahapatra and his mother’s name was Sudhansa Mahapatra.
Wife & Children
He married Jyotsana Mahapathra who was a literature student and motivated Mahapatra to write poetry. He has a son.
He was born into a Christian family which is why he followed Christianity however, his grandfather was a Hindu. During the hunger and poverty strike in Orissa in 1886, he embraced Christianity.
He began his teaching career as a lecturer in physics in 1949 and taught at various government colleges in Odisha including Gangadhar Meher College, Sambalpur, B.J.B College, Bhubaneswar, Fakir Mohan College, Balasore and Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. He superannuated at Ravenshaw College, Cuttack (now Ravenshaw University) and retired from his government job as the Reader in Physics in 1986.
Before writing poetry, Mahapatra started writing novels, fiction and stories. At the age of 22, he sent his work to Illustrated Weekly of India, which was rejected. After that, he continued with his career in teaching and also started photography.
Poetry in English
Mahapatra started writing poetry quite late in his life as compared to other writers and poets. After 17 years of being rejected by Illustrated Weekly of India, Mahapatra again gave writing a try and wrote poems which were highly recognized in famous journals of the world including include Chicago Review, New York Quarterly, Poetry, Sewanee Review, Critical Quarterly, Times Library Supplement, Meanjin Quarterly, and Malahat Review. Mahapatra’s first poetry collection, “Close the Sky, Ten by Ten,” was published in 1971 and received critical acclaim. This collection was dedicated to his father. Later, he published many poetry collections, including “Bare Face,” “Temple,” “A Rain of Rites,” “Selected Poems,” and “Random Descent.” He was invited to participate in the International Writing Program at Iowa, which brought him international exposure.
Some of his famous works include:
- 1971: Close the Sky Ten by Ten, Calcutta: Dialogue Publications
- 1971: Svayamvara and Other Poems, Calcutta: Writers Workshop
- 1976: A Father’s Hours, Delhi: United Writers
- 1976: A Rain of Rites, Georgia: University of Georgia Press
- 1979: Waiting, Pune : Samkaleen Prakashan
- 1980: The False Start, Bombay: Clearing House
- 1980: Relationship, New York: Greenfield Review Press
- 2017: Collected Poems, Mumbai: Paperwall Publishing
Poetry in Odia
- 1993: Bali (The Victim), Cutack: Vidyapuri
- 1995: Kahibe Gotiye Katha (I’ll Tell A Story), Arya Prakashan
- 1997: Baya Raja (The Mad Emperor), Cuttack: Vidyapuri
- 2004: Tikie Chhayee (A Little Shadow), Cuttack: Vidyapuri
- 2006: Chali (Walking), Cuttack: Vidyapuri
- 2008: Jadiba Gapatie (Even If It’s A Story), Cuttack: Friends Publishers2011: Smruti Pari Kichhiti (A Small Memory), Cuttack: Bijayini
- In 1981, he won the Sahitya Akademi Award.
- In 2009, he won Padma Shree for his contribution to literature.
- In 2017, he won Kanhaiya Lal Sethia Award for Poetry at Jaipur Literature Festival.
- In 2013, he won RL Poetry Lifetime Achievement Award for Poetry in Hyderabad.
- In 1975, he won Jacob Glatstein Memorial Award for Poetry in Chicago
- In 1970, he won Second Prize at the International Who’s Who in Poetry in London
- In 1976, he received Visiting Writer Award at International Writing Program in Iowa City.
- In 1978, he received Cultural Award for Visitor in Australia
- In 1980, Japan Foundation honoured him with Visitor’s Award in Japan.
- In 2009, he received the SAARC Literary Award in New Delhi,
- Contemporary Poet: A. K. Ramanujan
- Travel Destination: Sun Temple, Konarka
- He wrote his Autobiography “Bhor Motira Kanaphoola” in Odia Language which has been serialized by a magazine.
- In 2015, he returned his Padma Shri as a mark of protest against the “growing intolerance” in the country.
- He started writing poetry very late in life and talking about it in an interview he said,
I did not know anything about writing or poetry because I was a Physics student. In fact, it was my wife who was an English literature student. Since I was educated in English, I gathered courage to write in the language because I could use the words properly. I wrote a lot, published around the world a lot but I did not know how I did that.”
- Jayanta wrote an article for The Times Of India — “Up On The Mountains With Alan Ginsberg” talking about a trekking experience of his own.