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A.K. Ramanujan (1929-1993), born in Mysore, India, received his BA with honors in English Language and Literature from Mysore University in 1949, and his MA the following year. For the next eight years, he was a lecturer in English successively in S.N. College, Quilon (Kerala), Thiagarajar College, Madurai (Tamil Nadu), Lingaraj College, Belgaum (Karnataka), and M.S. University, Baroda (Gujarat). In 1958, he received graduate diplomas in linguistics from Deccan College, Poona.
The following year Ramanujan came to the United States on a Fulbright fellowship, enrolling at Indiana University, which awarded him a PhD in linguistics in 1963. He joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1962 as assistant professor, and was appointed professor in 1968. At the time of his death, he was the William H. Colvin Professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Department of Linguistics, and the Committee on Social Thought. He also taught as a visiting professor at Harvard University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Wisconsin, Madison, and University of Michigan.
Ramanujan received many honours and prizes, including the title ‘Padma Sri’ awarded by the Government of India in 1976 for contributions to Indian literature and linguistics, and a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1983. In 1988, he delivered the Radhakrishnan Memorial Lectures at All Soul’s College, Oxford. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1990. In 1999, he was posthumously given the Sahitya Akademi Award in English for The Collected Poems.
He was the author or translator of twenty-three books, including eight posthumous works, and he co-authored and edited various other seminal publications. While still alive, he published seven volumes of original poetry in English and Kannada, and landmark translations of verse from Tamil (ancient Sangam classics and medieval Alvar saints) and Kannada, including his famous book of poetry from medieval Kannada mystics, Speaking of Siva (Penguin, 1973), which was nominated for the National Book Award in the US. His translation of U.R. Anantha Murthy’s Kannada novel Samskara is considered a classic. His last published book during his lifetime was Folktales from India, Oral Tales from Twenty-two Languages (Pantheon, 1991).
Mere biodata, however, cannot convey the magnitude of Ramanujan’s talents – as teacher, scholar, poet, literary critic, and translator – nor how deeply he influenced a whole generation of poets, translators and scholars, and enriched the lives of all who came to know him.