Anita Mathias – Mangalorean Star

Anita Mathias – Mangalorean Star

Anita Mathias, a Mangalorean, residing in Williamsburg, Virginia (USA) and currently living in Manchester, England, is well known for her English literatures. She has received a 1998 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Nonfiction and numerous other awards and prizes.

I encourage all the readers to read her Essay about “First Thing in the Morning” for it is extremely inspiring and sounds factual. Here is what she says in that essay – “Pray, exercise, read, write, record your dreams–the first thing in the morning.” Another essay that motivated me is – “Learning to Pray” This essay has chosen as one of the sixteen best articles on prayer by Religion-Online. A must read by those who stumble around how to pray. A snippet that I liked from her article is – “Prayer is archaic, anachronistic, against the grain of modern life, solitary and often heartbreaking, embarked on without the certainty of fruit. Prayer does not promise fame, money, and the love of beautiful people. It’s working with blind faith, stubborn hope, and dumb love. But the more you pray the better you’ll be.” How factual one might think!

One can sense the passion in her writings inspires others to write. She makes the readers float in her thoughts as well as refreshes their mind. Her essays have profound denotation that takes you out of your world grasping into hers.

Anita Mathias was born in Jamshedpur, Bihar. Her parents are Noel Mathias from Mangalore, a Chartered Accountant, and Celine (nee’ Coelho) a Mangalorean from Bandra, Bombay. Anita went to boarding school at St. Mary’s Convent, (also known as Ramnee Park), Nainital, and was the first class there to take the I.S.C. (12th std.) exam. She then joined Mother Teresa’s congregation straight after high school, but changed her mind after a year and a half.

She has portrayed her life experience with Mother Teresa’s congregation in – “The Holy Ground of Kalighat” the best spiritual writing, won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship of $20,000 in 1998. Also selected as one of the ten “best Christian writings of modern times” by and anthologized by In this essay, Anita Mathias talks about Kalighat, the Home for the Dying, and her life experience with Mother Teresa. Destitute that was the toughest assignment in the convent, reputedly reserved for the mature. How Mother Teresa conceived the notion that the dharmasala, the dormitory for pilgrims to Calcutta’s famous Kali temple, would make an ideal Home for the Dying Destitute. How municipality of Calcutta refused to turn over a portion of a famous Hindu pilgrimage site (after which Calcutta is named) to an obscure group of Christian nuns…..

This essay is narrated so well, it takes you straight to Kalighat, into Mother Theresa’s Home of the Dying. As you read, you can feel Anita Mathias’ experience with Mother Teresa. In fact, a poignant experience, the hindrance, struggle, pain and torment they experienced to obtain a portion of a famous Hindu pilgrimage site.

A snippet from her essay – “Entering Kalighat is a kin to entering a city church–or, for that matter, The Missionaries of Charity’s chapel at Mother House in the center of Calcutta. You are stunned into stillness, into a guilty awareness of your jerky breath, your distracted mind. The silence shrouds you until you are aware that it is not silence, not really: there is the rustle of supplicants, rosary beads rattle, and bowed heads breathe. So, in Kalighat, after your jangled spirit laps up apparent silence, you hear soft sounds–low moaning, a tubercular cough, patients tossing in pain and restlessness…. On our way to work, we frequently picked people off the pavements where they lay and transported them to Kalighat to die, in Mother Teresa’s phrase, “within sight of a kind face.” “Stop,” we cried to the driver, who then helped us carry them into the Jeep.”

I highly recommend all our readers to read this article, especially those who want to know more about Mother Teresa and their work that has been enlightened by her life experience!

Anita studied English Literature at Somerville College, Oxford University, where she received her B.A. (Hons.), and M.A. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1987 and earned a second M.A. in English and Creative Writing at Ohio State University, specializing in poetry. Anita says she decided to write since it was the only vocation or avocation which interested her.

Anita primarily writes personal essays and currently working on a memoir of a Catholic childhood in India. Her writing has won various awards including a National Endowment for the Arts Award, ($20,000), an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Minnesota State Arts Board, ($6000), a Literary Travel Grant from the Jerome Foundation, fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Jacobson Scholarship for writers of unusual promise to Wesleyan Writers Conference, among other awards from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Mount Holyoke Writers Conference etc.

Her favourite pieces which are included in her website are:

• “Memories of a Catholic Childhood”, Best Spiritual Writing 2000, Harper San Francisco. Originally published in Commonweal, October 8th, 1999, it won the First Prize for the Best Article, General Interest, Catholic Press Association of America & Canada and was chosen as Notable Essay of 1999, Best American Essays 2000, Houghton. Mifflin.

• “Holy Ground” –The Best Spiritual Writing, 1999, HarperSanFrancisco, Notre Dame Magazine, 1998, selected as one of the ten “best Christian writings of modern times” by; anthologized by

• “The Winters of the Matriarchs”, The Virginia Quarterly Review, 2000, chosen as a Notable Essay of 2000 by the Best American Essays, 2001 (Houghton Mifflin). It won an N.E.A. fellowship.

• “Learning to Pray” The Christian Century, 2000, chosen as one of the sixteen best articles on prayer by Religion-Online.

• “The First Thing in the Morning” Published in The Washington Post, Sept. 1997.

• “Aliens and Strangers,” Southwest Review, November 2002.

Her work has additionally been published in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Commonweal, America, New Letters, The Journal, London Magazine, and Envoi. She has nearly completed a first draft of a memoir (which will include many of these published essays) of a Catholic childhood in India–growing up in Jamshedpur with Christmas visits to her grandparents in Mangalore and Bombay, her years at St. Mary’s Convent, boarding school run by German and Irish nuns in the Himalayas, and her eighteen months with Mother Teresa.

Here is what she has to say about her writing:

“I have at various times taught Creative Writing at the College of William and Mary, and at writers’ conferences; written book, drama and theatre reviews; and done some editing. My other passions are traveling, gardening, haunting art galleries, educating my daughters, and of course, reading. My favorite books include Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak Memory, anything by Frederick Buechner, most things by Rushdie, V. S. Naipaul’s “The Enigma of Arrival” Chang-Rae Lee’s “Native Speaker,” and Sara Suleri’s “Meatless Days. I have lived in America for the last seventeen years, but am currently living in Manchester, England, where my husband, Roy Mathias, a mathematician, is a Distinguished Visitor, at the Manchester Institute for the Mathematical Sciences. We will be at Oxford University next year, since Roy has won a National Science Foundation fellowship to spend a year studying a new discipline. He will be studying Math Biology at the famous Mathematical Institute there.”

Anita and Roy Mathias have two beautiful daughters, Zoe, 9, and Irene, 5. They both attend the Didsbury Church of England Primary School, the oldest school in Manchester, (founded by Henry VIII !). Anita’s one and only sister, Shalini Cornelio, works in New York on Wall Street.

Other than writing her other interests are traveling, gardening, reading, haunting art galleries and learning new things with her daughters. Her future goals are first and foremost to finish her memoir of a Catholic childhood in India. As she talks about her goals she says – “I will continue writing, and have some ideas for future books which I am mulling over.”

Anita’s message to the readers is:

“I believe the saddest thing in life is to surrender your dreams. Conversely, the greatest good fortune is to find a deep and durable faith in God; people you love who love you; and work that makes you excited to wake up in the morning, and which you love doing in success or failure, wealth or poverty.” wishes Anita Mathias all the best in her future endeavors.

Here is Anita Mathias’ brief Profile:


1990 M.A. in English, Somerville College, Oxford University.
1989 M.A. in English/Creative Writing, The Ohio State University.
1986 B.A. (Honors) in English, Somerville College, Oxford University.
Academic Scholarships:
1984-85 Scholarship from the Radhakrishnan Fund of Oxford University to study at Oxford.
1984-86 Scholarship from the Eckersley Trust, Oxford, to study English at Oxford.
Literary Grants
1998 National Endowment for the Arts Award.
1997 Full Fellowship, residency in Creative Nonfiction in the Vermont Studio Center.
1993 Literary Travel Grant, The Jerome Foundation.
1992 Individual Artist Fellowship from the Minnesota State Arts Board.
Literary Prizes and Honors
2002 Fellowship, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Sweet Briar, Virginia
2001 Notable Essay of 2000, Best American Essays, (Houghton Mifflin).
2000 First Prize, Best Article, Catholic Press of America.
2000 Notable Essay of 1999, Best American Essays, (Houghton Mifflin).
1999 Finalist, Cuchulain Fellowship in Rhetoric.
1999 Writers’ Grant, Vermont Studio Center.
1998 Honorable Mention, Writers at Work, Creative Nonfiction Competition.
1997 Work-study scholarship in Nonfiction to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
1996 Scholarship in Nonfiction to the Chenango Valley Writers Conference.
1995 Second Prize in Nonfiction, The Gulf Coast Writers Association.
1994 The Jakobson Scholarship for writers of unusual promise, Wesleyan Writers Conference.
1994 Honorable Mention in Nonfiction, Irene Leache Literary Contest.
1994 Finalist, Nonfiction Fellowship Competition, Writers at Work Writers Conference.
1992 Odyssey Bookstore Scholarship in Nonfiction, Mount Holyoke Writers Conference.
1992 Honorable Mention for an Expository Essay, New Letters Literary Awards.
1992 Asian Pacific Inroads Award, from the Loft, Minneapolis, Miinesota.
1991 Second Prize for an Informal Essay, H.G. Roberts Writing Awards.
1989 Honorable Mention in Poetry, The Ohio State University, Alumni Creative Writing Awards.

Writing Awards.
Selected Publications:
“Aliens and Strangers,” Southwest Review, November, 2002
“Learning to Pray,” The Christian Century, March 22-29th, 2000.
“Memories of a Catholic Childhood,” Commonweal, October 8th, 1999.
“Memories of a Catholic Childhood,” Best Spiritual Writing 2000, HarperSanFrancisco.
“The Holy Ground of Kalighat, Notre Dame Magazine, Autumn 1998.
“The Holy Ground of Kalighat, Best Spiritual Writing, 1999, (HarperSanFrancisco).
“That Ancient Yarn,” Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2000.
“First Thing in the Morning,” The Style Plus Page, The Washington Post, 16th September, 1997.
“Kalighat,” New Letters, Vol. 59, No. 2, 1993.
“Kalighat,” reprinted in Tanzania on Tuesday: A Collection of Writing by North American Women Living or Traveling Abroad, New Rivers Press, MN, 1997.
“Zigzags,” reprinted in The Best of Writers at Work 1994 , Northwest Publishing, Inc., Utah.
“Zigzags,” Speaking in Tongues (a multi-cultural anthology),The Loft, Minneapolis, MN. 1994.
“Nirmal Hriday,” London Magazine (U.K.), Aug./Sept. 1993.
“Candlelight Prayer at Stanford,” America, April 11, 1992.
“Tryst,” and “At Santa Maria Novella, Florence,” The Journal:, Vol. 13, No.2, 1990.
“To Market, to Market,” 1991 Roberts Writing Awards Annual.
“Reading Wright,” Minnesota Women’s Press, April 21, 1993.
“Suttee,” Envoi (U.K.) No. 98, Winter 1990/91.
“All Cousins,” and “Art,” Hiram Poetry Review, No. 48, 1990.
“In Pygmalion’s Studio,” Piedmont Literary Review, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1991.
“Inchoate,” Black Buzzard Review, IV, 1991.
“Lazarus was never the same,” Rolling Coulter, Fall 1991.

“Deep River,” review of Stephen Alter’s Sacred Waters, February 8th, 2002
Christmas Critics, review-essay, Commonweal, December, 2001
“Feel, Thrill, Weep,” review of Ann Hood’s Do Not Go Gentle, Commonweal, January 26th, 2001.
“View from the Margins,” review of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. Commonweal, August 11th, 2000.
Theater and Film Reviewer, Minnesota Daily, 1993.

Experience in Teaching Writing:

2000 Faculty at the Christopher Newport University Writers’ Conference, VA.
1999 Faculty at the Heritage Public Library Writers Conference, Providence Forge, VA
1997 Adjunct Professor, Creative Writing, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA
1993 An eight week course in Creative Nonfiction at the Loft, Minneapolis.
1989 Faculty in Poetry at the Spring Writers Conference, Columbus, Ohio.
“Writing and Prayer,” a craft talk, Vermont Studio Center, April 17th, 1997.
Listed in the Directory of American Poets and Fiction Writers .
Reader for the Ohio State University/The Journal Poetry Prize, 1988.


Nonfiction reading, Williamsburg Regional Library, November 3rd, 1997.
Nonfiction reading at The Loft, Minneapolis, MN, May 8th, 1992.

By Queenie Mendonca