From the Booking Desk:
We are quickly approaching 150 of these profile sketches and I have always said that I am literally surprised by something in every single one of them. Suffice to say, today’s profile holds the record for the most surprises in one Composite Sketch. I have long admired Anjili Babbar’s commitment to crime fiction, but it wasn’t until I attended one of the Dashiell Hammett Society events she organized that I realized what a truly special human being she is. Watching her interact with her students was a lesson in humility, acceptance, kindness, and joy. Anjili is the real deal folks! Flash forward to my first reading of this Composite Sketch submission and the internal monologue unspooling in my head: “Of course her parents are such an inspiration and role model for this gracious woman.” “Naturally, she had a gifted teacher who showed her the importance and value of that career path.” “WAIT, WHAT NOW? Who did she just say encouraged her early writing?” “OH HELL NO, now she’s just going to drop *that* name in with a comment about how supportive he was.” And all of that before I even reached the second question’s answers! “How in the world do I move in the same sphere as this amazing individual? HOW, I ASK YOU?” On and on the reading of this Composite Sketch goes, with each thoughtful answer following other unexpected surprises. Prepare to have your mind blown! Welcome to the world of Anjili Babbar. Join me in my admiration, respect, and love of this unique human. Read on and consider Friday a done deal.
Name: Anjili Babbar
Location: The World-Famous Seventh District, Maryland
This person from my personal life is such an inspiration:
My parents are both immigrants, and they have both been subjected to some serious discrimination and “othering,” in their home countries and in the U. S. Instead of filling them with hatred, it has made them incredibly compassionate. They have a tight-knit, very diverse group of friends who consider community service a duty – and a pleasurable one, at that. I learned everything I know about empathy and justice from them. And, bonus: when I was a kid and we couldn’t afford to travel, we always had the United Nations of culture and food in our kitchen.
I also have to mention the three people who are responsible for me becoming and remaining a writer – but, if you hate my work, please do your best to forgive them.
One of my primary school teachers, Mabel Silver, was a poet. She was also the first educator I ever encountered who was attuned to different learning styles. She encouraged me to write, because she could see that the standard course materials weren’t retaining my attention. I don’t think I would be in this field – and I almost certainly wouldn’t be as effective a professor – without her influence.
I met Allen Ginsberg as a young teenager, just a few months after the death of my brother. Writing was a means of escape for me back then: a private thing, a way to record things I couldn’t possibly say out loud. Allen was the first person to look at my writing and say “Hey! That’s really good!” (with a little more shock than was possibly warranted, but still…). He made me understand that I could actually make a career out of the thing I loved the most, and that changed…well, everything.
Colin Dexter offered support, encouragement, and advice (and an awful lot of corny, self-effacing jokes) when I started writing about crime fiction. He shattered my imposter syndrome (or at least a fair bit of it) by instantly engaging with me as if I were his writerly equal. That’s a kind of class that money just can’t buy.
One of the people I admire most in the crime fiction community is:
Ed Aymar: I think of him as a brilliant bee buzzing around, constantly trying to nurture the community. He invests an unthinkable amount of time in supporting and signal-boosting other authors, and he’s effortlessly clever and funny.
Eoin McNamee: he brings such a lyrical force to crime writing that his work invariably makes my eyes water. He’s a quiet, unassuming person with the strength of a tempest in his ideas, words, and empathy: a true genius of the genre, I think.
Crime Writers of Color: yes, the whole group. I came of age at a time when everyone was talking about diversity…on conference panels that were anything but diverse. It means a lot to me to see that finally changing. It’s particularly heartening to know that my students who want to be authors can look to other people who look like them, who are successful and acknowledged in their field, for inspiration.
And…I know that everyone has cheated on these, but I’m pretty sure that including over 150 people in my “one of the people I admire the most” category makes me the biggest cheater of all, so you can put that in my epitaph.
STALKER ALERT! If this fictional character were real, they would likely need to get a restraining order against me:
Endeavour Morse: I know he’s perceived as bitter and curmudgeonly, but I get him. (Yikes–that sounds like the beginning of a bad Lifetime movie, which ends with me apologizing to my nearest and dearest for joining a cult…but I digress.) Morse sees justice and education as two sides of the same coin: tools to help people to empower themselves and others. As an academic with a focus on crime fiction, I can certainly relate to that. I can also relate to being drawn to academia, but coming from a very different background than most of your colleagues across the board – and knowing that there are always a select few people who will do their best to make sure you don’t forget it! (Insert dramatic opera music here.)
People are always surprised that I am a fan of this individual (singer, actor, or artist):
That would have to be Alan Alda. I adore him! I had a childhood immersed in mystery novels and tv series – Columbo and Murder, She Wrote were always playing at our house – but I was also completely spellbound by M*A*S*H. I was very young when I first watched the final episode of that show, and I think it was the first time I ever had an emotional response to fiction. I cried for days, actually. That show taught me that social attitudes could be addressed in and affected by fiction: its exploration of the various ways in which people “other” and degrade people they feel are unlike themselves – and how that negatively impacts us all – is still extremely relevant today. So I’ve kept up with Alda over the years; he does a really fascinating podcast about communication which I sometimes assign to my students. Recently, he has talked a lot in public about his Parkinson’s diagnosis and how he addresses it through exercise therapy. He is 83, and he boxes! Enough said!
My personal catch phrase is (or should be):
“There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in” (Leonard Cohen).
Side note: I read this sketch to two people for feedback, and they both reserved comment until this line, which they thought was “amazing.” Note to self: write more like Leonard Cohen.
Second side note: If you read my sketch backwards, it explains why Paul McCartney is barefoot on the cover of Abbey Road.