M G Vassanji
Moyez Vassanji was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1950 and raised in Tanzania. His family was part of a community of Indians who had emigrated to Africa. When he was 19 Vassanji left the University of Nairobi on a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Kanaganayakam 20). He studied nuclear physics which he later earned a Ph.D. in at the University of Pennsylvania. From there he immigrated to Canada, working at the Chalk River atomic power station (Authors 433). In 1980 Vassanji moved to Toronto and began writing his first novel, The Gunny Sack, which was published in 1989. That year he, with his wife Nurjehan Aziz, founded and edited the first issue of The Toronto South Asian Review (TSAR). After the publication of The Gunny Sack Vassanji began writing full time and ended his career in physics. Studying Sanskrit and Indian philology prompted Vassanji's career change (Authors 434). In an interview with Chelva Kanaganayakam, Vassanji said this of his decision to leave the field of physics:
It is the kind of thing you can keep on doing. I had reached a point when I could just churn out things. Unless you are at MIT or Harvard, or a place like that, you are not really at the forefront. Sometimes I miss that life because of the way of thinking it demands. My writing, however, is much more important. It seems to be the mission in life that I finally achieved (34).
Vassanji has published four books: The Gunny Sack, No New Land (1991), Uhuru Street (1991, short stories), and The Book of Secrets (1994). The Toronto South Asian Review has survived under a new name: The Toronto Review of Contemporary Writing Abroad, and has branched out into publishing. Vassanji won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1990 (best debut novel in the African region) for The Gunny Sack (Authors 434). He has also won the Giller Prize (in 1994), the Bressani Literary Prize and the Harbourfront Festival Prize.