New York State Writers Institute logo



Sujatha Gidla: Memoirist and NYC subway conductor

Sujatha Gidla
Tuesday, October 23
Craft Talk — 4:15 p.m., Standish Room, Science Library Conversation/Q&A — 7:30 p.m., Huxley Theatre, NYS Museum, Cultural Education Center, Albany

Writer and NYC subway conductor Sujatha Gidla is the author of Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India, the story of a family's attempts to achieve a better life against all odds, and one of the most talked-about books of 2017.

The Economist reviewer said, "It is quite possibly the most striking work of nonfiction set in India since Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, and heralds the arrival of a formidable new writer."

A New York Times review called it "unsentimental, deeply poignant ... Ants Among Elephants gives readers an unsettling and visceral understanding of how discrimination, segregation and stereotypes have endured."

Gidla was the featured author on the front cover of Publishers Weekly's "Best Books of 2017" issue, and the book was named among the year's "Top Ten" by the Wall Street Journal.

Born into generations of crushing poverty in the lowest caste in India, Gidla told PRI in an interview, “For us, our caste name itself [Mala] is the N-word. You can’t say it in a good way. When people ask us [what caste we are] we won’t say because it’s too shameful... In India, your life is your caste. Your caste is your life.” (Listen to the PRI interview.)

Gidla studied physics in college and emigrated to the U.S. in 1990, when she was 26 years old. She worked as an software application designer at the Bank of New York, but was dismissed in the global financial crisis and recession in 2009.

Gidla says that she then wanted to do a manual job. She became the first Indian woman to be employed as a conductor on the New York City Subway. In an interview with The Financial Express, Gidla said, "Because I am a Marxist and Communist, I have these romantic feelings about being a working class person. So this job attracted me. Secondly, I wanted to do something that men are supposed to be doing."

The events are cosponsored by the NYS Writers Institute, the State Education Department's Office of Cultural Education, and Friends of the New York State Library.