Actress, writer and novelist. Meera Syal was born and brought up in Essington, a Staffordshire mining village five miles north-east of the centre of Wolverhampton. She portrayed her childhood experiences in her best-selling novel Anita and me (1996).
Following a Grammar School education, Meera Syal studied English and Drama at Manchester University. Her play One of Us, won the National Student Drama Award. She became an actress, joining the Royal Court Theatre. The BBC commissioned her to write a short series on marriage from different views and this was called My Sister Wife.
She wrote the screenplay for Bhaji on the Beach (1994) which was the first British feature film written and directed by an Asian woman. It was widely praised but aroused some criticism from Asian community leaders because of its portrayal of the behaviour of Asian men (especially towards women). It is now used in schools and colleges in studying violence against women and inter-racial relationships. The film received an Evening Standard nomination for Best Screenplay. A more recent notable success has been Goodness Gracious Me, a television comedy series which she co-wrote as well as starred in.
Anita and me won a Betty Trask Award in 1996 and was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize. The novel tells the story of Meena, a Punjabi girl who wants to break free from her roots and be like her school chums. It is set in fictitious Midlands mining village in the 1960s, and Meena is more attracted by fish and chips, mini skirts and television talent shows than traditional Punjabi customs. She learns, however, to come to terms with her own British Asian identity. The village, Tollington, could so easily be Essington:-
"From the crest of the hill, on a clear day, you could see the industrial chimneys of Wolverhampton, smoking like fat men's cigars, and sometimes a glimpse of the dark fringes of Cannock Chase, several square miles of thick conifers bristling with secrets and deer."
Meera Syal was awarded an MBE in 1997. In April 2000 she won the Media Personality of the Year award in the Commission for Racial Equality's annual Race in the Media Awards
Anita and me (1996)
Bhaji on the Beach (1994) [Film]
Life isn't all ha ha hee hee (2000) [Novel]
One of Us [Play]
There are many biographical sketches as well as reviews of Anita and me and other work by Meera Syal on the Internet.
A reviewer in the Oxford Student, Online Edition, vol. 25, issue 7, 18 November 1999 [web page no longer available] compares her own upbringing in the West Midlands:-
"Maybe it's because I'm Indian. Maybe it's because, like the author, I'm also from Wolverhampton and feel a bit of civic pride when my home town is down on page. More likely, though, is that Anita and Me reminded me so perfectly of what it's like to be nine years old that the novel still resounded in my head long after I'd finished it."
Page created 9 February 2001 and last
updated 18 January 2003
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