Student Spotlight

Shaping the Canon: Tagore’s Influence on Indian Literature

Zachary Martin

Second Tagore Scholar to travel to where Nobel Laureate lived and worked

Rabindranath Tagore, Asia’s first Nobel Laureate, is known as the Bard of Bengal. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the prolific writer’s birth and celebrations of his life and work have occurred around the globe.

Graduate student Zachary Martin has been awarded the Tagore Passport Operating Scholarship to explore why Tagore’s writing continues to possess such a strong hold over the Indian people long after his death 70 years ago.

A second year doctoral candidate in the English Department’s Creative Writing Program, Martin is the university’s second Tagore Scholar. He will be using the funds to embark on a four-week research trip to the Indian cities of Kolkata and Santiniketan, where Tagore lived, and Vishwa Bharati University, which Tagore founded.

The Tagore Passport Operating scholarship was established by the Tagore Society of Houston in collaboration with the English Department as an annual $5,000 award to an outstanding graduate student who will apply the funds to one semester of research or creative work dedicated to the legacy of Tagore. The scholarship is open to full-time UH graduate students in any discipline.

According to Wyman Herendeen, Chair of the Department of English, the Tagore Passport Operating Scholarship marks a significant new partnership between the University and the Tagore Society.

“Through this award our students have an exceptional opportunity to study abroad and explore Tagore’s legacy, whether it be in the arts, humanities, social sciences or other areas of inquiry,” Herendeen said.

Martin plans to produce a literary journalistic essay that aims to “marry” his personal traveling experiences with his explorations of Tagore’s influence on Indian literature and society.

“I am going to produce an essay that hopefully brings more readers and understanding to his work,” Martin said. “There is something in Tagore’s work or in the way that he is taught and discussed in India that keeps him fresh and alive, I’d like to discover what that is.”

Herendeen said Martin is an exemplary candidate for the Tagore Passport Scholarship because his project will immerse him in the culture and community that embodies the multi-dimensional influence of Rabindranath Tagore.

“Zach Martin, a talented writer of fiction and non-fiction, brings the trained eye and self-discipline needed to observe and learn about the world that Tagore helped shape,” Herendeen said. “He will be a splendid ambassador for the University of Houston.”

Tagore was born in 1861 in Calcutta, which was renamed Kolkata in 2001. Tagore authored many volumes of poetry and short stories, as well as several novels and travelogues, more than 60 plays and thousands of songs. He became the first non-European Nobel Laureate when he was awarded the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature. Tagore also wrote the national anthems for India and Bangladesh and was an influential figure in India’s independence movement.

Martin is partially preparing for the trip by reading some of Tagore’s fiction: The Home and the World, Gora, Farewell Song and The Religion of Man, as well as a recent biography called Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man. He says, as a fiction writer, submerging himself in Tagore’s novels strengthens his own connection to the canonical author.

“Though I am not going to research my own fiction,” Martin said, “it is possible that some fiction or something that I am not planning will come out of the experience.”

- Luis Zelaya