Meera Viswanathan, Faculty


In this interview, Meera Viswanathan, then-Professor of comparative literature at Brown University, discusses emigrating from India to Los Angeles in 1961. She describes the language barrier she experienced and her process of assimilating to American life through using the English language. She explains being unable to identify with classmates in elementary school or holidays such as Christmas or Halloween, and regrets losing much of her native language. Viswanathan recalls realizing in her adolescence that she did not have to give up her culture but also remembers praying to become white.

Viswanathan notes her observations of Asian-American students on the Brown campus and considers the kinds of people who fit into that category. She also discusses her experience as an Indian-American undergraduate at Stamford University in 1974. Speaking again of her childhood, Viswanathan remembers attempting to make her dolls look more like herself. The interview ends in the middle of a conversation about the differences between Viswanathan’s college experience and that of students in the 1980s.


Recorded on November 6, 1989 in Marston Hall, Brown University, Providence, RI
Interviewed by Mala Yee

Suggested Chicago style citation: Viswanathan, Meera. Interview. By Mala Yee. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. November 6, 1989.


Meera Viswanathan was born in India and immigrated to the United States in 1961 to join her father who had moved to Los Angeles two years before to pursue a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at UCLA. Having earned her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Stanford University, Viswanathan’s academic research is in classical Japanese poetry and prose, Western medieval court literature, and comparative poetics. She is Associate Professor Emerita of East Asian Studies and Associate Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at Brown University, as well as Head of School at the Ethel Walker School.

Viswanathan and her husband, Eric Widmer, co-founded King’s Academy in Madaba, Jordan, the Middle East’s first coeducational preparatory boarding school with financial aid. Viswanathan held the Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa Distinguished Chair in the Theory and Practice of Knowledge in 2007 as King Academy’s principal architect of curriculum, and was also dean of faculty there. Viswanathan was awarded the King Hussein Medal, Jordan’s highest honor, for her work. Viswanathan also received the John Rowe Workman Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Humanities from Brown University 1994-1996.