Three months ago, a new book by Tsering Wangmo Dhompa—a graduate student in literature at UC Santa Cruz—was launched in Dharamsala, India, by the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile.
Titled A Home in Tibet, the book is a lyrical homage to her mother--a former member of Parliament in the exiled government, who died in a car crash in India when Dhompa was 23—and to Tibet.
Following readings in Delhi and Katmandu, the book has since been garnering acclaim from major press in India.
“Tsering is one of the few Tibetan writers who are trying to create a body of literature that seeks to find the Tibetan voice, bereft of the Western romanticizing,” the Hindustan Times noted.
“In A Home in Tibet, she tries to weave a powerful tale of personal history and loss without sentimentality. In her moving narrative laced with occasional nostalgic detours, Tibet is also a main character, a land and its people who remain under subjugation.”
The Times of India observed that the author “carries a heavy tag on her shoulders—she is the first Tibetan poetess to be published in English. Having grown up in India and Nepal, she brings a rich cultural texture to her writings, evident in her first full-length book, A Home in Tibet."
"Celebrating homecoming, it’s as much a tribute to her mother, who raised her after fleeing Tibet in 1959, as to the homeland that has never been her home.”
Born in 1969 in India, Dhompa was raised by her mother in Tibetan communities in Dharamsala, as well as in Kathmandu, Nepal.
After her mother’s death, she moved to the United States, where she earned an MA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in professional writing, and an MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University.
Although she is fluent in several languages and dialects—including Tibetan, Hindi, and Nepali—Dhompa writes in English. In 1998, she became the first female Tibetan poet published in English.
Her first book of poems, Rules of the House in 2002 was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Awards in 2003. She is also the author of the poetry collection My Rice Tastes Like the Lake (2011), which was a finalist for the Northern California Independent Bookseller’s “Book of the Year Award” for 2012.
She additionally spent 10 years working for the American Himalaya Foundation, based in San Francisco, raising funds and overseeing a wide range of Tibetan humanitarian projects involving schools, medical care, and cultural restoration in Nepal, India, and Tibet.
Dhompa came to UC Santa Cruz in 2011 to pursue a Ph.D in Literature. In the midst of writing her book, she felt like she needed more training, and began looking around for different programs.
“I researched on the web,” Dhompa recalled. “I looked up 'diaspora' and found UCSC’s History of Consciousness program and read works by (emeritus humanities professor) James Clifford and others. UCSC allowed freedom, but was also interdisciplinary, and many people recommended it,” she added.
“The professors are very generous,” said Dhompa. “I am able to work one-on-one with the faculty, studying exile and diaspora. I have a reading list of books and we meet once a week. That’s an excellent way of doing it—sitting with books and issues.”
“It’s also been great being with students half my age,” she added. "It would be difficult to do so in India. None of my friends would think of going back to school.”