Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

6 August, 2012

Katherine Boo spent three years reporting from Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. The settlement was “an all-India mash-up of caste, ethnicity, faith, and language”. The result is her debut narrative non-fiction book, Behind the Beautiful Forever: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. She tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the world’s most lively but treacherous cities.

Katherine is a proponent of ‘immersion’ or ‘documentary ‘journalism, where the journalist lives with subject. A staff writer for The New Yorker, she has spent the last 20 years reporting from within poor communities, considering how societies distribute opportunity and how individuals get out of poverty. She writes to give an “unsentimental, rigorously reported account of how government policy or market forces affect lives and prospects on the so-called ground”.

For Sydney Ideas Katherine will be in conversation with University of Sydney anthropologist Dr Sheleyah Courtney. They will discuss the practice of immersion journalism, daily life in an Indian slum, corruption and economic mobility in modern India, and much more.

Katherine Boo

Katherine Boo is a staff writer for The New Yorker. She learnt to report at the Washington City Paper, and was an editor of the Washington Monthly and, for nearly a decade, a reporter and editor at The Washington Post. Her reporting has been honoured by a MacArthur Fellowship, a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing, and the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is her first book.


Sheleyah Courtney

Dr Sheleyah Courtney lectures in Social Anthropology at the University of Sydney. She teaches on Indian society, culture, religion and politics as well as related subjects of gender, migration, media and popular culture. Her research over the past fourteen years has been among marginalised and impoverished women of Varanasi, a holy city in North India.