The Daily Illini

Allerton Park receives donation from alumna turned author

By Vishesh Anand, Staff Writer

The aftereffects of the tragic Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York were far-reaching. Nandita Godbole, University alumna, was working as a landscape architect in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the time but was abruptly bounced into a different life.

Godbole, a native of Bombay, India, said she lost her job after the 9/11 attacks and had to start teaching cooking classes to support herself. That’s where she had an epiphany.

“After 9/11, I realized that narratives of people from ‘other’ places — regardless of nationalities, were lost, ignored or undervalued partly because of ignorance, unfounded fears or plain nonchalance,” Godbole said in an email. “There’s this whole gap where people don’t understand what it means to come from a different community.”

In 2005, the class of 1999 University graduate moved to Atlanta for a landscape architecture job but didn’t feel satisfied with the work anymore.

While at the University, for her second Masters in landscape architecture, Godbole discovered she had a love and flair for narrative writing, she said. Those talents came as a surprise to her colleagues at the time in Allerton Park, said Jerrold Soesbe, former park director from 1991 to 2003.

Soesbe credits Godbole with making a huge contribution to the park through her writing. He said Godbole’s talent in creating a series of brochures for the park and writing about the landscapes was astonishing.

Godbole now wanted to use those talents to bridge the gap she had seen between different communities.

“Having lived on a diverse campus at UI had shown me that most people are open to appreciating others, if only they know a little more and I wanted to do my part in changing how people understood people from other places, who perhaps did not look like them or eat like they did,” Godbole said.

Soon thereafter, around 2008, she said she decided to make the switch to work full-time as a food writer.

In 2013, her first cookbook, “Street-Eats: A Simple Indian Feast” was published and Godbole has authored seven more since.

Godbole said she wanted to become a food writer in particular because it allowed her an opportunity to use a simple and essential component of our lives to highlight the diversity, complexity and heritage of a cuisine, which also gave her a chance to replace stereotypes with appreciation. And so far, it’s been working.

“My readers are scattered all over the world and they tell me often that their understanding of India and its complex cuisine has greatly improved after they read my work,” Godbole said. “(Readers) have begun to see the world as a complex blend of components, not merely as places divided by regulations.”

Ultimately, the author credits the University for the trajectory her life has taken today. She said her time on campus actually helped her shape the narrative in her latest book series, “Not For You: Family Narratives of Denial & Comfort Foods, Books One & Two.”

Godbole decided to branch out from traditional cookbooks for “Not For You,” a fictional multigenerational family lore that spans 150 years. Notably, two of her fictional characters, Ana and Ravi, even spend four years on campus in the late 1990s.

Moreover, Godbole is also working to deepen her connection with Allerton Park, where she worked as a research assistant from 1998 to 1999.

Allerton Park, in Monticello, Illinois, is a 1,500-acre park and retreat center donated by Robert Allerton and feels like a piece of living artwork to Godbole. She believes it is a local treasure and must be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

“It’s a full day activity; you should be prepared to disconnect from the advances of modern things and step back a little and reconnect with nature and art,” said Derek Peterson, current park director, while describing the facility.

Peterson said Godbole recently reached out to him to inquire about making a donation. He informed the food writer about Allerton Park’s fundraising campaign, “All in Allerton,” to raise $8 million.

From there, Godbole decided to donate a portion of the book sales from “Not For You” to benefit the park. Additionally, on June 23 from 1 to 4 p.m., Godbole will be hosting a book reading and signing event for the second installment of “Not For You: Family Narratives of Denial & Comfort Foods” at the Greenhouse Cafe in Allerton Park.

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