Tanya Selvaratnam (March 20, 1971), is an author, an actor, a producer, and an activist. In January 2014, Prometheus Books published her first book, The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock, to critical acclaim.
Selvaratnam was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka and raised in Long Beach, California. She attended high school at Phillips Academy Andover. She received her B.A. in East Asian Languages and Civilizations and her M.A. in Regional Studies – East Asia from Harvard University. Her master’s thesis on the interplay of law and practice with regard to women’s rights in China was published in the Journal of Law and Politics. Selvaratnam lives in New York City and Cambridge, MA.
Part memoir, part manifesto, The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock explores how delaying motherhood intersects with evolution, reproductive science, feminism, global economics, popular culture, female friendships, and more. Selvaratnam addresses what she calls many big lies, including that we can do things on our own timetables and that we can manipulate evolution. Publishers Weekly called the book a “provocative mix of solid information and palpable anger” and a “wakeup call.”  Library Journal said “This work is for the women who have been left out of the discussion until now… Many will cheer on Selvaratnam’s ultimate points.”  Selvaratnam’s writing has been published in PAPER, Huffington Post, Art Basel Magazine, Toronto Review, Bust, Journal of Law and Politics, Pop and Politics, and more.
Selvaratnam has produced works by many artists and directors including Gabri Christa, Chiara Clemente, Catherine Gund, Mickalene Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, and Jed Weintrob. Recent projects include Mickalene Thomas’s film, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman (HBO broadcast, February 2014); the Rockefeller Foundation-funded MADE HERE (an online and public television documentary series about NYC-based performing artists); a video/photography shoot for artist Carrie Mae Weems; and Beginnings, a short film series directed by Chiara Clemente for the Sundance Channel. Beginnings, which won the Webby Award for Best Online Documentary Series, is composed of short portraits of creative leaders on how they got their start. Subjects have included actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, filmmaker Marjane Satrapi, artist Yoko Ono, chef Dan Barber, bookseller Sylvia Whitman, perfumier Frederic Malle, choreographer/dancer Carmen De Lavallade, and shoe designer Christian Louboutin. Current project include Born to Fly, a documentary by Catherine Gund about Elizabeth Streb, the Evel Knievel of dance; and a documentary by Albert Maysles and Shola Lynch about civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams. Past film productions include Catherine Gund’s What’s On Your Plate? (about kids and food politics), which aired on Discovery Channel’s Planet Green; Chiara Clemente’s Our City Dreams (about five decades of women artists: Nancy Spero, Marina Abramovic, Kiki Smith, Ghada Amer and Swoon), which aired on the Sundance Channel; and Jed Weintrob’s The F Word (about freedom of speech in America), which aired on the Independent Film Channel. Selvaratnam has also produced live events and performances, including a concert for Artists for Tsunami Relief, a benefit for The Wooster Group, the show Bellona, Destroyer of Cities; and the Obie Award-winning show, World of Wires.
Selvaratnam has acted internationally in shows by The Wooster Group, The Builders Association, and many others; appeared in films and video installations by Carrie Mae Weems, John Malpede, Sharon Hayes, Andrea Geyer, David Michalek, Candice Breitz, and Jennifer Reeves; been a fellow at Yaddo and Blue Mountain Center; and a guest actor at New Dramatists, Lincoln Center Directors Lab, Voice & Vision Theater, and the Institute on Arts and Civic Dialogue (founded by Anna Deavere Smith). Selvaratnam has performed at prestigious venues around the world, such as New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center; the UK’s Barbican Theatre and Tramway; and the Institute of Contemporary Art and American Repertory Theater in Massachusetts.
Selvaratnam was the Special Projects Coordinator for the Ms. Foundation from 1995-1998. Prior to that, she was on the organizing committee of the NGO Forum on Women in China, where she was the assistant youth coordinator and produced Youth Arts & Culture events. From 1998 to 2001, Selvaratnam worked for the World Health Organization as a research associate under the direction of Soon-Young Yoon and helped organize the Kobe Conference on Women and Tobacco. In response to the 2004 tsunami, Selvaratnam joined forces with Syndicate Media Group to produce a benefit titled Artists for Tsunami Relief. The show at Marquee included appearances by Lou Reed, David Byrne, Angela McCluskey, Moby, Vernon Reid, Sussan Deyhim, Colson Whitehead, and Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky. She also organized book drives for Sri Lanka. Since 2011, Selvaratnam has been an advisor to The DO School, an innovative educational organization offering learning experiences that create global impact. It trains and mentors social entrepreneurs from all over the world and helps them kickstart their own social ventures. She has also served on the board of The Third Wave Foundation, which is dedicated to youth activism and the feminist movement.
- The Big Lie (Prometheus, 2014)
- On_Line, dir. Jed Weintrob (2002)
- Domino, dir. Gabri Christa (2003)
- The F Word, dir. Jed Weintrob (2005)
- Our City Dreams, dir. Chiara Clemente (2008)
- What’s On Your Plate?, dir. Catherine Gund (2009)
- MADE HERE, dir. Chiara Clemente (2009-2013)
- Beginnings, Season 1, dir. Chiara Clemente (2010)
- Beginnings, Season 2, dir. Chiara Clemente (2012)
- Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, dir. Mickalene Thomas (2013)
- Born to Fly, dir. Catherine Gund (2014)
- Tanya SJ Selvaratnam, "Backseat Driver: Steering Chinese Women's Voices Through the 1990's", Journal of Law and Politics, vol 12 (1996). http://study.ccln.gov.cn/fenke/zhexue/zxjpwz/zxllx/34956.shtml
- Official website (http://www.tanyaturnsup.com)
- The Big Lie official website (http://www.thebigliebook.com)
- The Big Lie on Random House (http://www.randomhouse.com/book/231664/the-big-lie-by-tanya-selvaratnam)
- Facebook public fan page (http://www.facebook.com/thebigliebook)
- Official Twitter site (http://www.twitter.com/tselvar)
- MADE HERE, the performing arts documentary series (http://www.madehereproject.org)
- Beginnings on the Sundance Channel (http://www.sundancechannel.com/beginnings)