• Birth—July 11, 1967
• Where—London, England, UK
• Raised—Kingston, Rhode Island, USA
• Education—B.A., Barnard College; 2 M.A's., M.F.A., and
Ph.D., Boston University
• Awards—Pulitizer Prize (see more below)
• Currently—lives in Rome, Italy
Jhumpa Lahiri is an Indian American author. Lahiri's debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies (1999), won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and her first novel, The Namesake (2003), was adapted into the popular film of the same name.She was born Nilanjana Sudeshna but goes by her nickname Jhumpa. Lahiri is a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Lahiri was born in London, the daughter of Indian immigrants from the state of West Bengal. Her family moved to the United States when she was two; Lahiri considers herself an American, having said, "I wasn't born here, but I might as well have been." Lahiri grew up in Kingston, Rhode Island, where her father Amar Lahiri works as a librarian at the University of Rhode Island; he is the basis for the protagonist in "The Third and Final Continent," the closing story from Interpreter of Maladies. Lahiri's mother wanted her children to grow up knowing their Bengali heritage, and her family often visited relatives in Calcutta (now Kolkata).
When she began kindergarten in Kingston, Rhode Island, Lahiri's teacher decided to call her by her pet name, Jhumpa, because it was easier to pronounce than her "proper names". Lahiri recalled, "I always felt so embarrassed by my name.... You feel like you're causing someone pain just by being who you are." Lahiri's ambivalence over her identity was the inspiration for the ambivalence of Gogol, the protagonist of her novel The Namesake, over his unusual name. Lahiri graduated from South Kingstown High School and received her B.A. in English literature from Barnard College in 1989.
Lahiri then received multiple degrees from Boston University: an M.A. in English, M.F.A. in Creative Writing, M.A. in Comparative Literature, and a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. She took a fellowship at Provincetown's Fine Arts Work Center, which lasted for the next two years (1997–1998). Lahiri has taught creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design.
In 2001, Lahiri married Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, a journalist who was then Deputy Editor and now Senior Editor of Time Latin America. The couple lives in Rome, Italy with their two children.
Lahiri's early short stories faced rejection from publishers "for years." Her debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, was finally released in 1999. The stories address sensitive dilemmas in the lives of Indians or Indian immigrants, with themes such as marital difficulties, miscarriages, and the disconnection between first and second generation United States immigrants. Lahiri later wrote,
When I first started writing I was not conscious that my subject was the Indian-American experience. What drew me to my craft was the desire to force the two worlds I occupied to mingle on the page as I was not brave enough, or mature enough, to allow in life.
The collection was praised by American critics, but received mixed reviews in India, where reviewers were alternately enthusiastic and upset Lahiri had "not paint[ed] Indians in a more positive light." However, according to Md. Ziaul Haque, a poet, columnist, scholar, researcher and a faculty member at Sylhet International University, Bangladesh,
But, it is really painful for any writer living far away in a new state, leaving his/her own homeland behind; the motherland, the environment, people, culture etc. constantly echo in the writer’s (and of course anybody else’s) mind. So, the manner of trying to imagine and describe about the motherland and its people deserves esteem. I think that we should coin a new term, i.e. “distant-author” and add it to Lahiri’s name since she, being a part of another country, has taken the help of "imagination" and depicted her India the way she has wanted to; the writer must have every possible right to paint the world the way he/she thinks appropriate.
Interpreter of Maladies sold 600,000 copies and received the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (only the seventh time a story collection had won the award).
In 2003, Lahiri published The Namesake, her first novel. The story spans over thirty years in the life of the Ganguli family. The Calcutta-born parents emigrated as young adults to the United States, where their children, Gogol and Sonia, grow up experiencing the constant generational and cultural gap with their parents. A film adaptation of The Namesake was released in 2007, directed by Mira Nair and starring Kal Penn as Gogol and Bollywood stars Tabu and Irrfan Khan as his parents. Lahiri herself made a cameo as "Aunt Jhumpa".
Lahiri's second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, was released in 2008. Upon its publication, Unaccustomed Earth achieved the rare distinction of debuting at number 1 on the New York Times best seller list. The Times Book Review editor, Dwight Garner, wrote, "It’s hard to remember the last genuinely serious, well-written work of fiction — particularly a book of stories — that leapt straight to No. 1; it’s a powerful demonstration of Lahiri’s newfound commercial clout."
Her fourth book and second movel, The Lowland, was published in 2013, again to wide acclaim. The story of two Indian born brothers who take different paths in life, it was placed on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize.
Lahiri has also had a distinguished relationship with The New Yorker magazine in which she has published a number of her short stories, mostly fiction, and a few non-fiction including "The Long Way Home; Cooking Lessons," a story about the importance of food in Lahiri's relationship with her mother.
Since 2005, Lahiri has been a Vice President of the PEN American Center, an organization designed to promote friendship and intellectual cooperation among writers. In 2010, she was appointed a member of the Committee on the Arts and Humanities, along with five others.
Lahiri's writing is characterized by her "plain" language and her characters, often Indian immigrants to America who must navigate between the cultural values of their homeland and their adopted home. Lahiri's fiction is autobiographical and frequently draws upon her own experiences as well as those of her parents, friends, acquaintances, and others in the Bengali communities with which she is familiar. Lahiri examines her characters' struggles, anxieties, and biases to chronicle the nuances and details of immigrant psychology and behavior.
Unaccustomed Earth departs from this earlier original ethos as Lahiri's characters embark on new stages of development. These stories scrutinize the fate of the second and third generations. As succeeding generations become increasingly assimilated into American culture and are comfortable in constructing perspectives outside of their country of origin, Lahiri's fiction shifts to the needs of the individual. She shows how later generations depart from the constraints of their immigrant parents, who are often devoted to their community and their responsibility to other immigrants.
Lahiri worked on the third season of the HBO television program In Treatment. That season featured a character named Sunil, a widower who moves to the United States from Bangladesh and struggles with grief and with culture shock. Although she is credited as a writer on these episodes, her role was more as a consultant on how a Bengali man might perceive Brooklyn.
• 1993 – TransAtlantic Award from the Henfield Foundation
• 1999 – O. Henry Award for short story "Interpreter of Maladies"
• 1999 – PEN/Hemingway Award (Best Fiction Debut of the Year) for "Interpreter of Maladies"
• 1999 – "Interpreter of Maladies" selected as one of Best American Short Stories
• 2000 – Addison Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
• 2000 – "The Third and Final Continent" selected as one of Best American Short Stories
• 2000 – The New Yorker's Best Debut of the Year for "Interpreter of Maladies"
• 2000 – Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her debut "Interpreter of Maladies"
• 2002 – Guggenheim Fellowship
• 2002 – "Nobody's Business" selected as one of Best American Short Stories
• 2008 – Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award for "Unaccustomed Earth"
• 2009 – Asian American Literary Award for "Unaccustomed Earth"
(Author bio from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/12/13.)
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