Jhumpa Lahiri

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Jhumpa Lahiri
File:Jhumpa Lahiri Mantova.jpg
Born Nilanjana Sudeshna Lahiri[1]
(1967-07-11) 11 July 1967 (age 54)
London, England
Alma mater Barnard College
Boston University
Genre Novel, short story, postcolonial
Notable works Interpreter of Maladies (1999)
The Namesake (2003)
Unaccustomed Earth (2008)
The Lowland (2013)
Notable awards 1999 O. Henry Award
2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Nilanjana Sudeshna "Jhumpa" Lahiri (Bengali: ঝুম্পা লাহিড়ী; born on July 11, 1967) is an Indian Bengali 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.[2] She was born Nilanjana Sudeshna but goes by her nickname (or in Bengali, her "Daak naam") Jhumpa.[1] Lahiri is a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama.[3] Her book The Lowland, published in 2013, was a nominee for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. Lahiri is currently a professor of creative writing at Princeton University.


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, stating, "I wasn't born here, but I might as well have been."[1] Lahiri grew up in Kingston, Rhode Island, where her father Amar Lahiri works as a librarian at the University of Rhode Island;[1] he is the basis for the protagonist in "The Third and Final Continent," the closing story from Interpreter of Maladies.[4] Lahiri's mother wanted her children to grow up knowing their Bengali heritage, and her family often visited relatives in Calcutta (now Kolkata).[5]

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 name."[1] Lahiri recalled, "I always felt so embarrassed by my name.... You feel like you're causing someone pain just by being who you are."[6] 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.[1] Lahiri graduated from South Kingstown High School and received her B.A. in English literature from Barnard College in 1989.[7]

Lahiri then received multiple degrees from Boston University: a 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 of TIME Latin America, and who is now Senior Editor of TIME Latin America. Lahiri lives in Rome, Italy[8] with her husband and their two children, Octavio (b. 2002) and Noor (b. 2005).[6]

Literary career

Lahiri's early short stories faced rejection from publishers "for years."[9] 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."[10] 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."[11] "Many people criticise her by saying that she, in her stories, has portrayed India in [an] unclear, untrue and faulty manner. 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."[12] 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).[1][13]

In 2003, Lahiri published The Namesake, her first novel.[11] 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 March 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 on April 1, 2008. Upon its publication, Unaccustomed Earth achieved the rare distinction of debuting at number 1 on The New York Times best seller list.[14] New York Times Book Review editor, Dwight Garner, stated, "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."[14]

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 February 2010, she was appointed a member of the Committee on the Arts and Humanities, along with five others.[3]

In September 2013, her novel The Lowland was placed on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize,[15][16] which ultimately went to The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. The following month it was also long-listed for the National Book Award for Fiction, and revealed to be a finalist on October 16, 2013.[17] However, on November 20, 2013, it lost out for that award to James McBride and his novel The Good Lord Bird.[17]

In December 2015 Lahiri published a non-fiction essay called "Teach Yourself Italian" in The New Yorker about her experience learning Italian. In the essay she declared that she is now only writing in Italian, and the essay itself was translated from Italian to English.

Literary focus

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.[2][10] 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.

Until Unaccustomed Earth, she focused mostly on first-generation Indian American immigrants and their struggle to raise a family in a country very different from theirs. Her stories describe their efforts to keep their children acquainted with Indian culture and traditions and to keep them close even after they have grown up in order to hang on to the Indian tradition of a joint family, in which the parents, their children and the children's families live under the same roof.

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.[18]


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 India 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.[19]


Short story collections

  • Interpreter of Maladies (1999)
    • "A Temporary Matter" (previously published in The New Yorker)
    • "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" (previously published in The Louisville Review)
    • "Interpreter of Maladies" (previously published in the Agni Review)
    • "A Real Durwan" (previously published in the Harvard Review)
    • "Sexy" (previously published in The New Yorker)
    • "Mrs. Sen's" (previously published in Salamander)
    • "This Blessed House" (previously published in Epoch)
    • "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar" (previously published in Story Quarterly)
    • "The Third and Final Continent"
  • Unaccustomed Earth (2008)
    • Part One
      • "Unaccustomed Earth"
      • "Hell-Heaven" (previously published in The New Yorker)
      • "A Choice of Accommodations"
      • "Only Goodness"
      • "Nobody's Business" (previously published in The New Yorker)
    • Part Two
      • "Once In A Lifetime" (previously published in The New Yorker)
      • "Year's End" (previously published in The New Yorker)
      • "Going Ashore"


Uncollected non-fiction



Further reading


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Minzesheimer, Bob. "For Pulitzer winner Lahiri, a novel approach", USA Today, 2003-08-19. Retrieved on 2008-04-13.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Chotiner, Isaac. "Interviews: Jhumpa Lahiri", The Atlantic, 2008-03-18. Retrieved on 2008-04-12.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Barack Obama appoints Jhumpa Lahiri to arts committee", The Times of India, February 7, 2010<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Flynn, Gillian. "Passage To India: First-time author Jhumpa Lahiri nabs a Pulitzer," Entertainment Weekly, 2000-04-28. Retrieved on 2008-04-13.
  5. Aguiar, Arun. "One on One With Jhumpa Lahiri", Pifmagazine.com, 1999-07-28. Retrieved on 2008-04-13.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Anastas, Benjamin. "Books: Inspiring Adaptation", Men's Vogue, March 2007. Retrieved on 2008-04-13.
  7. "Pulitzer Prize awarded to Barnard alumna Jhumpa Lahiri ’89; Katherine Boo ’88 cited in public service award to The Washington Post", Barnard Campus News, 2000-04-11. Retrieved on 2008-04-13.
  8. Spinks, John. "A Writer's Room", T: The New York Times Style Magazine, 25 August 2013.
  9. Arun Aguiar (1 August 1999). "Interview with Jhumpa Lahiri". Pif Magazine/ Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Lahiri, Jhumpa. "My Two Lives", Newsweek, 2006-03-06. Retrieved on 2008-04-13.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Wiltz, Teresa. "The Writer Who Began With a Hyphen: Jhumpa Lahiri, Between Two Cultures", The Washington Post, 2003-10-08. Retrieved on 2008-04-15.
  12. Ziaul Haque, Md. "Translating Literary Prose: Problems and Solutions", International Journal of English Linguistics, vol. 2, no. 6; 2012, p. 109. Retrieved on April 01, 2015.
  13. Farnsworth, Elizabeth. "Pulitzer Prize Winner-Fiction", PBS NewsHour, 2000-04-12. Retrieved on 2008-04-15.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Garner, Dwight. "Jhumpa Lahiri, With a Bullet" The New York Times Paper Cuts blog, 2008-04-10. Retrieved on 2008-04-12.
  15. Masters, Tim (July 23, 2013). "Man Booker judges reveal 'most diverse' longlist". BBC. Retrieved July 23, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "BBC News - Man Booker Prize 2013: Toibin and Crace lead shortlist". BBC News. September 10, 2013. Retrieved September 11, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 17.0 17.1 "2013 National Book Awards". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  18. Lahiri, J.. Unaccustomed Earth.
  19. Shattuck, Kathryn (November 11, 2010). "Therapy? Not His Cup of Tea". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Claire Armitstead (January 22, 2015). "Jhumpa Lahiri wins $50,000 DSC prize for south Asian literature". The Guardian. Retrieved January 22, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "President Obama to Award 2014 National Humanities Medal". National Endowment for the Humanities. September 3, 2015. Retrieved September 4, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

External audio
Writer Jhumpa Lahiri, Fresh Air, September 04, 2003