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Jhumpa Lahiri

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Jhumpa Lahiri is an established contemporary London-born Indian American writer. Her major works include a novel The Namesake and a short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. Additionally, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed her the member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

Born on July 11, 1967, in London, United Kingdom, she is the daughter of a Bengali Indian Immigrant. When she was two, her family immigrated to United States. In fact, she considers herself more of an American as she was raised in Kingston, Rhode Island. Her father, who was a librarian at the University of Rhode Island, served as the model for the protagonist in her short story “The Third and Final Continent”. So as not to lose connection with their Bengali roots, her mother often arranged trips to Kolkata to meet their relatives. However, Lahiri felt ambivalent about her Indian heritage.

She received her early education from South Kingstown High School. Later she went on to study at Barnard College, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. Following her graduation, she attended Boston University from where she received multiple degrees. She holds a Masters degree in English and Comparative Literature, M.F.A. in Creative Writing and a doctorate in Renaissance Studies. Subsequent to obtaining a fellowship at Fine Arts Work Center, she began her professional career teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Boston University.

While teaching, Lahiri invested her creative energy in writing as well. She faced multiple rejections from publishers for her early literary works. In 1999, she eventually made her debut with the short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. The stories focus on the difficulties faced by Indian immigrants living abroad. Her major themes include domestic and marital discords, miscarriage and disconnect between the two generations of immigrants based in America. According to the authoress herself, at first she unconsciously centered her stories on her Indian-American experience. The driving force was her natural inclination to bring the two worlds she lives in together, if not in real life then on paper. Her collection garnered positive reviews from American audience but failed to please her Indian readership.

On the account of not portraying Indian characters clearly or completely devoid of faults, the Indian critics lambasted her work. She was even labeled “distant-author” for sketching the Indian landscape and its people without having first-hand knowledge of either and relying on her imagination solely. Despite an angry denunciation of her short story collection in India, she was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Subsequently, she penned her first novel, entitled The Namesake, published in 2003. Lahiri addressed the prevailing issue of generation and cultural gap in her novel. It charts the lives of two consecutive generations of Indian immigrants living in United States. The novel was adapted for a film by Mira Nair, in 2007.

Unaccustomed Earth, is marked as Lahiri’s second short story collection, published in 2008. It instantly topped The New York Times best seller list upon its release and received rave reviews from American critics. In addition to publishing novels and short story collections, she has also contributed to The New Yorker magazine. Those works include fiction and non-fiction short stories, such as The Long Way Home; Cooking Lessons. Lahiri also actively participated in the promotion of fellow writers’ work, being a member of the PEN American Center. Furthermore, her novel The Lowland (2003) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and became a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.

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