Who Is Jhumpa Lahiri?
Author Jhumpa Lahiri published her debut in 1999, Interpreter of Maladies, winning the Pulitzer Prize. She followed up in 2003 with her first novel, The Namesake, and returned to short stories with the No. 1 New York Times best-seller Unaccustomed Earth. Lahiri's 2013 novel, The Lowland, was partially inspired by real-world political events.
Early Life and Education
Nilanjana Sudheshna Lahiri was born on July 11, 1967, in London, England, to mother Tapati and father Amar, a Bengali couple who immigrated to the United Kingdom from Calcutta, India. Lahiri's father, a university librarian, opted to relocate to the United States for work, eventually settling in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, when she was still a small child.
With the family nickname, "Jhumpa," coming to be used by school teachers, Lahiri went on to attend Barnard College in New York, focusing on English literature. She then joined the student body of Boston University, earning three literary master's degrees before receiving her doctorate in Renaissance studies.
Pulitzer Prize for Debut
Upon completing a Provincetown, Cape Cod, residency, Lahiri was able to share with the world her first book, a collection of nine stories, Interpreter of Maladies, published in 1999. The work's depth-driven plots allowed glimpses into the lives of characters both in India and the States. Interpreter won an array of honors, including the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Hemingway Award.
In 2003, Lahiri followed up with The Namesake, a novel that followed the lives, perspectives and changing family ties of the Gangulis, an Indian couple in an arranged marriage who relocate to America. The work was adapted into a 2007 Mira Nair film starring Irfan Khan and Tabu, with Lahiri acknowledging that she felt a connection to the director's sensibilities.
Best-Seller: 'Unaccustomed Earth'
Lahiri returned to the short-story form via her next literary outing, 2008's Unaccustomed Earth, with the title taken from an introductory passage found in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. With prose focusing on the lives of immigrant clans and U.S.-raised children, including a linked trio of tales at book's end, Unaccustomed Earth reached No. 1 on The New York Times' best-seller list.
Lahiri is renowned for the finesse and poignancy of her prose, with the ability to subtly, mesmerizingly build an emotional connection to characters. "I hear sentences as I'm staring out the window, or chopping vegetables, or waiting on a subway platform alone," Lahiri said of her writing process in a 2012 interview with The New York Times. "They are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, handed to me in no particular order, with no discernible logic. I only sense that they are part of the thing."
Returns With 'The Lowland'
Lahiri returned in 2013 with The Lowland, which became a National Book Award finalist and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Partially inspired by a true story Lahiri had heard growing up, the work initially looks at two brothers, one involved in India's Naxalite movement of the 1960s and the other choosing a researcher's life in the States. The death of one sibling causes reverberations through the ensuing years.
In 2001, Lahiri wed Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, a journalist of Guatemalan descent, with the couple going on to reside in Italy with their children. Immersing herself in Italian, Lahiri has spoken of observing changes in her own writing style, feeling a sense of freedom in relating to a different language.
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