Jhumpa Lahiri

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Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri in 2015
Jhumpa Lahiri in 2015
BornNilanjana Sudeshna Lahiri
(1967-07-11) July 11, 1967 (age 55)
London, England
Alma mater
Period21st century
GenreNovel, short story, postcolonial
Notable works
Notable awards

Nilanjana Sudeshna "Jhumpa" Lahiri[1] (born July 11, 1967) is an American author known for her short stories, novels, and essays in English and, more recently, in Italian.

Her debut collection of short-stories Interpreter of Maladies (1999) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Hemingway Award, and her first novel, The Namesake (2003), was adapted into the popular film of the same name.

The Namesake was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and was made into a major motion picture.[2] Unaccustomed Earth (2008) won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, while her second novel, The Lowland (2013), was a finalist for both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. On January 22, 2015, Lahiri won the US$50,000 DSC Prize for Literature for The Lowland[3] In these works, Lahiri explored the Indian-immigrant experience in America. In 2011, Lahiri moved to Rome, Italy and has since then published two books of essays, and in 2018, published her first novel in Italian called Dove mi trovo and also compiled, edited and translated the Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories which consists of 40 Italian short stories written by 40 different Italian writers. She has also translated some of her own writings and those of other authors from Italian into English.[4][5]

In 2014, Lahiri was awarded the National Humanities Medal.[4] She was a professor of creative writing at Princeton University from 2015 to 2022.[5] In 2022, she became the Millicent C. McIntosh Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at her alma mater, Barnard College of Columbia University.[6]

Early and personal life[edit]

Lahiri was born in London, the daughter of Indian immigrants from the Indian state of West Bengal. Her family moved to the United States when she was three;[1] Lahiri considers herself an American and has said, "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 worked as a librarian at the University of Rhode Island;[1] the protagonist in "The Third and Final Continent", the story which concludes Interpreter of Maladies, is modeled after him.[7] Lahiri's mother wanted her children to grow up knowing their Bengali heritage, and her family often visited relatives in Calcutta (now Kolkata).[8]

When Lahiri began kindergarten in Kingston, Rhode Island, her teacher decided to call her by her familiar name Jhumpa because it was easier to pronounce than her more formal given names.[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."[9] Her ambivalence over her identity was the inspiration for the mixed feelings of Gogol, the protagonist of her novel The Namesake, over his own unusual name.[1] In an editorial in Newsweek, Lahiri claims that she has "felt intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new." Much of her experiences growing up as a child were marked by these two sides tugging away at one another. When she became an adult, she found that she was able to be part of these two dimensions without the embarrassment and struggle that she had when she was a child.[10] Lahiri graduated from South Kingstown High School and received her B.A. in English literature from Barnard College of Columbia University in 1989.[11]

Lahiri then earned advanced degrees from Boston University: an M.A. in English, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, an M.A. in Comparative Literature, and a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. Her dissertation, completed in 1997, was titled "Accursed Palace: The Italian palazzo on the Jacobean stage (1603–1625)".[12] Her principal advisers were William Carroll (English) and Hellmut Wohl (Art History). 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. In 2012, Lahiri moved to Rome[13][14] with her husband and their two children, Octavio (born 2002) and Noor (b. 2005).[9] On July 1, 2015, Lahiri joined the Princeton University faculty as a professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts.[15]

Literary career[edit]

Lahiri's early short stories faced rejection from publishers "for years".[16] 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, the bereavement over a stillborn child, 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."[17] 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."[18] 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][19]

In 2003, Lahiri published her first novel, The Namesake.[18] The theme and plot of this story was influenced in part by a family story she heard growing up. Her father's cousin was involved in a train wreck and was only saved when the workers saw a beam of light reflected off of a watch he was wearing. Similarly, the protagonist's father in The Namesake was rescued because his peers recognized the books that he read by Russian author Nikolai Gogol. The father and his wife emigrated to the United States as young adults. After this life-changing experience, he named his son Gogol and his daughter Sonali. Together the two children grow up in a culture with different mannerisms and customs that clash with what their parents have taught them.[20] 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.[21] 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."[21]

Lahiri has also had a relationship with The New Yorker magazine, in which she has published short stories and non-fiction.

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.[22]

Lahiri in 2013

In September 2013, her novel The Lowland was placed on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize,[23][24] 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.[25] However, on November 20, 2013, it lost out for that award to James McBride and his novel The Good Lord Bird.[25]

In December 2015, Lahiri published a non-fiction essay called "Teach Yourself Italian" in The New Yorker about her experience learning Italian.[26] In the essay she declared that she is now only writing in Italian, and the essay itself was translated from Italian to English. That same year, she published her first book in Italian, In altre parole, in which she wrote her book about her experience learning the language; an English translation by Ann Goldstein titled In Other Words was published in 2016.[27]

Lahiri was the winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2015 for her book The Lowland at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival for which she entered Limca Book of Records.[28]

In 2017, Lahiri received the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in the short story.[29]

In 2018, Lahiri published her first novel in Italian, Dove mi trovo (2018). In 2019, she compiled, edited and translated the Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories which consists of 40 Italian short stories written by 40 different Italian writers.

Literary focus[edit]

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.[30][17] 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 onto 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.[31]


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.[32]




  • The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 2003.[36]
  • The Lowland (2013)
  • Dove mi trovo (in Italian). Milan: Guanda. 2018. ISBN 978-88-235-2136-0.
  • Whereabouts. New York: Knopf. 2021. ISBN 978-0-593-31831-7.[37]

Short story collections[edit]

Interpreter of Maladies (1999)[edit]

  • "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)[edit]

  • "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)
  • "Once In A Lifetime" (previously published in The New Yorker)
  • "Year's End" (previously published in The New Yorker)
  • "Going Ashore"
  • "Hema and Kaushik"


  • Lahiri, Jhumpa (June 10–17, 2013). "Brotherly Love". The New Yorker. Vol. 89, no. 17. pp. 70–89.
  • Lahiri, Jhumpa (January-29-2018). "The Boundary" . The New Yorker.
  • Lahiri, Jhumpa (February-8-2021). "Casting Shadows" . The New Yorker.


  • Il quaderno di Nerina (Italian) (2020)



  • In altre parole (Italian) (2015) (English translation published as In Other Words, 2016)
  • Il vestito dei libri (Italian) (English translation published as The Clothing of Books, 2016)
  • Translating Myself and Others (2022)

Essays, reporting and other contributions[edit]


  • Ties (2017), translation from Italian of Domenico Starnone's Lacci
  • Trick (2018), translation from Italian of Domenico Starnone's Scherzetto
  • Trust (2021), translation from Italian of Domenico Starnone's Confidenza

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Minzesheimer, Bob. "For Pulitzer winner Lahiri, a novel approach", USA Today, August 19, 2003. Retrieved on 2008-04-13.
  2. ^ "Jhumpa explores importance of book jackets in new work". India Today. Press Trust of India. January 23, 2017. Retrieved November 25, 2021.
  3. ^ "Indian- American Author Jhumpa Lahiri won DSC Prize for 2015". India Today. January 23, 2015. Retrieved November 25, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Gutting, Elizabeth Ward. "Jhumpa Lahiri: 2014 National Humanities Medal". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Jhumpa Lahiri: Professor of Creative Writing". Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  6. ^ "Jhumpa Lahiri '89 Returns to Barnard College as the Millicent C. McIntosh Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing".
  7. ^ Flynn, Gillian. "Passage To India: First-time author Jhumpa Lahiri nabs a Pulitzer," Archived December 31, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Entertainment Weekly, April 28, 2000. Retrieved on 2008-04-13.
  8. ^ Aguiar, Arun. "One on One With Jhumpa Lahiri", Pifmagazine.com, July 28, 1999. Retrieved on 2008-04-13.
  9. ^ a b Anastas, Benjamin. "Books: Inspiring Adaptation" Archived June 22, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Men's Vogue, March 2007. Retrieved on April 13, 2008.
  10. ^ "My Two Lives". Newsweek. March 5, 2006. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  11. ^ "Pulitzer Prize awarded to Barnard alumna Jhumpa Lahiri ’89; Katherine Boo ’88 cited in public service award to The Washington Post" Archived February 24, 2004, at the Wayback Machine, Barnard Campus News, April 11, 2000. Retrieved on 2008-04-13.
  12. ^ ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304346550)
  13. ^ Spinks, John. "A Writer's Room", T: The New York Times Style Magazine, August 25, 2013.
  14. ^ Pierce, Sheila (May 22, 2015). "Why Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri quit the US for Italy". Financial Times. Archived from the original on December 10, 2022. Retrieved June 20, 2021.
  15. ^ Saxon, Jamie (September 4, 2015). "Author Jhumpa Lahiri awarded National Humanities Medal". Research at Princeton, Princeton University. Archived from the original on June 15, 2018. Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  16. ^ Arun Aguiar (August 1, 1999). "Interview with Jhumpa Lahiri". Pif Magazine/ Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  17. ^ a b Lahiri, Jhumpa. "My Two Lives", Newsweek, March 6, 2006. Retrieved on 2008-04-13.
  18. ^ a b Wiltz, Teresa. "The Writer Who Began With a Hyphen: Jhumpa Lahiri, Between Two Cultures", The Washington Post, October 8, 2003. Retrieved on 2008-04-15.
  19. ^ Farnsworth, Elizabeth. "Pulitzer Prize Winner-Fiction" Archived January 1, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, PBS NewsHour, April 12, 2000. Retrieved on 2008-04-15.
  20. ^ Austen, Benjamin (September–October 2003). "In The Shadow of Gogol". New Leader. 86: 31–32.
  21. ^ a b Garner, Dwight. "Jhumpa Lahiri, With a Bullet" The New York Times Paper Cuts blog, April 10, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-04-12.
  22. ^ "Barack Obama appoints Jhumpa Lahiri to arts committee", The Times of India, February 7, 2010
  23. ^ Masters, Tim (July 23, 2013). "Man Booker judges reveal 'most diverse' longlist". BBC. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  24. ^ "BBC News - Man Booker Prize 2013: Toibin and Crace lead shortlist". BBC News. September 10, 2013. Retrieved September 11, 2013.
  25. ^ a b "2013 National Book Awards". National Book Foundation. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  26. ^ Lahiri, Jhumpa (November 29, 2015). "Teach Yourself Italian". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  27. ^ Lahiri, Jhumpa (2017). In other words. Ann Goldstein. London. ISBN 978-1-4088-6613-9. OCLC 949821672.
  28. ^ "First Woman Winner of DSC Prize". Limca Book of Records. Archived from the original on August 8, 2016. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  29. ^ "Jhumpa Lahiri Receives 2017 PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story". Lewis Center for the Arts. May 25, 2017. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  30. ^ Chotiner, Isaac. "Interviews: Jhumpa Lahiri", The Atlantic, March 18, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-04-12.
  31. ^ Lahiri, J.. Unaccustomed Earth.
  32. ^ Shattuck, Kathryn (November 11, 2010). "Therapy? Not His Cup of Tea". The New York Times.
  33. ^ Claire Armitstead (January 22, 2015). "Jhumpa Lahiri wins $50,000 DSC prize for south Asian literature". The Guardian. Retrieved January 22, 2015.
  34. ^ "President Obama to Award 2014 National Humanities Medal". National Endowment for the Humanities. September 3, 2015. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  35. ^ "American University of Rome, lauree honoris causa per Jhumpa Lahiri e Carlo Petrini". La Stampa. May 25, 2023. Retrieved May 29, 2023.
  36. ^ "Life lessons to learn from The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri| Kaitholil.com". kaitholil.com. Retrieved August 2, 2022.
  37. ^ "Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri". Penguin Random House. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
  38. ^ Title in the online table of contents is "In translation".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

External audio
audio icon Writer Jhumpa Lahiri, Fresh Air, September 4, 2003