Jhumpa Lahiri: A Brief Biography

Jackie Large '05, and Erin Quinn '04, English 365, Northwestern University

In 1967, Jhumpa Lahiri was born in London to Bengali parents.As a child, Lahiri moved with her family to Rhode Island where Jhumpa spent her adolescence. Lahiri went on to attend Barnard College, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English and later attending Boston University. It was here Lahiri attained Master's Degrees in English, Creative Writing, and Comparative Studies in Literature and the Arts as well as a Ph D in Renaissance Studies. Lahiri also worked for a short time teaching creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design (http://www.saja.org/lahiri.html)

Lahiri has traveled extensively to India and has experienced the effects of colonialism there as well as experienced the issues of the diaspora as it exists. She feels strong ties to her parents' homeland as well as the United States and England. Growing up with ties to all three countries created in Lahiri a sense of homelessness and an inability to feel accepted. Lahiri explains this as an inheritance of her parents' ties to India, "It's hard to have parents who consider another place "home"-even after living abroad for 30 years, India is home for them. We were always looking back so I never felt fully at home here. There's nobody in this whole country that we're related to. India was different-our extended family offered real connections." Yet her familial ties to India were not enough to make India "home" for Lahiri, "I didn't grow up there, I wasn't a part of things. We visited often but we didn't have a home. We were clutching at a world that was never fully with us" (Interview with Vibhuti Patel in Newsweek International, 9-20-99).

Lahiri, the daughter of a librarian and school teacher, has always been inclined to creative writing. Lahiri remembers a need to write as early as ten years old and she has always used writing as an outlet for her emotions, "When I learned to read, I felt the need to copy. I started writing ten page 'novels' during recess with my friends' writing allowed me to observe and make sense of things without having to participate. I didn't belong. I looked different and felt like an outsider" (Interview with Vibhuti Patel in Newsweek International, 9-20-99).

At a press conference in Calcutta in January of 2001, Lahiri described this absence of belonging, "No country is my motherland. I always find myself in exile in whichever country I travel to, that's why I was tempted to write something about those living their lives in exile" (http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/jan/11jhum.htm). This idea of exile runs consistently throughout Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize winning book Interpreter of Maladies.

The book brings to light many of the issues with identity faced by the Diaspora community. The book contains the stories of first and second generation Indian immigrants, as well as a few stories involving ideas of otherness among communities in India. The stories revolve around the difficulties of relationships, communication and a loss of identity for those in diaspora. No matter where the story takes place, the characters struggle with the same feelings of exile and the struggle between the two worlds by which they are torn. The stories deal with the always shifting lines between gender, sexuality, and social status within a diaspora. Whether the character be a homeless woman from India or an Indian male student in the United States, all the characters display the effects of displacement in a diaspora.

Lahiri has won many awards for Interpreter of Maladies. These awards and honors include The Pulitzer Prize in 2000, The Transatlantic Review Award from the Henfield Foundation, The Louisiana Review Award for Short Fiction, the O. Henry Award for Best American Short Stories, the PEN/Hemingway Award, The New Yorker Debut ofthe Year Award and The American Academy of Arts and Letters Award. Lahiri also received a nomination for the LA Times Book prize as well as the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002. She has published three stories in The New Yorker, as well as published works in the Agni, Epoch, The Louisville Review, Harvard Review and the Story Quarterly (www.pulitzer.org). Lahiri is currently living in New York with her husband and son. Lahiri released her first novel in September of 2003. The novel is titled The Namesake and it follows the trials of a newlywed couple who immigrate to Cambridge, Massachusetts, from Calcutta. (http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/authordetail.cfm?authorID=4768)

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Last modified 7 December 2002