Penumbra is happy to announce its collaboration with CSU Stanislaus' Writing Center in a five part series: Five Figures from Five Cultures. This series aims to share fantastic writers and thinkers across generations and cultures. Our first guest blogger is Ashna Singh, who introduces the writer and professor Jhumpa Lahiri.
Hindi: भाषा और पहचान मौलिक रूप से परस्पर जुड़े हुए हैं। हम क्या पहनते हैं और क्या खाते हैं और जो चीजें हमें चिह्नित करती हैं, और अंत में, जो हमारे पास है, उसके संदर्भ में आप सभी परतों को छील देते हैं।
English: “Language and identity are so fundamentally intertwined. You peel back all the layers in terms of what we wear and what we eat and all the things that mark us, and in the end, what we have are our words.”
Jhumpa Lahiri is an English-born, Bengali-American novelist, short-story writer, and essayist. She is the daughter of immigrant parents who originally were from West Bengal and moved to Kingston, Rhode Island when Lahiri was three years old. She received her B.A. in English literature from Barnard College of Columbia University in 1989. She continued her education at Boston University and acquired 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. She is currently a professor of Creative Writing at Princeton University. Lahiri speaks fluent Italian and published her first book in Italian, Dove mi trovo, in 2018. The start of Lahiri’s literary career was when she published her debut short story collection Interpreter of Maladies (1999). The Namesake (2003) was Lahiri’s debut novel, which turned into a superb movie directed by Sooni Taraporevala. As for literary achievements, Lahiri is a notable author who won several awards such as the O’ Henry, PEN/Hemingway, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Asian American Literary Award, and National Humanities Medal.
Due to Lahiri’s lived experiences as a Bengali-American, she often writes about the Indian immigrant experience in the United States. Her storytelling portrays the complexities of Indian immigrants assimilating in a new world, such as the United States, where cultural values are being explored and challenged; therefore, cultural tensions within the Indian community may arise. Lahiri carefully illustrates Indian culture and its traditions through her warm, vibrant and descriptive language. She is an authentic writer who is connected to her Bengali roots: she seeks to elucidate Indian communities’ cultural identities in a raw, realistic fashion. As a reader, her words offer a space of comfort and familiarity that one can take a deep dive into her multifaceted world. She is a profound literary figure who communicates about Indian diaspora, identity formation, alienation and belonging. Lahiri’s nurturing voice allows readers to bond over universal life experiences and to acquire cultural competency. That being said, Lahiri’s works are considered autobiographical since her characters are inspired by her family members, friends, and other people within the Bengali community. Her books examine the themes of loss, nostalgia, cultural conflicts, and cultural hybridity, in which she highlights through her characters’ hardships and anxieties.
Bengali: আমি কেন লিখব? অস্তিত্বের রহস্য অনুসন্ধান করতে। নিজেকে সহ্য করতে। আমার বাইরে যা আছে সব কিছুর কাছাকাছি যেতে।
English: “Why do I write? To investigate the mystery of existence. To tolerate myself. To get closer to everything that is outside of me.”
Other book/essay suggestions:
Unaccustomed Earth (2008)
The Lowland (2013)
Il quaderno di Nerina (2020)
“Teach Yourself Italian” (2015)
Jhumpa Lahiri on writing, translation, and identity
At Home with Jhumpa Lahiri
“Jhumpa Lahiri: By the Book”
Ashna Singh is a graduate student in Rhetoric and Teaching Writing at CSU Stanislaus. She has worked in the university's Writing Center as a peer writing tutor since 2020.