On Thursday at the White House, President Obama awarded the 2014 National Humanities Medals to ten recipients, five of whom were writers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri (at around 20 min. 30 sec. in the video below). The President presented each medal while his military aide read aloud each recipient’s citation. Video of the event shows Lahiri, who is returning to the U.S. this month after three years of living in Italy, cheek-kissing with the President after going up to accept her medal. For Obama’s full remarks at the event, read the transcription online.
WHITE HOUSE CITATION
Jhumpa Lahiri, for enlarging the human story. In her works of fiction, Dr. Lahiri has illuminated the Indian-American experience in beautifully wrought narratives of estrangement and belonging.
In part of its profile of the medalist written by Elizabeth Word Gutting, the National Endowment for the Humanities provides a brief overview of Lahiri’s work:
She has published two novels and two collections of short stories in English, and her fifth and most recent book is a collection of essays she wrote in Italian while living in Rome, titled In Altre Parole (In Other Words). She received the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Hemingway Award for her first book, Interpreter of Maladies, at the age of 32. She has been a finalist for both the Booker Prize and the National Book Award. President Obama appointed her as a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in 2010. Literary critics have characterized her as one of the foremost contemporary writers on the immigrant experience in America. This fall, she will join Princeton’s creative writing faculty. It is no stretch to say she is one of the most influential writers at work today.
In an interview with Frances Kai-Hwa Wang at NBC Asian America, Assistant Professor Nina McConigley spoke of the significance of Lahiri’s work to her personally as an Indian-American writer and to readers in general.
“Jhumpa Lahiri has influenced my own writing so much,” Nina McConigley, Indian-American writer and Assistant Professor of Honors at the University of Wyoming, told NBC News. “When I first read her stories, I thought, yes – this is a world I know, this is a world I understand. I saw myself on the page, which as a person of color, you don’t often see in books or in magazines. It was a revelation for me.”
“I teach her books now at UW, and my Wyoming students love her work. Many of them have no context of India, but her stories create a world everyone can understand, that everyone connects with.”
More from Lahiri via The New Yorker: