President Obama will award Indian-American short-story writer and novelist, Jhumpa Lahiri, with a National Humanities Medal Thursday. This award honors individuals and groups who have deepened the nation's understanding of and engagement with the humanities. The White House citation reads, "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."
"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."
Lahiri received the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Hemingway Award for her first short story collection, "Interpreter of Maladies." Her first novel, "The Namesake," was adapted into a popular film starring Kal Penn. Her novel, "The Lowland," received the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction.
Her most recent book is a collection of essays written in Italian, "In Altre Parol" ("in other words"). This fall, she will begin teaching creative writing at Princeton University.
Remarking on the importance of her books for all readers, McConigley said, "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."
Previous Asian American honorees include novelist Maxine Hong Kingston and economist Amartya Sen.