Jhumpa Lahiri is a world-renowned author whose writing career, in English and Italian, has been constellated by successes, marked by many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize (2000), the Pen/ Hemingway (2000), the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature (2015), the Premio Internazionale Viareggio-Versilia (2015), and the Pen/ Malamud (2017). After earning a PhD in Renaissance studies from Boston University (1997), a PhD recently doubled by a Doctorate Honoris Causa of the U of Bologna (2021), she went on to a successful writing and teaching career, and she is currently the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. Her acclaimed works of fiction comprise Interpreter of Maladies (1999), The Namesake (2003), Unaccustomed Earth (2008), The Lowland (2013), Dove mi trovo (2018), self-translated as Whereabouts in 2021. She has also published the poetry collection Il quaderno di Nerina (2020), as well as the non-fiction books In altre parole (2015)/ In Other Words (2016), Il vestito dei libri/ The Clothing of Books (2016), the translations of three of Domenico Starnone’s novels into English: Ties (Lacci, 2017), Trick (Scherzetto, 2018) and Trust (Confidenza, 2021), and has a forthcoming book of essays, Translating Myself and Others (2022).
In this conversation Jhumpa Lahiri touches upon her early linguistic split between Bengali and English, and her subsequent identification of writing and translating as two parts of the same activity. She also talks about her slow-burning but liberating decision to write in Italian, as well as the difficult choice to self-translate her latest novel into English (Dove mi trovo/ Whereabouts), a challenging, but fulfilling and life-changing experience that has helped her understand more deeply her creative identity. She reflects on exile, on writing in a language other than that spoken where we live; on the perceived otherness of what she instead feels inherently hers (“The American writer JL writes in our language”); on translation and its soothing effects, especially when practiced abroad. She discusses the idea of being/ feeling abroad, its limitations and incentives. Finally, she reads some of her poems.