Obama presents arts and humanities medals

11 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

How I discovered the genius of Jhumpa Lahiri.

Fiction should flow outside the ambit of a few characters — their daily tribulations and relationships — and meander through the politics, history and deeper sociological underpinnings of the era that it portrays.President Barack Obama awards the 2014 National Humanities Medal to author Jhumpa Lahiri of New York, during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House in Washington. (Source: AP) US President Barack Obama has presented the prestigious National Humanities Medal to Pulitzer Prize winner, Jhumpa Lahiri, in recognition of her “beautifully wrought narratives of estrangement and belonging” which highlight the “Indian-American experience”.

Before hanging the large medals around the necks of the recipients, Obama spoke warmly about what he called one of his and Michelle Obama’s favorite events of the year. This stubborn — and misplaced — understanding is the reason some of us are unable to appreciate novels that are singularly focused on relationships or individual psychologies.

When the crowd erupted in cheers, the president smiled and said, “You know I do pretty well with audiences of authors and scientists.” He singled out for special praise two of the best-known and best-loved characters in McMurtry’s large body of work: Capts. It may be noted that Lahiri’s novel “The Lowland” was one of the books Obama took with him while vacationing in an island summer resort in Massachusetts last month. In her two collections of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth, portrays an array of characters who feel a loss over a culture they inherit, but never truly own.

Obama described the annual awards ceremony as his favourite White House event when “truly extraordinary artists and innovators and thinkers” are recognised for their brilliance while the rest of us look on and feel totally inadequate. “The men and women that we honour today, recipients of the National Medals for the Arts and the Humanities, are here not only because they’ve shared rare truths, often about their own experience, but because they’ve told rare truths about the common experiences that we have as Americans and as human beings,” Obama said. “They span mediums and methods. The short stories mapping the experiences and relationships of flawed, displaced and lonely individuals living in an alien country, delve into the greyer shades of migration.

Call, the former Texas Rangers who form the heart of Lonesome Dove, his masterpiece that was awarded the 1986 Pulitzer Prize. “We celebrate writers like Larry McMurtry, who grew up in a Texas ranch without books,” Obama said. Without them there would be no Edible Schoolyard, no Jhumpa Lahiri novels, no really scary things like Carrie and Misery,” the US President said amid laughter. “They are versatile — poets and opera singers who were also master teachers at liberal arts colleges and Detroit public schools; philosophers who wrote novels. They are visual artists who work filling pages that spilled over to screens, three-dimensional gallery floors, and most of a New York City block,” he added. “And they all have one thing in common: They do what they do because of some urgent inner force, some need to express the truth that they experience, that rare truth.

Lahiri’s first novel The Namesake, traces similar themes, set against a Bengali family facing the hardships and idiosyncrasies of migration to the US. Traveling to see him honored was Barbara Phillips, who for four years has owned with her husband the Archer County News, a weekly paper in McMurtry’s hometown of Archer City. While I deeply enjoyed Lahiri’s prose and her effortless ability to write about the deeper elements of migrant life, I was unable to truly sink into it. She said McMurtry lives mostly full time in Tucson now but occasionally pops in to check on his downtown bookstore. “Everyone is excited about us coming out here to cover it,” she said, noting that the local paper’s coverage of the award just hit stands Thursday. “Many of us support him, and I see a new momentum going his way. Maybe because Lahiri’s poignant writing was about individual experiences that I could not directly relate to, or because they were seeped too deep in the contemporary.

But those who are more educated and have read a lot are just really proud of what he has done.” To post a comment, log into your chosen social network and then add your comment below. The ferment of ideology, the romanticisation of adopting it, the horrors involved in practicing it and the impact of living with the outcomes, define the plot of the novel. The melancholy embedding the book is of the acceptance that individuals can barely control their own fates let alone the fates of revolutions, each other, or an intertwined life. After reading this novel, I went back and re-read some of her older writings and realised that most of it is extremely layered and much deeper than just the words on the page. While her writings seem to revolve around an individual experience at the surface, at its core, it is really about external forces that shape it: Migration, globalisation, cultural and religious identities, politics, the history of a family that permeates through each of its members.

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