Jhumpa Lahiri gets National Humanities Medal from Obama

Washington, Sep 11 (IANS) President Barack Obama presented the 2014 National Medals of Arts and Humanities to Pulitzer Prize winning Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri and 20 other distinguished persons at a White House ceremony.

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“I always do good with writers and scientists. Those are my crew,” said the president in a grey suit and violet tie as he addressed the audience starting with a quote from Emily Dickinson followed by his own joke on the political class.

“One of our great poets, Emily Dickinson, once said that ‘truth is such a rare thing, it is delightful to tell it.’ The truth is so rare, it is delightful to tell it — and that’s especially true in Washington,” he said amid laughter.

“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. We have artists, actors, writers, musicians, historians, a landscape architect, and a chef,” he said.

“Without them there would be no Edible Schoolyard, no Jhumpa Lahiri novels, no really scary things like Carrie and Misery,” said Obama amid laughter.

Obama then proceeded to present the medals to each of the recipients as their citations were read by his military aide.

“The 2014 National Humanities Medal to 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,” read the aide as Lahiri received the award amid applause.

The humanities medal honours an individual or organization whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the human experience, broadened citizens’ engagement with history and literature or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to cultural resources.

Lahiri’s novel “The Lowland” was among the books Obama took with him while vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, an island summer resort in Massachusetts, last month.

“The Lowland” is a story about two brothers who grew up in Calcutta in the 1960s. After one is killed, the other marries his pregnant widow and moves to the US. The New York Times calls the premise of this novel “startlingly operatic”.

Other awardees included artists, historians, writers, a philosopher, scholar, preservationist, food activist and an education course.

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