Jhumpa LahiriLast week, I went to see an author whose work I admire read in the Roman Forum.

The American author Jhumpa Lahiri is in Rome as the 2013 Writer in Residence at John Cabot University. I saw her introduce the reading with Italian author Francesca Marciano, where she she spoke about her love of Rome and the Italian language, which she is studying.

Ms Lahiri received the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for Interpreter of Maladies, her debut story collection that explores issues of love and identity among immigrants and cultural transplants. Her novel The Namesake was published in the fall of 2003 to great acclaim. The Namesake expands on the perplexities of the immigrant experience and the search for identity.

Born in London, Lahiri moved to Rhode Island as a young child with her Bengali parents. Her abilities to convey cultural conflicts in the most immediate fashion and to achieve the voices of many different characters are among the unique qualities that have captured the attention of a wide audience.

Interpreter of Maladies coverAuthors just embarking on the querying process will be interested to note that as she was being introduced, it was mentioned that Lahiri began writing and submitting short stories, initially with little success. And yet, just a short time later, she published her first short story collection, The Interpeter of Maladies, which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

At the event, held in a  beautiful church with stunning views out to the Roman Forum, Ms Lahiri read from her newest novel, The Lowland, which will be published next fall.

She told the gathering that the novel is one she has wanted to write for the past fifteen years, and she originally wrote the first pages long ago. But it was only over the past year – living in Rome – that she completed it.

Roman ForumThe first chapters she read follow brothers Subhash and Ubayan, growing up in Calcutta in the 1960s and 1970s, and drawn into the riots spreading through India in those years. An excerpt was also published in The New Yorker.

I’ll look forward to reading the new publication when it comes out this autumn, and enjoyed hearing the reading in the Roman Forum.