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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Pulitzer Prize winning author to read from new book at 11/10 URI Honors Colloquium

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. – November 2, 2009 –Jhumpa Lahiri, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winner, Interpreter of Maladies, as well as best-sellers Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth, will speak at the University of Rhode Island Honors Colloquium, Demystifying India, Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Edwards Auditorium, 64 Upper College Road.

All Honors Colloquium programs are free and open to the public. As a public health precaution, the University asks those with influenza-like symptoms on the day of the program not to attend, but rather watch the evening program live online via the Demystifying India link at www.uri.edu.

Lahiri will read from Unaccustomed Earth and will also discuss her experiences of growing up as an Indian-American just 2 miles from URI’s Kingston Campus.

According to the Random House web site, her collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, takes the reader from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand into the lives of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers.

In the title story, Ruma, a young mother in a new city is visited by her father, who carefully tends her garden, and he establishes a special bond with his grandson. But he is hiding a love affair from his daughter.

Lahiri’s book, Interpreter of Maladies was chosen as a common reading assignment for all of URI’s 3,000 freshmen. Students and staff at URI have already contributed 400 comments to a blog about the book at http://www.uricommonreading.blogspot.com/.

Lahiri’s parents came to Kingston in 1970, when she was 3 and they still live about 2 miles from campus. Her father still works at the university library, in the cataloging department. Her mother, who turns 70 this year, is a graduate student in the School of Education.

“My parents are of Bengali origin, born and raised in India, and I was always aware that my family didn’t fully belong in the place where we lived,” Lahiri wrote in the ongoing blog. “But I never doubted that we were a part of URI. The university was a sanctuary of tolerance and respect, a creative and dynamic place, filled with people of diverse backgrounds who embraced intellectual inquiry and celebrated the life of the mind. URI was my playground, the park I roamed in on Sunday afternoons. When we had guests from out of town, my parents proudly showed off the campus, pointing to its lovely buildings and tranquil, open space. I attended nursery school at the Child Development Center on Lower College Road and enjoyed my first meals out at the cafeteria in the Memorial Union.”

When she began writing short stories, “URI was one of my inspirations. Although my stories are not autobiographical, two of the stories in Interpreter of Maladies—“When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” and “Mrs. Sen’s”—are informed by memories of my upbringing in Kingston in the 1970s.”

She said the narrator in “The Third and Final Continent” is based, in part, on her father, who has been an employee of URI now for 39 years, and that story was her attempt to commemorate, in fiction, his journey to the United States. “In general, many of the characters in my books tend to be either students or professors. When people ask me why, I tell them URI is the reason,” Lahiri said.

For further details about the colloquium, including an updated schedule and information on parking, go to www.uri.edu/hc or contact the URI Honors Center at 401-874-2381 or debg@uri.edu.

Major colloquium sponsors are: The Honors Program, Office of the President, Office of the Provost, College of Business Administration, College of Arts & Sciences, College of Engineering, Division of University Advancement, The Anthony J. Risica Lecture Series on Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and The Village Inn - Narragansett.

Additional sponsors include: College of Human Science and Services, College of the Environment and Life Sciences, Office of the Vice President for Administration, Office of the Vice Provost for Information Technology Services, University College, URI Diversity Week-Multicultural Center, URI Women’s Studies Program, The Mark and Donna Ross Honors Colloquium Humanities Endowment, Kabob N Curry - Providence, and Professor G.S. Verma and Mrs. R. Verma.