It’s not often I beg for things. To be honest, as my thirtieth birthday slowly creeps up, I pride myself on being quite good at putting my graveling days behind me, but when I heard that Jhumpa Lahiri was coming to Toronto, I had to get a seat to the event. When I went to purchase (for a whopping $0.00), they were already sold out. So I begged for a ticket from Jhumpa’s publicist. It wasn’t too hard, but it was embarrassing, because I was tying really hard to keep my fan-girl to a minimum and explain that I would do anything the day of the event just in order to listen to the chat between her and Tina Srebotnjak. So yesterday afternoon, I played the role of publicity assistant. I arrived early at the event, I helped set up (barely… my colleague Dan is a pro and really took the lead) and I stood and waited on the sidewalk with the editor while the author got out of her vehicle. Was it everything I wanted it to be? Yes. In fact, it was more.
Once Jhumpa arrived, she was shuffled into a back room (off the side of the stage of Isabel Bader Theatre) where she happily signed copies of her books for bookstores and for the publisher. She’s been going non stop on her book tour so she admittedly was exhausted and that our 1:30pmET was actually late in the night to her. But when I asked her if she’d sign my book, she happily agreed. I was fine with just a signature but she asked to spell my name as I gushed that I loved all her books and that it was an honour to meet her. It was then time to go on stage and I was thrilled to learn that I was going to get the opportunity to listen to the whole chat.
While sitting in the third row, I was mystified as I listened to Jhumpa Lahiri read from Chapter 2 of her book with such elegance and poise. When she finished she sat down to speak with Tina Srebotnjak to discuss her book, her writing and her family. I loved that they started out talking about how she was inspired to write the story of The Lowland. It turns out that in Callcutta in the late 60’s, there was an execution of two brothers and their family members were forced to watch. Although not living in the area at the time, she had her Father )through his friends accounts) explain what took place and from there she wrote down a fictional version of this horrible crime. And there it sat for sixteen years. Jhumpa explains that it wasn’t up to her standards of writing and she didn’t feel it was ready to be shared at that point in her life. With time and age, the story loosened and she was able to create the story of The Lowland and the stunning story of two brothers named Subhash and Udayan.
With a lengthy discussion about what it means to be American, Indian or Italian and culture in itself, Jhumpa cleared up all association of what the word “home” meant when she said,
Home is where my children and husband are.
They then discussed the idea of creativity and how Jhumpa never intended to be an author. But as she started writing stories and started receiving accolades for her writing, she was encouraged to continue to do it. That being said, she continuously struggles with her creativity “is taking a different direction”. Discussing this Salon article where Jhumpa revealed that she “feels finished” she shared that she thinks it might be time for her to move on from her this topic, but she’s not 100% sure if that will be the case. She ended this conversation with… “we’ll see”.
As the interview came to a closing, they briefly discussed the Man Booker Prize and how the rules have now changed. Jhumpa listed pros and cons, but said that she feels like she just got by because she’s been living in America since age 3, so she already felt like an exception to the rule. As it ended, I ran out of the auditorium to fulfill my publicity assistant duties. When I finished helping to write names on post its (for signed copies), I hung around near the signing table as Jhumpa finished. As she collected her belongings and a pack of Smarties from a fan (her daughters favourite), the driver pulled up to the building and she turned around to say thank you for a fabulous day.
It was easily one of the nicest and organized events I’ve ever been a part of and I’m very thankful to Jhumpa’s publicist for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of it all. Additionally, events like this wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the fabulous Toronto Public Library. They offer some of the best events, so if you’re not already signed up for their ‘What’s On’ Newsletter, I encourage you to do so now. Oh and if you haven’t read The Lowland, be sure to add it to your reading pile, because it’s a stunning novel that deserves to be read!