As a recipient of annual Brooklyn Book Festival Best of Brooklyn, or “BoBi” Award, Lahiri also appeared in conversation with book critic Liesl Schillinger at the St. Ann Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn Heights, which was packed with readers and fans.
The award, which was established in the festival’s second year, was presented by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn Literary Council, and Brooklyn Tourism. Each year, the award is given to an author whose body of work exemplifies or speaks to the spirit of Brooklyn and has had a broad impact on the field of literature.
As Lahiri sat down for a public interview and conversation with Schilinger, she discussed her identity and how she managed to assimilate into American culture even though she feels like as a writer she does not belong to a particular group.
Her parents had emigrated to London from Bangladesh before moving to Rhode Island. For her family, being in academia was the safe place to be, but she felt a calling to writing in college and while getting her doctorate. Even though she felt a calling, she didn’t fully embrace it at first and it wasn’t until almost at the completion of her PhD, she decided to pursue it.
She also discussed the purpose of her writing, stating that she “is only interested in things that interest her.” Never aiming to be political and always passionate about creating fiction, in her new collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, she touches briefly on a political controversy in which one of the protagonists finds herself in.
Lahiri’s debut collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award and The New Yorker Debut of the Year. Her novel The Namesake was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and was selected as one of the best books of the year by USA Today and Entertainment Weekly.
Lahiri’s most recent book of short stories, entitled Unaccustomed Earth, received the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s largest prize for a short story collection.
The Brooklyn Book Festival carried on without so much as a smudge of rain, unlike last year. And it brought out not just a local audience but an international one. Authors on hand included Walter Mosley, Mary Jo Bang, Lawrence Block, Susan Choi, Jonathan Safran Foer, Tina Chang, Fran Lebowitz, Sigrid Nunez, Joyce Carol Oates, Cory Doctorow, Alia Malek, Adam Mansbach and many more who sat on panels, discussing a range of literary themes.
More than 260 top national and international authors, literary organizations and booksellers greeted readers at Brooklyn Borough Hall, Columbus Park, St. Francis College, St. Ann’s Church and the Brooklyn Historical Society.
“We’re hoping that soon it will be the 'Brooklyn International Book Festival.' It’s already the largest in the Northeast and the second largest on the eastern seaboard,” said Markowitz.