John McNally takes Jhumpa Lahiri to task for applying for a $20,000 NEA grant designed to help writers at a critical point in their career. McNally notes that Lahiri received a $4 million deal for her next two books.
Lahiri applied for an NEA fellowship after her financial success. Her name is listed here, among the “Literature Fellowships in Prose” fellowship winners. Amazingly, Lahiri has the temerity to write in her NEA acceptance blurb:
The fellowship is a gift in two ways. First, it will allow me to finance childcare, making it logistically possible for me to write. Second, in a period when my creative life often threatens to vanish behind the responsibilities of motherhood, my grant will remind me that I am also a writer, and that as compromised as the hours at the desk may be, they are necessary and vital.
You mean to fucking tell me that after the $10,000 she received for the Pulitzer, the $7,500 she received for the PEN/Hemingway award, the who knows what kind of high five to low six-figure sum she received for selling the Namesake film rights to Mira Nair, and the 200,000 copies of The Namesake sold (and that’s just in the States) that Jhumpa’s hurting for fucking cash? (And let’s not forget that her husband is the Executive Editor of El Diario La Pensa, the nation’s oldest Spanish-language newspaper, who can’t be doing too shabby.)
What a crock of shit. Even if Jhumpa does live in Brooklyn.
So what are Alberto and Jhumpa doing? Blowing all their money on Twinkies?
Okay. So let’s give Jhumpa the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she hasn’t cashed all the checks yet. Maybe the pair’s just really bad with money. Maybe they’re cash poor or the money’s “tied up in investments,” as the old saying goes. A 2003 San Francisco Chronicle interview reveals this little tidbit:
Before the Pulitzer, my husband and I were sharing a small one-bedroom, and I was writing in the corner of the bedroom. Now it’s a little larger, but with our son, I still don’t have a room to write in. It hasn’t catapulted us into some sort of surreal existence. I still do my own laundry. We have a modest two-bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood; I have a woman looking after my son for three hours a day. We ride the subway. We go to the grocery store.
You do your own laundry? You do your own shopping and ride the subway? You don’t have a room to write in? Cry me a fucking river, Jhumpa. About 90% of the fucking human population lives this kind of life and they don’t complain.
And you have the fucking temerity to apply for a $20,000 fellowship? A sum which, for another writer, is the difference between working a full-time job and a part-time job? The difference between having additional energy to write a novel over a year and popping Benzedrine. They too have families.
If Jhumpa Lahiri had any sense of decency, she’d do what Jonathan Safran Foer did (and tried to do with quiet nobility before he responded here) and give back the money to NEA. But I suspect that she won’t. After all, there’s a launderer and a professional shopper to pay.