Dalia Sofer on Hedayat

In the 2006 documentary Forever, by Heddy Honigmann, which explores the reasons people visit the famed Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, an Iranian taxi driver standing before Sadegh Hedayat’s grave is visiting because Hedayat wrote of alienation. Later, he turns to the camera and sings the kind of song that, if you are an Iranian trying to keep loss and alienation at bay, will make you weepy.

The Believer – Sadegh Hedayat’s THE BLIND OWL.

Jasmin Darznik – “My Mother, Her Secrets”

Really nice essay from Jasmin Darznik (about her maman) in the NYT. Snip:

It’s difficult to imagine our mothers as women with stories and selves that exist separately from ours. So firmly do we hold onto the mothers of our memories that even as adults faced with some irrefutable proof of their lives before and apart from us, we still insist on our own versions of their lives.

More here.

More on Jasmin Darznik here.

Dariush Mehrjui and J.D. Salinger: Franny and Zooey and Pari

As it turns out, back in 1998, J.D. Salinger blocked a New York City screening of an Iranian film that was loosely based on his book Franny and Zooey. The film was named Pari.

[...]

The film, directed by Dariush Mehrjui, was set for a screening at Lincoln Center. When Salinger got wind of this news, he sicced his lawyers on the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and the screening was canceled. A New York Times article gives details.

Apparently, the adaptation was unauthorized.

via The J.D. Salinger-Iran Connection « West of Persia.

“Shaherezad in Santa Monica” at the Annenberg Beach House

Reading of the verse drama, “Shaherezad in Santa Monica” by Majid Naficy.

Following the romantic and immigrationary travails of the poet Shahram, his lover Shaherezad, and the new man who comes between them, this lyrical drama set in various Santa Monica sites brings Persian and American sensibilities together.

This is the debut reading of Majid Naficy’s new work. It’s on Monday, January 18, it’s free (click above to make a reservation, which you’ll need to get in), and it’s at the very cool Annenberg Beach House. A definite don’t-miss if you’re in LA.

5 Questions for Angella Nazarian, Author, Life As a Visitor

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Angella Nazarian is a writer and psychologist in Los Angeles. Her book, Life As a Visitor, chronicles her family’s emigration from Iran and is available now in stores. For more info, see her website at AngellaNazarian.com.

1. Your book traces your emigration from Iran and subsequent life and travels. Tell us about the process that brought the book to print.
Angella Nazarian: Life as a Visitor was inspired by my two sons, Philip and Eli. I wanted to give them a glimpse at what it was like for their parents’ generation and our emigration from Iran. Heritage and roots are our gifts to our children.

2. In addition to your work as a writer, you’re also a psychologist. How does this background inform Life As A Visitor?
AN: My training in psychology has taught me to be self-reflective and more aware of how my feelings and experiences affect who I am. I definitely think that my writing is more intimate and I truly wanted to offer a genuine piece of myself to the reader, knowing that it will resonate with the reader.

3. I particularly love the title of this book; do you still feel as though you are a visitor? What does this mean to you?
AN: The title has many different interpretations. I do think philosophically, we are all visitors that life is a short and beautiful visit. But I also wanted to highlight the fact that our 2-week visit to Los Angeles ended up becoming our 31-year stay. As I discuss in the book, I consider Los Angeles to be my home now. It is where my husband and I have made our life together and where we have raised our sons. My travel experiences have shaped my point of view and helped me work through my feelings of living my life as a visitor. The challenges I face help me to grow and change in every aspect of my life and every role I play. That’s part of the beauty of life it s about the journey rather than the destination.

4. Throughout the book, you write about your relationship with your sons. How do you think living life as a visitor has influenced your parenting?
AN: I think that for most parents, having a child is one of the most amazing experiences in life. In Life as a Visitor, I discuss my feelings when Phillip turned eleven the same age that I was separated from my parents and how my kids natural process of growing up and separating from me compares to my own forced separation from my parents. Also, I think my experience of being separated from my parents at such a young age has positioned me to really connect with my kids, embrace their youth, and appreciate all of the joys of childhood.

5. Tell us about the personal growth seminars you teach in Los Angeles.
AN: The personal growth seminars came about out of my own need to dig a little deeper to uncover my true potential as an individual. I am firm believer that different stages in life demand different skills from us and it is only with a positive attitude and commitment to growth that we can blossom into who we are meant to become. In my personal growth seminars, we talk about the psychological underpinnings of why we at times feel stuck and how to change our lives in a positive way. These kinds of discussions in the seminars have been one of the greatest rewards for me as a facilitator and teacher.

Iranian American Writers Online

The Association of Iranian American Writers (AIAW) has just launched their website, iranianamericanwriters.org, which features member profiles, excerpts of member work, and a blog. From the group’s mission statement:

The Association of Iranian American Writers is a member-based organization dedicated to promoting the work of fiction and non-fiction writers, essayists, poets, journalists, photojournalists, and artists who work with words. Iranian heritage and/or Iranian history and culture are important aspects of our work, although not necessarily our essential subject matter.

Membership starts at $50 ($35 for students). The group was founded by professor and writer Persis Karim and is co-directed by her and writer Manijeh Nasrabadi.

(Full disclosure: I spoke at AIAW’s inaugural conference.)

Iranian Sex History

A Social History of Sexual Relations in Iran

A Social History of Sexual Relations in Iran

Mage Publishers is releasing their sexiest title yet: Willem Floor’s A Social History of Sexual Relations in Iran is out this month, and it covers everything from marriage to divorce, sigheh (temporary marriage) to STDs. Get it from Mage, where you can also peek at the contents, or from Amazon (list price is $50 but you can get it for $35 at Amazon).

Update: Iranian.com has an excerpt.

Grow, Watermelon, Grow: Interview with Iranian Author and Illustrator, Charlotte Noruzi

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In her first children’s book, Grow, Watermelon, Grow, New York-based Iranian designer/illustrator Charlotte Noruzi uses both Western and Iranian themes to tell a story from her childhood. The resulting work is bright, cheerful drawings about a little girl who insists on growing her own watermelon.

Because much of the book relies on an elegant mix of styles and some pretty innovative tools (see below for Noruzi’s description of using actual watermelon slices to make prints), it’s also arguably one of the most sophisticated children’s books on the market, especially among those with an Iranian theme. Which is not all that surprising when you consider that Noruzi is a design/illustration professor at Pratt Institute and has a host of other accolades to her name.

I first saw this book and met Charlotte at Mehregan last year, where my friend and I bought her book even though she wasn’t at her booth at the time – we left our money with the sweet Iranian ladies in the adjacent booth and came back to chat her up later. After keeping it to myself for so long, fi-i-i-i-nally (as she writes in her book), here’s a Q&A with Charlotte Noruzi. You can buy the book here.

Pars Arts: Grow, Watermelon Grow is about a little girl’s (your) desire to grow her own watermelon. Why did you choose this particular story for your book?
Charlotte Noruzi: I never thought much about this event in my young life until I mentioned it to my friend, Ronnie Lawlor, three years ago. She was so taken by it and it was after her suggestion that I seriously took into consideration bringing this story to life. Little did I know that I would be starting on a journey of reconnection with my childhood, sometimes painful and sad and sometimes funny and joyful. In a way this book is about sharing myself with the world, bringing to light something kept hidden. On the cover, the girl’s face is half-hidden by the watermelon slice. The desire to plant the seeds, to have them sprout up out of the earth, is the desire to be seen, heard, to feel validated, and also, to see the “fruits” of perseverance, belief and determination. It was very important to prove to my parents that I could grow something too. I realize now the great significance of this simple desire to grow something of one’s own. It’s my hope that these messages come through in the story.

PA: The illustrations in this book really make it quite sophisticated… did the illustrations come first, or the words?
CN: Thank you. I started making one or two line drawings of myself as a child. I was taken aback by how natural this process was, of drawing myself and my family as we once were. The resemblance was shocking. The drawings flowed out as if it had been waiting for a very long time. After that I started writing. Somehow
words create an anchor from which the illustrations can flow. They create the imagery. I remember working this way even as a kid, always illustrating words.

PA: Do Iranian themes or motifs, either classical or contemporary, influence your other work? How about in the classroom, where you work with students as a professor at Pratt?
CN: Iranian themes and motifs influence my work quite often. I love hand-lettering and calligraphy and this comes right out of my Persian roots. The book is very much based on the patterns, colors and designs in Persian art and I was also inspired by Persian children’s books I grew up reading. I often introduce Persian and Middle-Eastern design and calligraphy in the classroom. There is a freedom of expression and strength of language that students seem to respond very effectively to and their work, in turn, becomes freer and more expressive, more unusual. The mix of Western and Middle-Eastern mark-making and graphics always creates rich and unusual results, in my opinion. I guess you can say that about people as well, who are a combination of those “graphics.”

PA: What’s been the response to your book from Iranians? What about non-Iranians? Do they recognize the Iranian elements in the story?
CN: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I think people, both Iranian and non-Iranian, are truly touched by this story. I never imagined such a heartfelt response. There have been numerous moments of recognition/relating to the story when a person will exclaim after reading the first page: “My mother also told me never to eat seeds… I remember that!” or “I tried growing my own seeds once, too.” It’s so great.

Non-Iranians are more curious about the writings in Farsi that I’ve integrated into the illustrations. One person impressed me so much by recognizing the Farsi interwoven into the earth, leaves and worms of the illustration where the little girl is watering the seeds. I think I had an unconscious motivation to “secretly” place Farsi into the art. I did not think anyone would notice so much, which reflects the way I thought growing up, keeping my intrinsic identity a secret so that I was not criticized or looked down upon because of it. But now, people are open to, curious and impressed by my heritage and that is a good feeling. Iranians ask if the story is written in Farsi as well, and that has got me thinking about doing a Farsi version.

PA: Can you describe the process of illustrating this book? I read that you used actual watermelons for some of it…
CN: Yes, I dipped watermelon slices into pink ink and created mono-prints from it. I was curious to see the impressions that the watermelon surface made, the texture and the areas that remained white (where the seeds once were). There’s one print that contains a small “heart” shape, purely by coincidence. I also used the watermelon rind and intertwined my drawings in with them, to make the end pages.

The illustrations are a combination of pen and ink drawings and watercolors. All the art was done by hand. Then I experimented with them on the computer, where I layered patterns creating different visual effects, like batik or silk screen, for example.

Some of the drawings were done at the Secret Garden Conservatory in Central Park, NY, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I gathered artistic inspiration.

PA: You’ve self-published this book; what was that process like, and is it something you’d recommend to others who are looking to enter the children’s book market?
CN: The process of self-publishing was challenging, fun and extremely rewarding. I had initially priced the printing of the book in New York/the States, which at first discouraged me by being exorbitantly expensive. But then I googled printers overseas, choosing one in Hong Kong whose reputation, quality of work and service I was confident with.

I visited Book Expo America (BEA), a publishing event held in New York last summer that brings large mainstream publishers and indie publishers to one place, along with distributors, wholesalers and printers. Luckily, the printer I was going with had a booth there and I was able to talk about my project with their New York rep, who put my mind at ease. It was a little nerve-wracking to think of my book being produced somewhere so far away, where I had little control and no way of going on press to check the outcome! I had to trust it and there was much releasing (of control) I had to do in the process.

The whole process is pretty magical: you send a PDF across the world and a get a bound book in return. And the end result was better than I ever expected.

I would definitely recommend self-publishing as a viable alternative. Attending BEA was an encouraging experience as it gave me the opportunity to talk to several people that had taken that route successfully.

Initially, I wanted my book to be published by one of the big publishers and had it looked at by a few. Although
I received very positive feedback, they wanted me to change the story line and, having several colleagues that
published their work traditionally, I was well aware of the compromising I’d have to do with my artwork and
writing. I was not interested in doing that. I wanted full control. It is important that people also realize that a
publisher will give a nice advance when they agree to publish the book, but you’re book is one of many, and
most of the marketing responsibilities and initiatives fall on the artist/author. So it’s up to them to keep promoting it, not the publisher.

Self-publishing is a harder road, in a way, and there are times where I get discouraged and lose momentum and motivation. But you have to just keep going with it. This book so far had put me in contact with such a diverse group of people. It’s about connecting to others through your art and letting it take you where it will.

PA: Who are your artistic inspirations?
CN: Picasso has probably been the most influential artist in my life. His endless experimentation, curiosity and sense of play is something I have been very inspired by. For this book, I looked at Picasso, Paul Klee and of course, my own culture: Persian miniatures, calligraphy and children’s books, mainly an old one from the ’70s called My Room’s Lizard.

PA: Any plans for other books, either for children or otherwise?
CN: Yes, I have a couple of other books that are in the works and next on my list to be published but for now I am focusing on Grow, Watermelon and seeing where it takes me. I am interested in expanding the book into an animation, teaming up with watermelon farms, and even creating a clothing line, but all that is very much in the future and it’s one step at a time…I have to remind myself of that.

[Image: Grow, Watermelon, Grow book cover, Charlotte Noruzi]

Interview with Shahrnush Parsipur, Author

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Shahrnush Parsipur is arguably one of the most important Iranian writers working today. First published when she was just sixteen years old, much of her writing casts a spotlight on the lives of women, in a style that combines frank language with magical realism. Parsipur has been jailed under both the Shah’s regime and that of the Islamic Republic for her work, which is currently banned in Iran. Most recently, Parsipur was the first-ever fellow of the International Writers Project at Brown University, and her e-book was published in late 2007.

In our interview, Parsipur discusses the impact of manic depression on her work, and explains how writing fiction is like playing God.

Pars Arts: Your new e-book, The Continuing Stories of Men from Various Civilizations, is a series of stories, all of which were written in the United States at different times. Can you describe the process of writing this book?
Shahrnush Parsipur: In 1992 I was invited to go around the world to speak – I wanted to go to Sweden and Germany, but I was jailed in Iran. So after I got out of prison, I came to Los Angeles and traveled to different cities to speak. In every city, I wrote a story. My first impressions of America were in these stories.

The America of Americans exists in many other stories already; this book deals with the America of a foreigner. When we first come here, what we see and notice are billboards of Coca Cola ads or big bags of popcorn in the cinema. Or massive portions of food. Or the big Chinese, Jewish, and Indian influence here, seeing the number of restaurants. This is what a foreigner sees. Most foreigners don’t go to the Midwest, so they don’t see traditional American life. Mostly we go to the east and west coasts, the hubs of foreigners, and that is what I wrote about.

PA: Why did you decide to publish this as an e-book, rather than as a traditional print book? Have many people have downloaded the book?
SP: Nur Karlica Iverson, who created my website [and illustrated the e-book], asked why I didn’t sell my books online. So in October or November of 2007 we published these stories in an e-book. There haven’t been many downloads because I’m not sure how to market them. And some people have trouble with downloading it because they don’t have the right software.

PA: This book, like Women Without Men, has strong elements of magical realism. Why do you prefer this style?
SP: Old Iranian stories use this style a lot, like in One Thousand and One Nights. All of these elements are in this book. And I use this old style now because there are a lot of things that you can’t say plainly. When you write about a country like America, when you pass through it and see a bird’s-eye view, you can see a lot, and I used magical realism to capture this.

PA: You have noted Dostoyevsky, Dickens, and Sadegh Hedayat as influences. In fact, this new book reminds me a lot of Hedayat’s Boof-e Koor (The Blind Owl), which relies on repetition with a difference as one of its main devices, as does your book. Why did you use this device in your e-book?
SP: When I was writing these stories, I was mindful of the differences that Iranians in Iran had with each other. Some people insisted on having beards, a symbol of tradition. Some people insisted that they were creative types and wanted to listen to music and drink; they’re the “tar player” of my stories. And others would shave their beards and just be ordinary. So I took these three types and decided to have fun with them and these stories came to existence from me playing with these three types of characters.

PA: You’ve spoken before about your struggle with manic depression. Many of the most successful writers in history have suffered from depression, including Hedayat. What role does this illness play in your work and in the way that you write?
SP: I didn’t have manic depression until I was 44 years old. I’ve now had it for 16 or 17 years. I think part of it is the influence of technology in my life; maybe it has to do with some electrical imbalance because of too much exposure to computers. Also, the times I spent in prison in Iran were a strain on me, emotionally.

The way that I’ve coped with this illness is that I’ve put magical realism aside. Before this, my mind would fly from place to place. Now that I’m manic, I try very much to keep my spirit calm and balanced. I stand in the way of my imagination, because I have to take care of myself. There’s no one else to take care of me.

In this sense, men who write are lucky and have an advantage. When they become writers, someone else usually cares for them – a woman. They go out and drink a lot and come home to collapse, and the women take care of them. But when a woman falls apart, there’s no one to take care of her. So because of my disease and because I have to take care of myself, my art, instead of moving forward, has perhaps suffered. When my mind wants to play, I don’t allow it to do so.

This illness started when I wrote Aghl-e Abi [Blue Reason, published in 1990 and not yet translated to English], and those around me didn’t think I was sick – they thought I was just very deep. So I lived with this for some time before I got myself treatment.

PA: Part of the reason, and maybe the main reason, your work is banned in Iran is its sexual content. Why do write about sex and why do you think sexuality is such a problem in Iran?
SP: Middle Eastern people have always been under attack and in wars and conflict, and this has made them take on a role of guardians of sex and sexuality of women; the attackers have always killed the men and sexually assaulted the women. So in a way the Middle Eastern society sees itself as guardians of women. But they’ve become such guardians that they’ve become oppressors.

Lately I write about my own sexual experiences for Radio Zamaneh. I see it as necessary, because as an older woman, I want to write about things that young women do and often feel guilty or bad about. Because I did those things, and maybe that helps them. But still I think sex will always remain a taboo for Iranians, because Iran is a central place that was always under attack. America is relatively far from its enemies, so there’s not that constant, unconscious fear or threat of rape.

PA: In the last few years, much of the most popular literature written in English by Iranian women has been memoir. Now we are seeing more fiction. Have you read any of this work and do you have any thoughts about it?
SP: Though I read many female authors, it’s mostly Persian work. I am aware that many women write memoirs, and I think this is because writing fiction is very scary. Writing fiction is like being a god. Getting to this point is a little difficult. Women are tiptoeing to this creativity by putting down their memories first. They write their memoirs, and when the fears go away, they can write stories.

Fiction was hard for me, too. When I finished Sag va Zemestan-e Boland [The Dog and the Long Winter, published in 1976], I felt like my entire being was empty. When I finished Touba, I felt like my being was shaking. And when I wrote Aghl-e Abi, I couldn’t believe it was me that wrote it.

Now, in America, I’m away from my homeland and no one understands my language, and I don’t understand theirs. When I publish a book now, ten people here read it and tell me it’s interesting, but it’s not a fortifying experience. If I was in Iran, the feedback would be more inspiring because it would come from a big community. For there to be a fire, there must be some fuel. When you live in exile, you burn yourself out.

PA: What are you working on now?
SP: I’m writing a book now that’s been about Iran and now I want to add a section about America, which I’m still debating about. Asiyeh Dar Miyan-e Doh Donya [Asiyeh Between Two Worlds] follows the life of an Iranian woman that goes from a village to the city and becomes a servant.

PA: How do you see your place in Iranian literature?
SP: I am a writer, age 61, and have a place among my peers. I don’t see myself as a very important person. But I was the second woman to write a novel in Iran, and I have written most of the novels about Iranian women. In this way, maybe I have a good place in Iranian literature.

[Image via Voices from the Gaps]

Shahrnush Parsipur’s New Book: Men From Various Civilizations

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Renowned Iranian writer Shahrnush Parsipur recently published an e-book, Men from Various Civilizations. It’s forty pages long and costs just $3, making it a perfect last-minute gift for the literary Iranian in your life – just buy and download it from Parsipur’s website, print it on some high-quality paper, and you’re done. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even get it bound at Kinko’s. (And I know what you’re thinking, but don’t be a cheapskate – pay for every copy you print. It’s a book, and it costs less than the overpriced latte you’re likely sipping.)

I’ve just downloaded the book and will write a review when I’ve finished reading it, but considering the high quality of Parsipur’s other work, Civilizations is probably pretty great, too.

Illustration: Nur Karlica Iverson