January 26, 2007 Internationally acclaimed Iranian novelist Moniro Ravanipour has been named the 2007 International Writers Project Fellow at Brown. The IWP fellowship offers residency and a supportive environment to writers who experience censorship and persecution in their home countries. Ravanipour is currently in residence at the Watson Institute, as is 2006-07 IWP Fellow Shahryar Mandanipour, who is also from Iran.
IWP Director Robert Coover calls Ravanipour an innovative writer. Her stories, in their fantastic blend of realism, myth, and superstition, are reminiscent of writers like Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, Mexico’s Juan Rulfo, and Nigeria’s Amos Tutuola, he says.
“She has been successful in the treatment of the complex subjects of tradition and modernity, juxtaposing elements of both, and exposing them in all their contradictions without idealizing either,” according to Nahid Mozaffari, editor of Strange Times, My Dear, the PEN Anthology of Contemporary Persian Literature (Arcade, 2005).
Ravanipour also employs humor, as an acquired reflex against the pressures she says she and her compatriots face under a government that attempts to impose a stifling conformity – particularly on women.
She has had eight books published in Iran, with two more under review by her country’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Among her novels – some of them translated in the West – are The Drowned, Heart of Steel, and Gypsy by Fire.
Much of her work has been inspired by the culture and traditions specific to the seaside town in which she grew up on the southern coast of Iran. In her tales, superstitions about the coast’s tempestuous seas – and the townspeople’s interactions with mermaids, drowned fishermen, and other spirits living beneath the waves – meet with an advancing modernism. Three blond men arrive in a motorized boat, for instance, and are declared gods – when they are actually foreign oil company employees on an exploratory mission.
Having lived more recently in Tehran, Ravanipour also writes about day-to-day existence in the capital and women’s struggles for a better life.
Her work is not political, Ravanipour says, but because it is nonconformist and honest in its portrayal of Iranians, it becomes viewed as political. This point was once again underscored in recent weeks, as all copies of her current work were stripped from bookstore shelves in Iran in a countrywide police swoop. Prior to this episode, “Satan’s Stones,” a short story published in English in Strange Times, had been banned in Iran, among other of her works.
Ravanipour has also faced trial in her home country, as one of 17 activists accused of taking part in anti-Iran propaganda while participating in the “Iran after the Elections” conference in Berlin in 2000.
Not to be daunted, Ravanipour sometimes posts work she would not expect to get published in Iran on her blog, where she also continues to speak out against the current government.
Here at Watson, Ravanipour finds greater privacy and freedom to think and write, she says. She puts it simply: “I can concentrate better here.” In addition to writing, she will be giving readings and participating in other program activities during the semester.
About the International Writers Project
Since 2003, the IWP has provided institutional, artistic, and social support to writers facing danger, oppression, and threats to their livelihood in their home countries. It is co-sponsored by Brown University’s Literary Arts Program and the Watson Institute and funded by the William H. Donner Foundation, with additional help from the President’s office. The IWP follows upon an earlier freedom-to-write program at Brown that ran from 1989 through 1996. Its commitment to providing a safe haven for repressed and endangered creative writers, along with its dedication to inspiring free and open dialogue about the situation of repressed writers across the globe, is at the center of the project’s activities.
Read here for the comments of IWP 2006-07 Fellow Shahryar Mandanipour and others at the IWP’s recent weeklong literary festival.
More information on Strange Times is available here.
Visit Ravanipour's Persian-language blog here.