The iconic poet honored at Farhang Foundation's 2011 Nowruz celebration at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on Sunday, March 13th
LOS ANGELES, CA, March 13, 2011 - Simin Behbahani was recognized by Farhang Foundation at the 2011 Farhang Heritage Award ceremony, which took place inside the Leo S. Bing Theater, as part of Farhang Foundation's Nowruz (Iranian New Year) Celebration at LACMA on Sunday, March 13, 2011. The legendary poet was named the 2011 Farhang Heritage Award recipient for a lifetime of extraordinary contribution to contemporary Persian poetry inspired by a deep love of truth.
"It has been an honor to recognize Ms. Behbahani as the 2011 Farhang Heritage Award recipient," said Dr. Hooshang Pak, Farhang Foundation trustee and Heritage Award committee chair. "She is a truly incredible poetess whose works have enriched Iranian culture and continue to be a source of inspiration for many around the world."
While Ms. Behbahani was unable to leave Iran to accept the award in person, her pre-recorded acceptance speech was broadcast during the ceremony before a live audience. She had also written a poem entitled, "I'm So in Love", just for this special occasion, which was recited during the award ceremony by author and award-winning journalist, Homa Sarshar in Persian, followed by its English translation by theatre artist and renowned translator, Niloufar Talebi.
"It was a tremendous pleasure to participate in an event honoring Simin Behbahani," said Ms. Sarshar. "I cannot think of a more worthy recipient of this award. She is a poet, an icon, and the voice of the voiceless."
Ms. Behbahani's ghazals (sonnet-like poems) are considered a hallmark of modern Persian literature, due to their subject matter and innovative use of meter and everyday language. Her poetry, often inspired by the plight of those on the margins of society, touches on themes such as poverty, corruption, freedom of expression, and human rights.
She is credited with broadening the range of traditional Persian verse and with producing one of the most influential collections of works in twentieth century Persian literature. In 1997, Ms. Behbahani was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature; received a Human Rights Watch-Hellman/Hammet grant in 1998; in 1999, awarded the Carl von Ossietzky Medal for her struggles for freedom of expression; in 2006, received the Norwegian Authors' Union Freedom of Expression Prize; in 2009, nominated as mtvU Poet Laureate; and accepted the 2009 Simone De Beauvoir Prize on behalf of the One Million Signatures Campaign in recognition of the campaign's efforts and the courage of its activists in support of gender equality in Iran.
The Farhang Heritage Award recognizes outstanding lifetime contributions to Iranian art and culture. Past recipients have included Professor Ehsan Yarshater, for his tremendous contributions to the study of Iranian civilization and the creation of the Encyclopaedia Iranica; Professor Richard Nelson Frye, for his extraordinary contributions to the study of Iranian history and civilization; and Professor Amin Banani, who was the recipient of the Farhang Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions to the study of Persian language and literature.
For more information, please visit www.farhang.org.
About Simin Behbahni
Simin Behbahani was born in 1927 in Tehran, Iran, to Abbas Khalili, noted writer and editor of the newspaper Eghdam. Considered to be among the first Iranians to write fiction in a western style, Khalili's novels include Dark Days, Secrets of the Night, and The Temple of Sam'an. Behbahani's mother, Fakhr-e Ozmā Arghun, was born into an enlightened and affluent family; a well-educated and intellectual woman, who amongst her many skills, taught French, wrote poetry, and played the tar. As a young woman, Arghun and other female intellectuals of the day founded the Society of Patriotic Women. Growing up in an intellectually vigorous environment filled with poetry and music, Behbahani, by twelve years of age, had already started writing verse, influenced by the "Char Pareh" style of Nima Yooshij. At fourteen, Behbahani's first ghazal (a sonnet-like poem) was published in the journal, Now Bahar. It began with the following lines, "O moaning starving masses, what will you do? O poor anguished nation, what will you do?"
While the opening lines of her first work foreshadowed Behbahani's lifetime concern with social injustice, it was one particular event that would permanently impact the purpose behind her poetry and the course of her life. During her second year at a school for midwifery, Behbahani was wrongfully accused of writing an article that was critical of the conditions at the college. Behbahani, unwilling to yield to pressure to accept blame for something she did not do, eventually quit her studies. Years later, in her essay We Await the Golden Dawn (1992), Behbahani recalled this incident:
"From that time," she wrote, "the purpose of my poetry has been to fight injustice. Whenever I could, I have portrayed it, revealed it. I have considered freedom the cardinal requirement of being a poet, and have never bowed my head to any power or office."
At seventeen years of age, Behbahani married her first husband, Hassan Behbahani. Their life together lasted twenty years before they divorced. During those years, Behbahani finished high school, was accepted into law school, and had three children. Eventually, she would choose another husband, Manouchehr Koushiyar, a man she loved very much and fondly referred to as her "companion of the road". Together, they finished law school and she became a high school literature teacher. After fourteen years by his side, she lost him to a heart attack.
Formally educated in law, Behbahani is credited with broadening the range of traditional Persian verse and producing one of the most influential collection of works in twentieth century Persian literature, which includes The Broken Lute (1951), Footprints (1956), Chandelier (1957), Marble (1963), Resurrection (1973), A Trajectory of Speed and Fire (1981), Arzhan Plain (1983), Paper Dress (1992), A Window of Freedom (1995), Selected Poems (1989, distributed in 1991), On Art and Literature (1989), That Man, My Male Companion of the Road (1990), A Cup of Sin, Selected Poems, translated by Farzaneh Milani and Kaveh Safa (1999), and Maybe It's the Messiah Selected Poems, translated by Ismail Salami (2003).
Today, Behbahani's ghazals are considered a hallmark of modern Persian literature, due to their innovative use of meters and natural, everyday speech, as well as their subjects. Her poetry, often inspired by the plight of those on the margins of society, touches on themes ranging from poverty to corruption, freedom of expression to human rights. In 1997, she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature; received a Human Rights Watch-Hellman/Hammet grant in 1998; in 1999, awarded the Carl von Ossietzky Medal for her struggles for freedom of expression; in 2006, received the Norwegian Authors' Union Freedom of Expression Prize; in 2009, nominated as mtvU Poet Laureate; and accepted the 2009 Simone De Beauvoir Prize on behalf of the One Million Signatures Campaign in recognition of the campaign's efforts and the courage of its activists in support of gender equality in Iran.
Farzeneh Milani, Professor of Persian Literature and Studies in Women and Gender at the University of Virginia, described the poet in a 2006 Washington Post article as "the most iconic Iranian poet alive" and a "cultural hero".
"She reminds me of T.S. Eliot," Dr. Milani said. "She dives deep into her culture and literature, and the product is a truly modern outlook on the role of the individual, concern for democracy and human rights. The form is traditional, but the perspective and poetic persona are quite progressive."
Currently, Behbahani stands as one of the most prominent figures of modern Persian literature, a national and international icon, known for her achievements in poetry, inspired by her advocacy of freedom and truth in society. Dubbed the lioness of Iran, her commitment to her craft has remained relentless and is perhaps best captured in her own words, "... if we cannot do more, it is for us to do our best within our limits. It is a responsibility we cannot refuse or deny. May the future be in our favor. Hoping for a better day, we take steps towards our convictions. Darkness will roll back. The light will spread like silver. We await a golden dawn."
About Farhang Foundation: Farhang Foundation is a non-religious, non-political and not-for-profit foundation established in 2008 to celebrate and promote Iranian art, culture and heritage for the benefit of the community at large. The foundation supports academic activities in Southern California by funding university programs, publications and conferences. The foundation also supports cultural programs such as celebration of Nowruz and Mehregan, theater, dance performances, films screenings and poetry reading in Southern California. Farhang Foundation, in cooperation with various cultural and academic institutions plans major programs and exhibitions about Iran and its culture. For more info visit www.farhang.org
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