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IRANIAN WRITERS UNCENSORED: Freedom, Democracy, and the Word in Contemporary Iran

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Author: Shiva Rahbaran (original Language Persian)
Translated by: Nilou Mobasser
Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press; 1 edition (March 15, 2012)
ISBN:  1564786889

As poet Mohammad Hoghooghi says, "[Writing] constitutes resistance. Because, in any age, the poet has been a protestor of a kind; resisting the thought-molds of the day. However, this protest might be political, it might be social, or it might even be philosophical. At any rate, the artist is at odds with the prevalent conduct and thinking of his age; this has always been the case." The 1979 Revolution in Iran was meant to bring freedom, hope, and prosperity to an oppressed people, but the reality is well known-the poets and writers interviewed by Shiva Rahbaran speak instead of humiliation, despotism, war, and poverty. These interviews with poets and writers still living and working in Iran demonstrate their belief that literature's value is in opening spaces of awareness in the minds of the reader-and pockets of freedom in society.


The following interviews testify how boldly and consistently writers and poets have been facing post revolutionary circumstances in the past three decades. They talk freely about their untiring hope and endeavor to create "pockets of freedom" in a society where the rulers regularly and brutally stifle any move that questions their legitimacy. They provide insights into their daily struggles to fend off the censorship imposed on every form of artistic expression. Their testimonies show that the regime is engaged in a hopeless fight to reverse the clock in Iran and to throw a widely literate, globally networked civil society into darkness. In doing so, they risk broken pens and, more often than not, broken lives. However, they believe that literature is worth the risk, as literature is their means to restore their humanity and dignity. In this sense, contemporary literature is still very political and socially conscious-even (or maybe especially) in its silence. Thus, now more than ever, writers and poets in Iran have become public figures of resistance. In these interviews many of them often point out that writing means resisting. 

It is important to note that these interviews were carried out in the last days of Mohammad Khatami's presidency-the reformist politician under whose administration the Ministry of Islamic Guidance loosened its grip on art and literature to some degree. The free manner in which the writers in this book speak about their work in post-revolutionary Iran is to some extent due to the relatively tolerant atmosphere during Khatami’s two terms of presidency (1997-2001; 2001-2005). However, Khatami’s halfhearted reforms and unrealized “dialogue of civilizations” disappointed the great majority of Iranians, who had elected him as the man who would end the reign of terror from within and achieve the peaceful transition of Iran to the modern, free world. His halfhearted reforms also strengthened the reactionary, conservative power structures and paved the way for the power seizure of the regime’s reactionary, right-wing politicians and revolutionary guards under the leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. During Khatami’s presidency many writers, poets, intellectuals, and members of the opposition were assassinated both in and outside Iran at the hands of the reactionary wing before the eyes of a helpless president. The very fact that this book was closely examined by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance for over a year, only to be found unfit for publication, testifies that the changes under Khatami were more or less cosmetic. The poets and writers who are interviewed in this book draw the attention of the reader to the precarious situation that they live and work in. Many of them are bitter about the assassinations and “accidents” that have taken their fellow writers and thinkers away from them both in and out of Iran and many of them acknowledge they might be next. In March 2010 one of the interviewees in this book, Simin Behbahāni (aged 83) the grande dame of contemporary Persian poetry, was arrested at the airport in Tehran on her way to France to receive a prize for her untiring fight against despotism and oppression. Like Simin, the poets and writers in Iran speak out and unwaveringly maintain that literature’s meaning is in opening spaces of awareness in the mind of the reader and pockets of freedom in society.

Related Article: Mightier than the Sword: Shiva Rahbaran's Iranian Writers Uncensored

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