#AWP17 Featured Presenter Q&A with Azar Nafisi

Event Title: #AWP17 Keynote Address by Azar Nafisi, Sponsored by the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown University
Description: Azar Nafisi is best known as the author of the national bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which spent over 117 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Her other work includes Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov’s Novels; the memoir Things I've Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter; The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books; and the children’s book BiBi and the Green Voice. Among her numerous honors are the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, a Nonfiction Book of the Year Award from Booksense, the Frederic W. Ness Book Award, the Latifeh Yarshater Book Award, and the Persian Golden Lioness Award for literature. She has lectured and written extensively in English and Persian on the political implications of literature and culture, as well as the human rights of Iranian women and girls. Nafisi is currently a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC, where she was a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, as well as was Director of The Dialogue Project & Cultural Conversations.
Participants: Azar Nafisi
Location: Ballroom A, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Three
Date & Time: Thursday, February 9, 2017 from 8:30 p.m.–10:00 p.m.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: Considering the times we live in I recommend a revisiting of Melville's The Confidence Man! To connect or reconnect to the world, Andrew Solomon's Far & Away is a beautifully written nonfiction book about his travel experiences. Peter Sis's illustrated book of the Persian poet Attar's masterpiece, The Conference of the Birds, is a breathtaking example of turning words into images, and connecting to other cultures through imagination, filled with movement and beauty. Last but not least, because poetry is not just “the food of love” but a needed ingredient to inspire any form of writing, begin with a re-reading of W. S. Merwin, Joseph Brodsky, Anna Akhmatova, Elizabeth Bishop, W. H. Auden.

Q: Has public funding for the arts made a difference in your life and career as a writer?
A: I have not asked for grants, but I have definitely benefited from public funding of the arts in more ways than one. First of all you have to realize I come from a country where artists, writers, poets, musicians are considered among regime's number one enemy list, so among the first things I was thankful for were NEH, NEA, and NED. I felt it fitting and right that a democracy should be represented by its ideas and imagination. I have also collaborated with Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries and National Gallery, as well as NEH and NEA. In 2011 I testified in Congress in support of funding NEH.

Q: When AWP was founded in 1967, there were a dozen creative writing programs. Now there are approximately 1,800 undergraduate and graduate programs. What do you think has changed for readers and writers since creative writing became ascendant as an academic discipline?
A: I define creative writing a subversive discipline thriving in a highly theoretical academic atmosphere. Rather than relying a set of theories it investigates the unknown, a reminder of Margaret Atwood's description of the process of writing as the desire to investigate the "bloody cleaver in the middle of the living room." Its appeal is not just to the mind but also the heart, how to articulate the heart, that inarticulate inner voice...one more proof that young people living in different eras and coming from differ backgrounds do love the thrills and challenges of writing, being creative, choose a risky profession with no guarantee of a job or money.

Q: What advice can you offer to writers who must navigate between the solitude or artistic work and our nation’s politics and culture at this moment?
A: Like squirrels hoarding nuts, writers need to gather experiences by living them, so that in their solitude they can re-live them, reshape and re-articulate them, going beyond their own immediate reaction, transcending their own prejudices truth, and shape that truth so that it can return to the world and guide our way!

Q: If you’ve been to Washington, DC, before, what places do you recommend our attendees visit?
A: DC is my hometown and I connect to it most by taking long walks by the river, and visiting its museums and monuments. What better way to know a city than through its nature, its history, and its achievements in the realms of imagination and ideas. Then of course there is the Library of Congress! 

There are also my own private places, nooks and crannies that might not mean much to others, like the old cemetery in Georgetown where I have spent so many hours, just look at the graves, most of their tombstones broken, amidst the trees, with the din of traffic in the distance...

Q: If you could run into any author, contemporary or historical, at #AWP17, who would it be and what would you talk about?
A: There are many, many authors I would like to talk to. Sometimes though I ask myself, have I not had the best conversations with these amazing authors through their books? But right now a fictional story teller comes to my mind, one whom I call, the mother of all story tellers, namely Shahrezad of the One Thousand and One Nights. We would talk about how to resist tyranny by avoiding to become like tyrants, refusing to speak their language, by becoming like them. I will ask about the secret of her immortality, of how she has stayed young and fresh, beloved and so relevant to our times our lives today. Then I will ask her to tell me a story!

 

Azar Nafisi Azar Nafisi is best known as the author of the national bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which spent over 117 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Her other work includes Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov’s Novels, the memoir Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books, and the children’s book BiBi and the Green Voice. Among her numerous honors include the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, a Nonfiction Book of the Year Award from Booksense, the Frederic W. Ness Book Award, the Latifeh Yarsheter Book Award, and the Persian Golden Lioness Award for literature. She has lectured and written extensively in English and Persian on the political implications of literature and culture, as well as the human rights of Iranian women and girls. Nafisi is currently a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC, where she was a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, as well as was Director of The Dialogue Project and Cultural Conversations.

Register today to see Azar at #AWP17 in Washington, DC!

#AWP17
#AWP17

February 8–11, 2017
Washington, DC

Washington Convention Center & Washington Marriott Marquis

Sponsors