Voice Of A Modern Iran: Ten Must Read Iranian Authors

Gray Dome at Dusk ©Always Shooting
Gray Dome at Dusk ©Always Shooting

Iran’s turbulent 20th century saw various political and social upheavals, including the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Responding to these conflicts and engaging with contemporary human rights issues in the wake of the revolution has become vital for late 20th-century Iranian authors, who have collectively given a voice to a modern Iran.

© Vintage Books

Reza Baraheni (Born 1935)

Cofounder of the Writers Association of Iran along with Jalal Al-Ahmad and Gholamhossein Saedi, Reza Baraheni was also the president of PEN Canada from 2000 to 2002. Politically influential and an advocate for human rights, especially for women and ethnic minorities, Baraheni’s life has been marked by turbulence, having been arrested and exiled from Iran. His work traverses across the fields of poetry, theatre, fiction and critical essays, written in both Persian and English, and many of his works have been translated into French. Internationally respected and winner of many awards, both literary and humanitarian, he has become popular in France with many his plays performed in French theatre festivals and his novels adapted for the stage.

© The Kennedy/Marshall Company

Marjane Satrapi (Born 1969)

Best known for her graphic novels, Marjane Satrapi was born in Rasht and grew up in Tehran. In 1997 Satrapi moved to Paris where she was introduced to l’Atelier des Vosges, a group of France’s most celebrated comic book artists, and it was here that she was encouraged to write about her dramatic childhood amidst the Iranian Revolution. Published as Persepolis (2000), this series of four volumes explores Satrapi’s childhood and teenage years in Iran and in Vienna, depicting conflict and political turbulence from a child’s perspective. Received with international acclaim, Persepolis was voted one of the ‘Best Comics of 2003’ in Time magazine and featured in ‘100 Best Books of the Decade’ by The Times (London). Persepolis was also adapted into an animated film which also received many global accolades.

© Little, Brown Book Group

Shahriar Mandanipour (Born 1957)

Both an essayist and a novelist, Shahriar Mandanipour has been dubbed ‘one of the leading novelists of our time’ by The Guardian. Starting to write at the early age of 14, Mandanipour’s first published work was a short story titled Shadows of the Cave in 1985. Since these early beginnings Mandanipour has produced a wide range of works including novels, essays, collections of short stories, reviews and articles. Translated into multiple languages, it wasn’t until 2009 that Mandanipour’s first novel, Censoring an Iranian Love Story, was published in English. Mandanipour’s writing style is widely loved by readers and critics alike because of his experiments with both language and context, and the way he beautifully weaves metaphoric images and symbols.

© Bloomsbury

Kamin Mohammadi (Born 1970)

Born in Iran but now living in the UK, Kamin Mohammadi is a writer, journalist and broadcaster who specializes in Iranian culture and life. A master of many talents, every writing avenue she has explored has been greeted with great success. Her debut work The Cypress Tree: A Love Letter to Iran reveals her physical and emotional journey back to Iran at the age of 27, after she and her parents fled when she was only nine years old. Ensuring she spends part of every year in her home country, she has become a great advocate for Iranian culture, and co-wrote The Lonely Planet Guide to Iran and is regularly invited to give presentations on modern Iran around the world.

© Unionsverlag

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (Born 1940)

Born to a poor shoemaker in Sabzevar, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi left home at a young age to pursue a life in theatre and writing, taking on any work he could to afford his dream. An advocate for social and artistic freedom, his works gained attention from the political elite, leading him to be arrested in 1974. Kelidar is one of his most noteworthy texts, a saga written over ten books that follows the life of a Kurdish nomadic family. Using his own life as inspiration, as well as local Iranian poetry and folk tales, Dowlatabadi is popular both in Iran and around the world, and has been translated into multiple languages.

© Mage Publishers

Forugh Farrokhzad (1935-1967)

Regarded by many as one of Iran’s most influential female poets of the 20th century, Forugh Farrokhzad’s poetry was banned in Iran after the revolution for more than ten years. Written in Persian, her work is acclaimed for its daring expression of the hidden emotions of Iranian women, and has touched the hearts of many, having been translated into Arabic, English, French, German, Russian as well as other languages. While she produced several works during her short life including The Captive (1955) and Another Birth (1963), her most famous work remains Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season (1974), which was published after her death. Also working as a film director, her documentary The House is Black (1962) received international acclaim for its exploration of a leper colony in the north of the country.

© Iran Open Publishing Group

Sadegh Hedayat (1903-1951)

Celebrated as one of the greatest Iranian writers of the early 20th century, Sadegh Hedayat was born in Tehran to an upper class family, and was given the opportunity to travel to Europe at a young age, studying in both Belgium and France. Inspired by western literature and also by Iran’s history and folklore, Hedayat’s works are renowned for criticizing religion and its major influence on Iranian life. Writing in a range of forms including short stories, plays, critical essays and novels, Hedayat’s most famous work is The Blind Owl (1937), woven together with thought provoking symbols that explore Hedayat’s national and spiritual condemnation, as well as the isolation he felt due to alienation from his peers.

© Mage Publishers

Iraj Pezeshkzad (Born 1928)

Iraj Pezeshkzad was born in Tehran and spent large amounts of his life in both France and Iran. His writing career began in the 1950s, working as both a translator and a writer of short stories. His magnum opus took the form of My Uncle Napoleon (1973), a satirical coming of age story that takes place in an Iranian mansion during the Second World War. Full of political and social comment, the book received international attention and was acclaimed as ‘the most beloved Iranian novel of the twentieth century’. It was also adapted into a successful TV series of the same name. Pezeshkzad currently works as a journalist in Paris.

© Mage Publishers

Simin Daneshvar (1921-2012)

Noted as the first major Iranian woman novelist, Simin Daneshvar’s biography is filled with Iranian firsts for a female author, including first published novel, first published collection of stories, and first translated work. Studying Persian literature at the University of Tehran, Daneshvar started her career as a writer for radio and newspaper journalism, where she was aided by her English language skills. While 1948 saw her publish her first significant work Atash-e khamoosh, a collection of short stories, her greatest work is Savushun (1969), a novel about a family in Shiraz and the struggles they face during Iran’s occupation in World War II.

© L’Harmattan

Houshang Golshiri (1938- 2000)

An influential author who introduced many modern literary techniques to Persian literature, Houshang Golshiri began writing fiction in the 1950s, although it wasn’t until the release of his first novel Prince Ehtejab (1969) that his talent was truly recognized. An anti-establishment story of decadency, the novel was made into a successful film. Shortly after this, however, Golshiri was arrested for the controversial themes he addresses. Once released Golshiri continued to write, publishing books of short stories, autobiographical texts, novels and essays on literary theory and criticism in Iran and around the world. Awarded several awards for his human rights activism, the prestigious Houshang Golshiri Foundation was set up after his death, focusing on the promotion of contemporary Iranian fiction.

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