Interview with 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 and has been translated to 32 languages. In 2006 Ms. Nafisi won a Persian Golden Lioness Award for literature, presented by the World Academy of Arts, Literature, and Media.

Azar Nafisi is a Visiting Professor and the executive director of Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, where she is a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, and teaches courses on the relation between culture and politics. Azar Nafisi held a fellowship at Oxford University, teaching and conducting a series of lectures on culture and the important role of Western literature and culture in Iran after the revolution in 1979. She taught at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University, and Allameh Tabatabai before her return to the United States in 1997 – earning international recognition for advocating on behalf of Iran's intellectuals, youth, and especially young women. In 1981, she was expelled from the University of Tehran for refusing to wear the mandatory Islamic veil and did not resume teaching until 1987.

Ms. Nafisi conducted workshops in Iran for women students on the relationship between culture and human rights; the material culled from these workshops formed the basis of a new human rights education curriculum. 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 and the important role they play in the process of change for pluralism and an open society in Iran.

Azar Nafisi has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her latest book, Things I Have Been Silent About: Memories, a memoir about her mother, was published in January 2009. She is currently working on a book entitled Republic of the Imagination, which is about the power of literature to liberate minds and peoples. She lives in Washington, DC.

Tavaana's 2012 interview with Azar Nafisi available here.

What Tavaana Students Have to Say

These types of instruction, with a professional instructor and excellent reading materials, can change a person's perspective on their civic activities. I learned that we have to do more if we want a free and democratic country that respects civil rights and international law. I also learned that we have to keep learning, and pass our knowledge on to others, in order to lay the groundwork for the changes we seek for our society.
- Zahra, Democracy Web course graduate

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