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A special issue of the journal, Iran Namag, where some of the series’ papers are being published. The cover features an original painting by Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi titled, “non-borders.”

During academic year 2021-2022, the Persian Studies program at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is hosting a virtual lecture series on “Iranian Literary Diasporas.” Convened by Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi, Roshan Associate Professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and Inaugural Director of UNC Persian Studies, the series is dedicated to exploring how Iranian diaspora authors reflect on the community’s attempts at carving out forms of belonging to a host nation.

Yaghoobi teaches a course on Literary Diasporas of the Middle East, and the subject of the Iranian Armenian diaspora is the subject of her third monograph. “If you look at Persian literature, beginning form the ninth century, you will be able to find examples of exile (diaspora) as a leitmotiv,” Yaghoobi explained. “A well-known example is Rumi’s Mathnavī-yi maʿnavī where Rumi depicts how the reed is torn from its reed-bed to form a flute, complaining of the pain of separation. After the 1979 Revolution and the Iran Iraq war (1980-88), many Iranians including writers, poets and intellectuals fled the country. Consequently, in exile, these writers began writing about their feelings of separation from “home” and how they find solace by writing.”

Fall events featured three virtual discussions with Iranian authors; Hamed Esmaeilion, Omid Fallahazad, and Fereshteh Molavi. Themes that emerged out of the conversations include hybrid existence; ways in which the Iranian diaspora community reconciles various parts of their identity; challenges caused by the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation; and transnationalism as a way to challenge nationalism.

“There are many reasons why I convened this lectures series,” said Yaghoobi. “Most importantly, I noticed that diaspora authors who write in their mother tongue, in this case in Persian, are being marginalized in the west in various forms; including a recent decision by Amazon to refuse the inclusion of Farsi as one of its languages. Hence, as a scholar who has always worked towards giving voice to the marginalized and invisible populations, my main goal was to feature some of these authors who deal with questions of belonging and homesickness via these lecture series.”

On September 25, 2021, a conversation about Hamed Esmaeilion’s book Blue Toucan focused on the space between sleep and death in which a person’s soul takes the form of a bird and flies to the grave of a loved one in the homeland. The intermediate nature of this space indicates the uncertainty and fluidity of the immigrant’s identity. One of the most important features of the novel is the introduction of a non-Iranian immigrant character and how the layers of their differences, they reach a common understanding about their diasporic identity.

On October 16, 2021, in an event featuring Omid Fallahazad, Yaghoobi and Fallahazad pointed out the ways that Armenians of Iran have been exposed to discrimination both in Iran and in the United States, and outlined the ways that Armenians, along with other Middle Easterners, have been subjected to racism and Islamophobia in the U.S. post-9/11. As Christians, Armenians are considered a white ethnic minoritized group, but are lumped together with Muslim Middle Easterners and subjected to America’s Islamophobia.

The series is contributing to broader conversations about identity and belonging, national affiliation, and the concept of homeland. “As nations are dynamic constructs and national identity is constantly in flux from generation to generation, sense of belonging and identity changes. In today’s global world, hybridity becomes significant as we no longer have the capacity to draw the line between us and them, the different and the same, here and there. In Iranian diaspora authors’ writings, we frequently observe how hybridity allows for heterogeneity; claiming their difference, these authors move beyond their marginalized ethnic position,” Yaghoobi reflected.

Spring events in the series will take place on Zoom, including:

January 29, 2022 @ 12:00pm-1:00pm EST
Mehrak Kamali in Conversation with author Shahryar Mandanipour

March 12, 2022 @ 12:00pm-1:00pm EST
Rustin Zarkar in Conversation with Publisher Hadi Khojinian

April 23, 2022 @ 12:00pm-1:00pm EST
Firouzeh Dianat in Conversation with author Moniru Ravanipur

This series is presented by Persian Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, and co-sponsored by the American Institute of Iranian Studies, Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies.

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