Morning at Wash U with Shahrnush Parsipur

by Mark Chmiel

Matt Miller invited to me to an event today at Wash U. Students and people from the community met with Shahrnush Parsipur, one of the foremost writers in Iran. Fatima Keshavarz translated the question and answer for 75 minutes, as people freely asked her what was on their minds.

I was impressed with her presence, conscience, and devotion to her path.

I jotted down a few things from her generous responses….

Writing is a lonely pursuit, you do it alone. She reminded me of Proust in Time Regained, “Real books should be the offspring not of daylight and casual talk but of darkness and silence.”

Writing connects you to everything.

She read Dickens’ Great Expectations 35 times. And I’ve only read The Brothers Karamazov eight times!

She loves Dostoevsky; her favorite book by him is The Possessed (also translated as The Demons); I think I’ll start that this weekend.

When she was in prison she’d wait till everyone else fell asleep, then she would write practically till dawn.

About the prisoners she met (criminals, addicts, etc.), she quoted a line from Brecht, “A human being is a human being,” which evoked in me the line I learned from Pema Chödron, “Just like me, she wants to be happy, she doesn’t want to suffer.” She said, “99% of the people you meet in prison are just like us.”

Ernesto Cardenal said that first he was formed by the Gospels, only later Marx. Parsipur mentioned “Sufi love” a few times; I wonder if in the 60s and 70s there were people like Cardenal in Iran: first they had Sufism, later Marx was integrated.

She had the distinction of being imprisoned in Iran before the Revolution and after the Revolution.

After all the criminal destruction we have wreaked on Afghanistan and Iraq in the last decade,  how many of our writers ended up in prison for resisting the imperial violence of the Bush and Obama administrations? No, not just writers, all of us, how many of us citizens?

 

Shahrnush