Don't shoot the messenger(s)
Or why it's a good thing to read and listen carefully before you speak and write
July 14, 2006
I have followed the commentary on Iranian.com about the interview I and several other contributing writers to Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora conducted with Michael Krasny and the subsequent letter from another reader who neither heard the interview nor read the book. [See: Yalda Hakimian's "Shame on you" & Sudabeh Siavashan's "Selling out to sell a book"]
I have responded to both these people and their criticisms in emails addressed directly to them (as they might have done had they had the real intention of engaging in a serious dialogue or productive criticism). Instead they chose to attack me and the other people who participated in the interview, along with just about any other person (particularly and especially women) who happen to be working, writing, researching the subject of Iran these days.
Because I already responded directly to those attacks, I will try to address the most central issue I feel has been avoided in both these commentaries about me and the book. Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been represents what I believe is a literary movement that addresses and grows out of women's need to represent themselves and their experiences in a time and place where too often others represent women in the most simplistic and reductionist fashion (that includes agents of power such as governments, media, and various forms of censorial/political pressure from the community itself).
My work as the editor has been motivated by a desire to give a voice to women (living outside of Iran, writing in English) of all ages, cultural persuasions, writerly backgrounds and experiences in an exciting time when women are taking up the pen in greater numbers than at any point in history both outside and inside of Iran. This LITERARY (emphasis here on the literary) collection is a tribute to these writers and their struggle and journey to claim a voice that speaks for themselves as women of Iranian heritage. To represent oneself is to begin to be empowered.
Literature (as well as art) has an ability to rise above the polemical, black and white rhetoric that seems to pervade the discussion of Iran these days. I hope people will take the time to read and to listen to these women, all women, and not roundly attack and condemn and make general statements about all of us. Those first two letters made all kinds of statements that were untrue and unfair about me and many others who are working on Iranian studies. She doesn't know me or my biography or my long commitment to working on these issues.
Instead of spending energy to condemn others, and to condemn what I consider a worthwhile collection of writing (that spans a gamut of themes such as gender, immigration, war, politics, and layers of beauty and artistic experience), the commentators ought to maintain an open mind, open heart and consider what this book can ADD TO THE CONVERSATION about Iran, about women, about Iranian identity, about where we are at this critical juncture in history.
I'll leave it to you, the readers, to judge. But I humbly ask that first you read the book, any book, before you condemn its author, editor or contents -- The work assembled in Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been by fifty-three wonderful writers from around the globe offers a literary expression that complicates, challenges, and humanizes our experiences as Iranians, Iranian-Americans, hyphenated Iranians, and as women. It does not promise to have all the answers or THE correct answer. But this book does add something critical, essential, beautiful even, to a conversation that so often leaves women out.
A more productive conversation emerges when people talk to each other rather than about each other. I think this book is the best example of a vital conversation that emerges from the voices of many-- rather than from the one who shouts out righteous slogans about what others are doing wrong.
Persis M. Karim edited "Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora" (University of Arkansas Press, 2006) . She teaches English literature at San Jose Satate University.