Iranian author Nafisi to speak for Assembly Series

As an antidote to being forced to cover themselves, being denied basic freedoms and living in fear of arrest, imprisonment and worse, they came together to read Nabokov, James, Fitzgerald and Austen.

“They” were Azar Nafisi, an Iranian professor, and several of her brightest female students, who secretly met once a week to find solace and insight through the Western classics.

The details of this harrowing time of being female in Iran during the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution are documented in Nafisi’s memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which she will discuss at 11 a.m. April 14 in Graham Chapel for the Assembly Series. Her talk will serve as the annual Adele Starbird Lecture, which is sponsored by The Women’s Society of Washington University.

In 1995, Nafisi refused to obey the new edict from Islamic fundamentalists to wear the veil and lost her teaching position at the University of Tehran as a result.

Despite the threat of prison, she opened her home to seven of her best female students where, once a week, they shed their veils and brought light into their minds and hearts with texts showing the power of art and its ability to transform lives. These experiences form the centerpiece of her story, which was published in 2003.

Woven into the memoir are illuminations on the works of authors that helped Nafisi and her students through their ordeal.

Publishers Weekly described her book as one that “transcends categorization as memoir, literary criticism or social history, though it is superb as all three … Nafisi has produced an original work on the relationship between life and literature.”

Nafisi left Iran and immigrated with her family to the United States in 1997. She is a visiting professor and the director of the Dialogue Project at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

Before leaving her native country, she taught at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabii.

Her talk is free and open to the public. For more information, call 935-5285 or go online to

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