Isabelle Pelaud at the Iranian Literary Arts Festival
On February 5th, Isabelle Pelaud spoke at “30 Years of Belonging,” a roundtable about diasporic literatures a the Iranian Literary Arts Festival. Here is her account of the event.
See more photos here
Audience members listen to panelists at “30 Years of Belonging”
The discussion went well. The Friends of the Library’s bookstore at Fort Mason was packed (about 50 people). It lasted a good three hours. There were five poets speaking, four of the older generation and one of the younger one. On the way there, one of the poets (Partow Nooriala) was kind enough to give me her version of Iranian and Iranian American history. It was difficult not to see similarities with that of Vietnamese Americans. Many of the first wave of Iranians fled their country in 1979 as refugees and they now total about one million in the US.
The poets of the older generation talked mostly about the homeland, nostalgia, anger and losses. Most were driven by an intense desire to denounce human rights violations in Iran. The poet who was sitting on my right (Zib Karbassi) is of the younger generation. She spoke about loss of one’s homeland but also of one’s language. These poets write in languages other than English so most Americans cannot read their work, and many are banned in Iran. Their audience is small. But based on what I witnessed on that evening, they have a strong group of fans among the Iranian refugee community.
This community is apparently factional, with intellectual and professionals who came first on one side, and those who came later and blame the first group for helping bring to power the current regime. (The first group had joined with Muslim elements against the Shah, who they considered a puppet of the American regime, but ended up taking refuge in the US). In addition to class and political lines, that community seems to be divided by gender. Zib Karbassi was dressed in extravagant clothes, revealing a beautiful cleavage and wearing much makeup. She writes erotic poems (among others). She said she receives death threats and daily harassment in England, where she lives today.
After the event, I stayed and mingled with the poets and the audience. I was struck by the warmth, joviality and strong spirit of those around me. After talking about torture and violence they were joking and having fun. Everyone was very happy to a book of translated poems was being published. Some people were curious about Vietnamese American history and issues; some were curious about me. A few spoke French and wanted to talk about French movies. It was a strange mixture of anger and joy, all at once. Niloufar Talebi, organizer of the event and editor of the anthology Belonging was warm and passionate about Iranian culture of the Diaspora and appears to play a positive role in bringing people together. An inspiration.
Here is a poem by Yadollah Roya’i that touched me:
wh en it ri ses up
it th en crum
bl es do wn
And stone stirs upon
her stirring when it becomes
name’s icon: the dead within you
is more alive then you.
(from the anthology Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World, edited and translated by Niloufar Talebi (2008))
On November 21, 2009 DVAN screened Bolinao 52 at SFSU, with a Q & A session and a reception. The audience asked good and difficult questions such as: “The man who was on the American ship seems very self indulgent when he met the survivor; he seems unaware of his white privileges”. Duc Nguyen clarified this scene by saying that he was the one who pushed this meeting and tried to create an “emotional space”. But he also said that the inclusion of a white person in his movie helped its reception. Students whose parents came to the US from Vietnam by boat came to talk to Duc Nguyen at the reception to ask more about a part of their history they knew nothing about. One said: “My parents’ priorities in life make more sense now. I will ask them to talk to me about their past. We [the children] need to know.
DVAN Reception Fund raising Event
Saturday, May 22, 2010
6:00pm – 8:00pm
@ The Infinity Complex of Condominiums & Penthouses between 300 and 338 Spear Street, SF, CA 94105 (inside courtyard)
A fundraiser to benefit the Diasporic Vietnamese Arts Network.
There will be a silent auction of artwork by Trang Le, Binh Danh, Viet Le, Trung Tran, Hung Viet Nguyen, Julie Thi Underhill, signed books by Monique Truong, le thi diem thuy, Aimee Phan, Kim-An Lieberman, and Mong-Lan, and many more items.
There will also be readings by Andrew Lam and Aimee Phan, followed by an OPEN MIC. Bring your work to read, sing, or perform!
Light refreshments will be provided.