the essay i never wanted to write//manijeh nasrabadi

2/02/2011

wonderful essay on the dangers of a single memoir by hedgebrook alum manijeh nasrabadi. i have been thinking a lot about this in light of the memoir project i'm working on. what nasrabadi describes about the publishing establishment with regard to iranian american memoirs sounds eerily similar to writing about africa and her diasporas. at least i am certain, both in nasrabadi's case and mine, that one must first write for oneself and then for others. --AL.

"My agent told me how I should envision my book: it should start with 9/11 as a catalyst for my decision to travel alone on a one-way ticket to Iran, my first time going to the country my father was from, where his entire extended family still lived. I would then be like a tour guide, she said, outsider and family member at the same time, showing my readers what life in Iran was really like. The fact that my family members are working-class Zoroastrians was added caché. We haven’t heard that before! I should write about their rituals and attitudes towards the Muslim state. I should write about their persecution as religious minorities. Flashbacks to my childhood in DC with my Iranian immigrant father and Jewish American mother would then be interspersed with the action in Tehran.

Ever so grateful that someone had given me permission to speak, ever so araid of displeasing the powerful people who had gone out of their way to help me, I tried to write this book. But it wasn’t working. The writing felt timid to me, overly concerned with explaining myself and my family to an audience I was told to imagine as ignorant about Iran but open-minded and eager to learn. What was never said was that this presumed audience was white and middle class. I was supposed to write for this demographic because they buy the most books. What I couldn’t put into words at the time was that I felt I was being asked to participate in a new form of assimilation, to perform a certain version of difference, to become the 'Other' who could then be revealed and made knowable within the dominant American cultural framework." -- Manijeh Nasrabadi, The Essay I Never Wanted to Write

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2 comments

  1. can i book to buy the memoirs before u write them? do i get a discount for booking ahead of time..?
    still exploring the blog. nice work AL!!!
    loved adichie's short stories about the diaspora... she presents multiple 'stories' and multiple points of view "the thing around your neck".

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