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Thursday, September 9, 2021

12:00 – 1:00 PM EDT

Ideas, Imagination, and the Transformative Power of Literature on International Affairs:
A Conversation with Azar Nafisi

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On September 9, 2021, award-winning author Dr. Azar Nafisi illuminated the power of Art and Music on human relations and international diplomacy. This event was hosted virtually by the WFI Arts Counsel.

Dr. Azar Nafisi is a lifelong champion and ardent supporter of the importance of Humanities and Liberal Arts and the role they play in the preservation and promotion of democracy. She is best known as the author of the national best-seller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which electrified its readers with a compassionate and often harrowing portrait of the Islamic revolution in Iran and how it affected one university professor and her students. Translated into 32 languages and named as one of the “100 Best Books of the Decade” by The Times (London) in 2009, Dr. Nafisi’s work has been awarded the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger, Non-fiction Book of the Year Award from Booksense, the Frederic W. Ness Book Award, the Latifeh Yarsheter Book Award, the Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle, and an achievement award from the American Immigration Law Foundation. In 2006, she won a Persian Golden Lioness Award for literature, presented by the World Academy of Arts, Literature, and Media. Dr. Nafisi's forthcoming book The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times, will be published in March 2022. 


Between 1997 and 2017, Dr. Nafisi was a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC, where she was a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, and taught courses on the relation between culture and politics; she was also Director of The Dialogue Project & Cultural Conversations. 


Previously, Dr. Nafisi conducted workshops in Iran for women students on the relationship between culture and human rights; the material culled from these workshops formed the basis of a new human rights education curriculum. She has lectured and written extensively in English and Persian on the political implications of literature and culture, as well as the human rights of Iranian women and girls and the important role they play in the process of change for pluralism and an open society in Iran.

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That Other World

The ruler of a totalitarian state seeks validation from a former schoolmate, now the nation’s foremost thinker, in order to access a cultural cache alien to his regime. A literary critic provides commentary on an unfinished poem that both foretells the poet’s death and announces the critic’s secret identity as the King of a lost country. 

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The Republic of Imagination 

Azar blends memoir and polemic with close readings of her favorite American novels—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Babbitt, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, among others—she invites us to join her as citizens of her “Republic of Imagination,” a country where the villains are conformity and orthodoxy and the only passport to entry is a free mind and a willingness to dream.


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Literature is by nature subversive, always on the side of the individual and freedom of choice. Its main and most dangerous weapon is the truth. In its search for truth, literature going beyond the appearances, reveals what is hidden to the naked eye, clarifies what has been opaque. And we all know how dangerous truth can be.

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