IWP fellow could face arrest upon return to Iran

By
Friday, March 9, 2007

When Shahryar Mandanipour’s fellowship with the International Writers Project ends this June, he will be forced to return to Iran and potentially face arrest unless he finds a job in the United States that will allow him to extend his visa.

“It will not be easy to return, for me. I don’t know what will happen in the airport,” Mandanipour said, explaining that in the past three months, about 150 scholars, writers and journalists have been arrested upon returning home from abroad.

“Everyday I’m thinking about it. Sometimes I think I’ve got to go back. Sometimes, when I try to be rational, I think of my responsibilities to my family … here. Honestly, I don’t know what to do,” Mandanipour said.

He said he is especially concerned for his 16-year-old son. “Here, he will be safe. There is no hope for him in Iran,” he said.

This predicament is not entirely new for IWP fellows. They are selected for the fellowship precisely because they face oppression in their home nations, said Robert Coover, director of the IWP and adjunct professor of literary arts.

Sponsored by the Graduate Program in Literary Arts and the Watson Institute for International Studies, the year-long IWP fellowship provides a stipend and workplace to writers who face political oppression in their countries of origin.

“The hardest thing is, what do you do about people when you have to let them go in a year or so?” Coover asked.

Though the difficulty was anticipated, Mandanipour’s situation is especially challenging, Coover said, because relations between Iran and the United States have worsened since Mandanipour arrived on College Hill.

Mandanipour was eligible for the fellowship because Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance censored many of his writings. “You can’t anticipate which story will be allowed to be published,” he said, adding that including a “sexy scene or love scene” in a story will jeopardize its publication.

While at Brown, Mandanipour wrote “Censoring and the Iranian Love Story,” which he dedicated to Coover. With that book, “I explained how I make a trick to get the information of the story and pass through the censor wall,” Mandanipour said.

Mandanipour hopes to teach Persian language or literature in the United States but has not found any positions. “If you find a way, please tell me,” he said.

He added, “If I couldn’t find a way to stay here, I have to return.”

Mandanipour said he is still glad that he joined the IWP, despite of the difficulties he faces as the fellowship comes to an end. He added that even though the conditions in Iran led him to pursue the IWP, he was homesick for his country when he came to America. “I had many wounds from this country, but I still loved it,” he said of Iran.

Though Mandanipour said he could try to obtain refugee status in order to stay in the United States, he has not pursued this option because he still strongly identifies with his home country. “I love United States culture, but I would like to be an Iranian in the United States,” he said.

His experience with the IWP could foster better relations between the United States and Iran, Mandanipour said. “I hope that I can write about American culture and introduce it to the people of my country,” he said.