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Iranian author Ravanipour takes refuge at Brown

Iranian author Moniro Ravanipour was too scared to shower when she was in Germany for a writers' conference in 2001. Soon after she arrived, her husband called to tell her Iranian authorities opposed the conference. She feared they might have installed secret cameras in her hotel bathroom and would broadcast the footage in Iran to suggest the conference attendees were engaging in salacious behavior.

"Living in Iran, for a writer like me, is a risk," said Ravanipour, who is the fourth fellow the International Writers Project has brought to Brown. Sponsored by the Graduate Program in Literary Arts and the Watson Institute for International Studies, the program hosts one writer each year who feels unable to engage in free expression in his or her home country.

Shortly after the conference in Germany, Ravanipour returned to Iran to find a subpoena for her arrest - she had been charged with undermining national security, a crime punishable by death. Her house was broken into and her papers stolen. Though ultimately exonerated, Ravanipour spent 10 months absorbed in complicated legal procedures without even knowing the basis for the charges.

Ravanipour is not the first person in her family to face political oppression. After the Iranian Revolution, she said, authorities targeted her family. "They killed my brother. He was 19 years old. And all of my family was in jail," she said.

Born in a small village in the south of Iran, Ravanipour described her home as mystical and imaginative. "We grew up in an ocean of fiction and myth," she said.

In the regional villages, "everyone wears beautiful colors - orange, red, blue," she said, adding that the dominant color in Iran today is black. Ravanipour protests: "I don't know which god says you have to wear black, gray, brown."

Ravanipour studied psychology at Shiraz University in southwest Iran. There, she realized she did not identify with the more traditional girls at the school. "The students told me, 'You act as a man,' " because she played football and did not care about clothing, she said.

She chooses not to wear the hijab or any form of covering because women in her family have never observed the tradition. The practice has only become universal since the revolution and has no meaning for her, Ravanipour said.

"I want to see the people, and the people to see me," she said.

Not fulfilled by her studies at college, Ravanipour started writing "daily memories," which made her "calm, quiet, satisfied." After the revolution, she realized she needed to use her writing for more than personal purposes.

"I couldn't remain quiet," Ravanipour said. "I have to tell something about my situation. For this reason, I am a writer and political."

She has published 10 titles in Iran, including short stories and novels, and describes her style as "magical realist, and a little bit romantic." Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance prevented several of her works from being published and censored the fourth and fifth editions of several of her books, an act Ravanipour described as "ridiculous," because copies of the books in the original editions had already been circulated around the country.

Ravanipour is the third International Writers Project fellow to come from Iran. Due to the Iranian regime's tense relationship with the United States, the country has "dominated" the project's attention, according to its director, Adjunct Professor of Literary Arts Robert Coover.

Though the project receives applications from all regions of the world, the Middle East has the highest concentration of applicants, Coover said. The previous fellow, Shahryar Mandanipour - who is continuing his fellowship this semester - and the 2004 fellow, Shahrnush Parsipur, are both Iranian.

Ravanipour said Iran's suppression of free expression has hindered its progress as a nation. "The gap between our country and the new world is huge," she said.

She hopes to use her time at the University to refresh herself. "In my mind, there are a lot of bad things, sad things," she said. "I want to put in my mind happiness." Ravanipour will be at Brown through the summer.


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