Azar Nafisi, the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and other books, read and answered questions last Thursday for the final Winter with the Writers (WWW) program at Rollins College. Not only is WWW a wonderful program at my alma mater, but Azar Nafisi is an inspiration.
I first read Reading Lolita a year after its publication, which happened to be my senior year in high school. It came as a much needed assurance that my focus on words and stories had a place in this world--a place that did indeed matter. It added to my belief that the action after 9/11 were muddying already murky waters between the USA and its perceptions and actions of and in the Middle East. Nafisi's insistence that stories illustrate and illuminate our reality resonated; her points about the importance of acknowledging the differences between our dreams and reality helped me articulate my growing unease and dissatisfaction in my personal faith. This book affected me greatly. It challenged and comforted me. It moved and shook me.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I am teaching Reading Lolita in Tehran to my AP English Language and Composition students. It's odd to return to a book that has meant so much to me and teach it. My students mostly seem to be enjoying the book. They struggle with the novels assigned in conjunction with the book--Lolita, The Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, Pride and Prejudice. But Reading Lolita they love. Nafisi's voice speaks to them. Not like it spoke to me, these are children who have no memory of 9/11. Most of them are not as passionate about language and stories as I am, but it does speak to them. Nafisi has captured a facet of humanity in her book, and my students recognize and respond to it.
At her reading, Nafisi spoke with conviction, articulation, and insight. She discussed the importance of stories. The importance of telling our own stories and participating in our own realities. Reality is written by those who show up; by those who are creating, fighting, story-telling. Her spoken words brought tears to my eyes like her written words had done a decade ago.