Reza Baraheni is a poet, novelist, literary theorist and translator. But this is the first hat he wears.The second hat belongs to his other identity, that of a human rights activist. The third hat is that of a teacher and university professor. The combination goes like this:
Reza Baraheni founded with Jalal Al-Ahmad, Gholamhossein Saedi, Ahmad Shamlou and other writers committed to democratic rights, the Writers Association of Iran more than forty years ago. He cooperated with the other writers of the country to turn the Association into Iran's most important human rights organization, playing a pivotal role in all phases of the life of the association, both in Iran and abroad. He was arrested and tortured by the secret police of both the old monarchist and the new Islamic regimes. In the United States in the seventies, Baraheni worked with Noam Chomsky, Arthur Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, Allen Ginsberg and many other prominent poets, writers and activists, to promote human rights in the world, particularly Iran. His works in English, as well as translations into other European languages of his works from Persian, have been included in world anthologies alongside such prominent poets and novelists as: Anna Akhmatova, Jorge Luis Borges, Paul Celan, Helene Cixous, Jacques Derrida, Jean Genet, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Nabokov, Pablo Neruda and many others.
He is the author of more than sixty books of poetry, fiction, literary criticism, literary translations and social Issues. Four of his novels have been translated into French and published by Fayard, the prominent French publisher. He has won numerous awards in literature, journalism and human rights. Vintage, Random House has published Baraheni's The Crowned Cannibals, forwarded by E.L.Doctorow, and Indiana University Press has published his collection of prison poems under the title of God's Shadow. Baraheni has written for the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, the Nation and many other prominent papers and periodicals. The reviews of his books have been published in some of the most outstanding papers of the world, such as Le Figaro Litteraire, Le Monde, Liberation, the Figaro Magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post and many others around the world. Adaptation and performance of his fiction into plays in France have gained him in that country the name of a major experimental playwright, with performances in Avignon, Annecy, Dijon and many other festivals and cities, including Paris. Dozens of special issues have been published on Baraheni's works in Iran, Sweden, Canada, France, and books of his poetry have been translated into half a dozen European languages. Baraheni has taught in many American, Canadian and Iranian universities, and has been a Fellow of many prominent universities, including Oxford, England.
During the last nine years, he has has been professor of exilic and postmodernist literatures at the Centre for Comparative Literature of the University of Toronto. But he has always said that the best period of his teaching career belongs to the time after his his release from the Khomeini prison and expulsion from the University of Tehran in the eighties, when he started the training of young men and women of the new generation of Iranian writers first at the homes of his students and later in his Basement Workshop in his apartment. He feels proud that most of these young men and women have grown to hold outstanding positions in Contemporary Iranian literature, with more awards to their names than any other group of writers in the country. Baraheni is the winner of numerous literary and human rights awards from the U.S., Canada, Iran and other parts of the world. He was the President of PEN Canada from 2000-2002. He initiated during his presidency a fundamental change in the Charter of the International PEN which had been untouched since 1948.
Baraheni lives with his wife Sanaz Sehhati and their three sons in Toronto, Canada. Sehhati is the translator of the works of Lilian Hellman, Toni Morrison and Yerzy Kosinski into Persian. She teaches English in the Toronto area.
This lecture is part of the Center's Persian Lecture Series.