Iranian novelist Shahrnush Parsipur, the 2003 – 2004 IWP Fellow, born in Tehran, Iran, in 1946, is no stranger to political opposition. A feminist who writes about hot-button issues like lousy marriages and female virginity, Parsipur has seen all of her books – eight works of fiction and a memoir – banned in her native land. She’s been imprisoned for her writings four times, once for nearly five years, from 1981 to 1986.
Parsipur’s writing career began in 1974 with the publication of her first novel, The Dog and the Long Winter, in which a tradition-bound young woman encounters the revolutionary activism of her brother and his friends. Parsipur’s later works, like Touba and the Meaning of the Night (1989) and Women Without Men (1989), a title alluding to Ernest Hemingway’s Men Without Women, openly explore the condition of women in Iran. Parsipur’s characters speak unabashedly of women’s sexual oppression, ridicule chastity, and express their resistance to Iran’s male-dominated culture. In Women Without Men, a novel composed of interwoven stories about several different women, for example, Zarrinkolah, a 26-year old prostitute, begins to see her customers as men without heads. In another chapter, a fifty-one year old married woman, Forrokhlaqua, punches her emotionally abusive husband in the stomach, sending him head over heels down a flight of stairs to his death. Indeed, Women Without Men was considered provocative enough in Iran that it landed Parsipur in prison twice in 1990 and 1991.
Parsipur wrote Touba and the Meaning of Night during her long imprisonment in the 1980s. The novel became a national bestseller in Iran when it was published in 1989; an English-language version has been published by the Feminist Press. Her Prison Memoirs, which recounts Parsipur’s prison experience, was published in Sweden in 1996.
Now a political refugee, Parsipur has lived in the U.S. since 1994, when she received a Lillian Hellman/Dashiell Hammett Award from the Fund for Free Expression. In 2003, she became the first recipient of Brown’s International Writers Project Fellowship, sponsored by the Program in Literary Arts and the Watson Institute for International Studies.