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Q&A with Salar Abdoh and Links from #LunchGlobally 3

Posted on May 06, 2020

Salar Abdoh at age 15 and today; translator and author Habibe Jafarian.

Thank you to the 30+ educators, librarians, nonprofit professionals, translators, and authors who took part in our second virtual Global Lunch, co-hosted with our partners at Re-imagining Migration. A special thanks to Iranian author, translator, and professor Salar Abdoh, who read aloud from a fantastic essay about coming to the U.S. as a teentook part in a Q&A (continuing below), and generously participated in the full session, later writing, It was a pleasure to be in a talk with these caring, lovely human beings. We couldn't agree more.

To briefly summarize his biography, Salar Abdoh’s last book was Tehran at Twilight. He lives in Tehran and in New York, where he teaches in the MFA program in Creative Writing at the City College of New York. His forthcoming book in September 2020 is Out of Mesopotamia

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More Q&A with Salar Abdoh

Christi Merrill of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor asked: 

I really resonated with many of the things you write about, especially the ways the punk scene offered an alternative community. (I had that in the 80s in DC) I wondered if you could say more about that, and also about writing (including about that part of your life) in Farsi. (I have to add that I found the translation really powerful!)

Salar replied: 

The Los Angeles punk rock scene of the early 1980's certainly was a 'home' of sorts for me. It was a world that also attracted a lot of other American youngsters who were drifting. In fact in an early 2001 essay in the Sunday NYTimes, titled Streetwise, I wrote about that time as well. Here is the link:

Framed poster from the Love and Rockets series, which chronicled the L.A. punk scene of the 80s -- Eds. Photo by Jennifer Yin, 2008.
It indeed was an 'alternative community' as you say, one that both brought warmth and terrible tragedy at times. I have often thought about revisiting those days in more detail, not only because of my own personal world at the time but because the raw energy of the punk rock scene of LA in that period was something seminal in American rock history and culture and I am glad to have been a small part of it.
In reference to your second question, I began being interested in publishing in Persian (or Farsi) about a decade ago when I became more and more involved with the literary community there and also journalism. Some of my essays, Like Hunger, were actually first published in Iran and for that audience at first in mind. Only later I brought it into the realm of English. There are reasons for that, which have to do with discourse I suppose, among other things. When I publish an essay over there it often happens that the work takes a life of its own. For instance, I was told that three days before our event with the wonderful Words Without Borders, Hunger was read out loud in Persian, in Iran, on national radio! This stunned me for a variety of reasons which I won't get into here. But the literal hunger for connections that people feel there is something that always draws me to keeping a large part of my life and writing in that world. Fortunately, I also have excellent working partners such as Habibe Jafarian, Iran's finest nonfictionist in my opinion, who translated the first draft of this essay into English before I edited it myself. Usually it is the other way around and I translate her works - works that are essential reading about Iran and I believe you can find at least two or more of them right on the WWB site.

Kathie O'Callaghan of Hearts and Homes for Refugees asked: Does Salar work with refugees and does he have any perspective to offer and share in this time of crisis?

Salar replied: 

Dear Kathie, I have not 'worked' with refugees, but they have been in my geography always. One of the examples of that is an essay that I provided to the photographs of the Kurdish photographer Baroj Akrayi in a piece titled Wars are Permanent Around Here. That was during the height of the ISIS war in Iraq & Syria where I often I found myself in location and inevitably ended up at various refugee camps, such as the one you will see in these photographs and my text alongside:
Or again more recently there was my essay, War has a Life of its Own, on the poetry of the great Syrian poet, Nouri al-Jarrah, and his heart-rending book of poems about the plight of his compatriots in the extraordinary collection, A Boat to Lesbos. I will paste that here for you as well:
Naturally I went back again to the reality of refugees in my new book, Out of Mesopotamia, because writing about combat and war I was constantly brushing against the enormity of the refugee issue in our world. One of my main concerns now is the maltreatment and injustice that refugees receive in countries that they must pass through even before they have a ghost of a chance to get to the West - if they get to the West at all. I believe there should be a lot more work done on this misfortune. On an individual basis, I have tried to help refugees get to their various 'destinations,' but in recent years I have seen, as you well know, so many doors unfortunately firmly close.
Afghan refugees in Iran.
Three young men, Afghan refugees in Iran -- Eds. By EU/ECHO Pierre Prakash, 2013.
Interested in joining us next timeGet an invite to our next virtual lunch on Monday, May 18th, when we'll look at cartoonist Akino Kondoh's charming series Noodling in New York

Resources from #LunchGlobally 3, May 4th, with Salar Abdoh
 Links from Re-Imagining & WWB Campus 
Links from Participants