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Oppression prompted writer to leave Iran

| Sunday, March 2, 2014, 7:08 p.m.
BILL HUGHES
Moniro Ravanipour

The Iranian government didn't explicitly kick author Moniro Ravanipour out of her homeland, but she felt so miserable and oppressed under the fundamentalist sharia law that she felt compelled to leave.

“They didn't directly tell us to go into exile,” says Ravanipour, 60, who is coming to Pittsburgh on March 6 and 7 for a presentation. “They push us in such a way to put a lot of pressure on our shoulders in such a way that we couldn't tolerate it anymore.”

Ravanipour — author of books including “Ahl-e Ghargh” (The Drowned), “Del-e Fulad” (Heart of Steel), and “Kowli Kenar-e Atash” (Gypsy by Fire) — moved with her husband, Babak, and son Reza, now 17, to the United States in December 2006, when she began an International Writers Project fellowship at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

She lives in Las Vegas, where she was a resident writer at City of Asylum — a sanctuary for writers in exile and under threat in their home countries. Ravanipour will be a visiting writer-in-residence next week at the Ellis School, a private school for girls age 3 through grade 12 in Shadyside, and at City of Asylum Pittsburgh. She will give a public presentation at Ellis on March 6, and at the North Side-based City of Asylum on March 7.

With its repressive, fundamentalist Islamic law, Iran is not a good place for a creative writer — especially a female one, Ravanipour says. In her country, unmarried women suspected of sexual activity can be stoned, and although women can have only one husband, men can have several wives. Girls are held criminally responsible for their actions at age 9; whereas, boys aren't until they are 15. Speaking out against the totalitarian government, which tried to censor and ban her books, is forbidden.

“You have your own language if you can resist a totalitarian regime,” Ravanipour says. “When you can write, it means that you have your own language, and they don't want you to have your special language.”

Her short-story collections — “Satan's Stones” and “Kanizu” — are available in an English translation.

Now that she is living in America — which she calls “a beautiful country, a great country” — and plans to apply for citizenship next year, Ravanipour says she is “another woman.” She can write about previously forbidden topics like sex and love.

“When I came here, I was in the land of opportunity and freedom of speech,” she says. “That was the biggest challenge of my life. I still struggle with it.

“I came from another planet,” Ravanipour says. And now, “I don't have to explain myself to anybody.”

Moniro Ravanipour will talk about her life and writings from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 6 at the Ellis School Auditorium, 6425 Fifth Ave., Shadyside. She will do a public reception and reading at 7 p.m. March 7 at City of Asylum, 330 Sampsonia Way, North Side. Both events are free. Details: www.theellisschool.org or www.cityofasylumpittsburgh.org

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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