She was arrested, pushed to the ground, humiliated and taken into custody for attending an anti-war rally? Did she do anything wrong? Nothing. Was she given a phone call? No.
Sitting in silence, Goushegir’s audience listened intently as she read from her one-act play, “My Name is Inanna,” a story not uncommon to middle-eastern people living in the United States. This is one of many stories, Iranian exile, playright, Ezzat Goushegir was born to tell.
Captive, her audience sits on stools, at the bar, even cross-legged on the floor of the KGB Bar in Noho last night, silently watching Goushegir reveal how a courageous Iranian woman’s sense of self is challenged by American social standards and rules, in a prison and in a beauty store. The mask that her character Inanna wears in the beauty store and in the questioning room is the same, doing what she is told and trying not to cause trouble. These scenes bring to mind the questions: how has Inanna’s life changed in America? Does she truly have more freedom here? The irony of a woman exiled from post-revolutionary Iran only to be arrested at an anti-war demonstration is felt heavily in a room full of 1960’s activists, intellectuals and fellow Iranian exiles. Goushegir goes on to account for the fears that might infect someone’s mind as the clock ticks by and she waits and waits for the police officer to return.
When asked during the question and answer session, Goushegir admitted that the play was based on a compilation of stories from many Iranian people and their experiences and perceptions as a foreigner living in the United States. She said that most Iranians living in America fear being imprisoned at one point in their lives.
Censorship is also a point of concern for both authors. Rachlin, author of Persian Girls and the opening reader, discussed the difficulty of getting her work read in Iran. She says that censorship of anything immoral is strong right now. Both writers agreed that during the Shah’s rule, there was also censorship but it was more about not discussing anything negative about the government or how the country was run. Rachlin said that made it impossible to share even the most basic realistic details of life in Iran such as the cockroaches scurrying down the alley. Due to censorship and other inequities in Iran, both authors touch on protests in America during the 1960s. One man commented that the Iranian students he knew in NYC opened his eyes to the situation in Iran and difficulties people were facing there.
If you happen to be in Chicago and Goushegir is reading “My Name is Inanna”, be sure to see her performance. It will leave you speechless. There are no upcoming readings scheduled yet. Rachlin
Goushir is a playwright, short story writer, theatre critic and poet. Her published work includes: The Woman, the ROOM, and Love and … And suddenly the panther cried: WOMAN, collections of short stories in Farsi; “The Sulking Sunflower”, Stylus, “Medea was born in Fallujah”, Exile in America, Now Smile, Crawdad, English translations of short stories for literary journals, Migration in the Sun, a book of poetry, and Metamorphosis and Maryam’s Pregnancy, Two plays, a book of plays. She has won a Richard Maibaum award and a Norman Felton award for her plays. Goushegir is currently a Creative Writing and Iranian Studies professor at DePaul University in Chicago. She recently read “My Name is Inanna” at Women and Theatre Program (WTP) Conference, Confronting the Silence: Building Bridges of Engagement, in July 30, 2008 at El Centro Su Teatro in Denver-Colorado. She also actively contributes to literary journals.
Rachlin, a novelist and short story writer, is well-known for her memoir, Persian Girls and four novels, Jumping Over the Fire, Foreigner, Married to a Stranger and The Heart’s Desire. Rachlin is a winner of the Bennet Cerf Award, PEN Syndicated Fiction Project Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Her work has been published in Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, Farsi, Arabic. Rachlin currently teaches at the New School University and Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y. She also is an Associate Fellow at Yale.
Aside: As I’m so close to the center of a major metropolitan hub for writers and intellectuals, my plan is to try to attend a reading or lecture a week so I can share news on great new authors and people to watch in politics, business, art, etc. to my friends and former colleagues throughout the world.
Comment from Joel Simpson: jsspoto.verizon.net-Thank you for this sensitive review of Ezzat Goushegir and Rachid Nachlin’s readings last month. It’s very gratifying to know that their respective messages were received and deeply appreciated.