Azar Nafisi is a lifelong champion and ardent supporter of the importance of humanities and liberal arts and the role they play in the preservation and promotion of democracy. She is best known as the author of the national bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003), which spent over 117 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has been translated in 32 languages.
Between 1997 and 2017, Azar Nafisi was a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., where she was a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, and taught courses on the relation between culture and politics. She was also director of The Dialogue Project & Cultural Conversations. She studied in the United States in the 1970s and earned her Ph.D. at University of Oklahoma. She returned to Iran and taught at the University of Tehran, and in 1981 she was expelled for refusing to wear the mandatory Islamic veil. She did not resume teaching until 1987. She taught at the Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabai, and then held a fellowship at Oxford University.
Nafisi has been consulted on issues related to Iran and human rights both by the policy makers and various human rights organizations in the United States and elsewhere. In 2011, she was awarded the Cristóbal Gabarrón Foundation International Thought and Humanities Award for her “determined and courageous defense of human values in Iran and her efforts to create awareness through literature about the situation women face in Islamic society.” She also received the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate Award. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from Mt. Holyoke College (2012), Seton Hill University (2010), Goucher College (2009), Bard College (2007), and Nazareth College. She was recently named a Georgetown University/Walsh School of Foreign Service 2018-2019 Centennial Fellow.
Nafisi has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic. She has published a children’s book, BiBi and the Green Voice (2006), and is author of a memoir about her mother titled, Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter (2009). Additionally, she wrote The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books (2014), a powerful and passionate case for the vital role of imagination and ideas in democratic nations today to combat the rise of authoritarian states.
Azar Nafisi’s book on Vladimir Nabokov, That Other World, was published in June 2019. She is currently exploring the power of literature in traumatic times in her new forthcoming book, entitled, Read Dangerously: The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times (August 2021). Azar Nafisi lives in Washington, D.C.
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