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AZAR NAFISI Azar Nafisi, in your work and in your life, you have been a passionate advocate for human rights—for the right to think, the right to imagine, and the right to celebrate life. As the daughter of a former mayor of Tehran and of one of the first women to be elected to the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, you have had a special reverence for, and significant connection to, your country. Although you left Iran at age 13 to pursue your education abroad, you returned in 1979 with a doctorate in English and American literature, to teach at the University of Tehran. While you initially supported the Islamic Revolution that occurred shortly after your return, you soon felt stifled by the strict theocracy that ensued. Believing that every person has the right to choose whether or how to worship God, you Azar Nafisi refused to wear the government-mandated veil. While the veil had been a symbol of faith, you saw it becoming a symbol of force, and your refusal to be controlled in this manner led to your expulsion from the university in 1981. It wasn’t until 1987 that you began teaching once again, at the Free Islamic Azad University and Allameh Tabatabaii. But still, you felt your freedom threatened by the restrictions imposed on women by the ayatollahs, and you left the teaching profession in 1995 because of increased scrutiny by authorities. Because you believe in the transformative power of literature and know that it can be a liberating and healing force for the oppressed, you were determined to continue teaching in some capacity. You set up a private reading group, in which seven of your best female students dared to explore “subversive” Western novels, such as Lolita, The Great Gatsby, and Pride and Prejudice. You knew the plight of women in your country, and through literature, you found a way to help them connect with themselves and one another, to resist the tyranny of a government attempting to silence them, and to communicate with the outside world. In June 1997, you left Iran and moved to the United States, where you wrote Reading Lolita in Tehran, based on your personal experiences leading that surreptitious reading group. This acclaimed memoir spent more than 117 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has been translated into 32 languages. It has won numerous literary awards. You continue to encourage students to explore their imaginations as a visiting professor and the executive director of cultural conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., where you teach aesthetics, culture, and literature, and ponder the relationship between culture and politics. You have also lectured and written extensively in English and Farsi on the political implications of literature and culture, as well as the human rights of Iranian women and girls and the important role they play in the movement for pluralism and an open society in Iran. Your newest book, Things I Have Been Silent About: Memories, was published in January 2009, and you are working on a book titled Republic of the Imagination, about the power of literature to liberate minds and people. Azar Nafisi, you are an extraordinary woman who celebrates and fights for the voice of the individual. We are honored to have you with us today, and to present to you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa.


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