Persian-Canadian Writers You've Got to Read

As I began writing what would become Fuse (a memoir of mental health and mixed-race identity) I became desperate to find Iranian Canadian voices to help ground and situate my own—a task that proved somewhat more difficult than I thought it would be.

Or should be.

After all, hundreds of thousands of Iranian people call Canada home, and Iran is the birthplace of Rumi, one of the most celebrated poets of all time. The Iranian people have created a fine, strong tradition of poetry, story-telling and literature. My father, much like the endearingly zealous father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, never let me forget this: Persian poetry is the most beautiful. The stories, the most compelling.

So, where were all the Persian Canadian writers? It turns out, here all along, but not as represented as one might hope; as they deserve to be.

This reading list is part of my attempt to bring more of the work of Persian-Canadian writers to light; to give people a taste of the organoleptic artistry that I feel is at the singular heart of so much of the Iranian writing.

Lezzat bebarid! Enjoy!

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Through the Sad Woods Our Corpses Will Hang, by Ava Farmehri

Ava Farmehri's Through the Sad Woods Our Corpses Will Hang is the staggering story of Sheyda Porrouya—a woman awaiting execution in Iran after being accused of killing her mother. Through her increasingly unreliable narrative, we readers are taken on an iridescent, erratic, shattering journey of freedom, imagination, love, and incarceration. 

Since its publication in 2017, Through the Sad Woods Our Corpses Will Hang has been translated into German and optioned for a movie.

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Me, You, Then Snow, by Khashayar Mohammadi

Khashayar Mohammadi’s full-length debut collection, Me, You, Then Snow showcases his mastery of style. Using cadence, wordplay, and an ability to cut to the quick of sentiment with a deft understanding of language and emotion.

Me, You, Then Snow is a dazzling exploration of the lonely, enchanting spaces between the tangible and intangible; the known and unknown.

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Book Cover Songs of Exile

Songs of Exile, by Banoo Zan

Songs of Exile is a collection of soul-expanding poems that explore the tenuous nature of longing and belonging. Zan defty explores the paradoxical heartache of longing for the Iran she was relieved to leave.

Her collection astounds, offering a perfect microdosing of politics grounded in metaphysical poetry and sparse, but unforgettably loaded language.

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Book Cover Intruder

Intruder, by Bardia Sinaee

The words of Bardia Sinaee don't as much spring to life in this collection as they do slide into perspective—and oftentimes, it’s a perspective we tend to relegate to the periphery.

Sinaee's equally frank and euphonious poetry explores physical, mental, and cultural illness and encourages us to consider what we can discover when we look at our lives not head-on, but slant.

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Divided Loyalities, by Nilofar Shidmehr

The stories in this remarkable debut collection by Nilofar Shidmerhr bring to mind the commonly touted fact that reading fiction creates empathy. Each story in Dividing Loyalties dives into the life of an Iranian woman, some, living in Iran, some, abroad, but all of them facing ruthless realities of oppression and alienation.

Equal measures of brutal intensity and nuanced psychological sensitivity bring Shidmehr's characters to life, making the stories difficult to read, and for that reason also more important to absorb.

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Book Cover For Love and Autonomy

Love and Automony, by Anahita Jamali Rad

Language as fierce, uncompromising resistance: this is a favourite aspect of Anahita Jamali Rad's collection of poems, Love and Autonomy. Jamali Rad inspects and rejects notions of belonging, social identification, marginalization, and the systems that make and break us.

Profound and powerful, these are poems that will linger in your head, long after you finish reading them.

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Breaking the Ocean, by Annahid Dashtgard

Like me, Dashtgard is a half-Iranian and half-white woman living in Canada. Her memoir, Breathtaking the Ocean, is a powerful recounting of her life, her conscious creation, and defense of her own identity and her emergence as an activist.

What she says hits so close to home and how she tells her story—with clarity, compassion, and confidence—is mesmerizing.

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Learn more about Fuse, by Hollay Ghadery:

Told in a series of lyric meditations on mixed-race identity and mental illness, half-Iranian, half-white writer Hollay Ghadery explores the fractured biracial experience. Poetic and at times, deeply unsettling, Fuse dissects damaging notions of identity, race, beauty, as well as the role nurture and nature play in how we become who we become—and if we can become who we truly are.

May 3, 2021
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