They Can’t Go Home Again

By Emily Gold Boutilier / May / June 2004
June 15th, 2007
On a Friday afternoon in March, fifty people gathered in an intimate room in the Watson Institute to hear five women talk about being writers and filmmakers in the Islamic world—a culture often denounced in the West as oppressive to women. One of the panelists, political refugee Shahrnush Parsipur, was imprisoned four times by the Iranian government for her writing and is now Brown’s first International Writing Fellow. “I began to write because I wanted to change the world,” said Parsipur, whose fiction and memoir are banned in her homeland, but available on the black market.

Filmmaker Shirin Neshat, an Iranian Muslim living in New York City, said she is divided between two worlds—Islamic and non-Islamic, Western and Eastern. Living in exile has defined her films, she continued, all of which somehow revolve around paradox and contradiction. “Once you identify yourself as a person in exile it never leaves you,” she said. “It becomes an integral aspect of the way you deal with the world. Forever I see everything in two parts.” The panelists answered questions from a lively audience, which included a local Egyptian woman and a male student whose parents are Iranian immigrants. The talk was part of a weeklong program called “Culture Shock: Honoring Women Writers and Artists from Islamic Societies,” sponsored by the Graduate Program in Literary Arts and the Watson Institute.

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May / June 2004