Global and Iranian history are both closely intertwined with the lives and destinies of prominent figures. Every one of them has laid a brick on history’s wall, sometimes paying the price with their lives, men and women alike. Women have been especially influential in the past 200 years, writing much of contemporary Iranian history.

In Iran, women have increased public awareness about gender discrimination, raised the profile of and improved women’s rights, fought for literacy among women, and promoted the social status of women by counteracting religious pressures, participating in scientific projects, being involved in politics, influencing music, cinema… And so the list goes on.

This series aims to celebrate these renowned and respected Iranian women. They are women who represent the millions of women that influence their families and societies on a daily basis. Not all of the people profiled in the series are endorsed by IranWire, but their influence and impact cannot be overlooked. The articles are biographical stories that consider the lives of influential women in Iran.

IranWire readers are invited to send in suggestions for how we might expand the series. Contact IranWire via email ([email protected]), on Facebook, or by tweeting us.

 

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It has been 49 years since a large group of Iranian literary and artistic figures, dressed in all black, gathered at Tehran’s Zahiroddoleh cemetery to bury 32-year-old poet Forough Farrokhzad.

Farrokhzad was killed in a traffic accident. For many Iranians alive at the time, the memory is still painful even today. She is still talked about, especially in artistic circles, seen as a vital female poet who took remarkable steps for women and for literature. Her poems are still regularly reviewed and analyzed. Her books continue to be reprinted, and documentaries are still made about her and her work. People still share memories of her.

The short life of Forough Farrokhzad had a great impact on the country’s poetic heritage, and she is still in the vanguard of modern Persian poetry. She was only 17 when her first poetry collection was published; two more had been published by the time she was 23.

Farrokhzad was born in 1935 in Amirieh, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Tehran. She was the third of seven children. Her father was an army colonel and her mother a homemaker. She was only 16 when she married Parviz Shapur, a well-known humorist who worked with the highly successful satire magazine Towfighi. He had been a neighbor and a relative of the poet’s mother. They had one son, Kamiar, but their marriage did not last: they were divorced after two years, in 1954. Their correspondence, which began before their marriage and continued after their separation, was published under the title My Heart’s First Love Palpitations.

The Captive, her first collection of poems, was published a year after their separation, in 1955. Many conservative members of Iran’s patriarchal society responded negatively to her poetry, which was considered by many to be feminist. Not long after the publication, she had a nervous breakdown.

In 1956, Farrokhzad published her second volume of poetry, The Wall, which she dedicated to her ex-husband.

In 1958, she travelled to Europe and spent nine months touring the continent. After returning to Iran, she found a job with Golestan Film Studio, owned by Ebrahim Golestan, the avant garde Iranian writer and filmmaker. Farrokhzad was first hired as a secretary but little by little, she learned to edit films. She wrote plays, translated plays and appeared on stage in a play directed by Pari Saberi.

Many critics believe that Farrokhzad’s working relationship with Golestan led to a change in her poetry, and saw the poet becoming more liberated in expressing herself. In particular, critics point to her poetry collections Another Birth and Let Us Believe In The Beginning Of The Cold Season, which were published after Farrokhzad began working at the film studio.

In 1963, she directed The House Is Black, a short documentary about a leper colony in Tabriz, the provincial capital of East Azarbaijan. The film received complimentary reviews in various international festivals. The Oberhausen International Short Film Festival in Germany awarded it the title “best documentary.”

But for Farrokhzad, The House Is Black was more than a film or a prize. After working on the project, she adopted a boy named Hossein Mansouri, who lived with his parents in the leper colony and appeared in scenes in the documentary. After her death, he emigrated first to London and then to Germany. He studied sociology, but his short time with Forough Farrokhzad led to his own interest in poetry. Today, Mansouri is a poet and a translator of poetry.

In 1963, UNESCO produced a 30-minute film movie about the poet. Italian movie director Bernardo Bertolucci traveled to Iran to interview her, and later produced a short film about the her life and work.

Fereydoon, Forough’s younger brother, grew up to become a singer, lyricist, comedian, and a successful TV show host. He was detained for a short period following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and later moved Germany, where he completed a Ph.D. in political science. He remained a supporter of the monarchy after the revolution and was murdered in Bonn in 1992. The crime has never been solved, but many believe that it was the work of the Islamic Republic.

“When Forough’s poems were published in magazines,” Fereydoon said at an event commemorating his sister, “many attacked her with curse words and accused her of being a harlot because in her poetry she talked about things that the patriarchal society of the time would not accept from a woman. Even some intellectuals insulted her. But Forough did not retreat. She would say ‘don’t call me a woman poet. I am a poet and if a male poet can talk about love, so can I.”

Forough Farrokhzad’s poems have been translated into many languages including English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Uzbek and Turkish.

After the Islamic Revolution, several of her books were banned, but the underground market for her work still thrives, and both her contemporaries and younger generations gravitate to her writing.

Given the subject matter and content of much of her poetry, it is not surprising that she continues to be revered. Her words are more relevant — and more feared by those in a position of authority, some would say — than ever before:

To My Sister

Sister, rise up after your freedom,
Why are you quiet?
Rise up because henceforth
You have to imbibe the blood of tyrannical men.

Seek your rights, Sister,
From those who keep you weak,
From those whose myriad tricks and schemes
Keep you seated in a corner of the house.

How long will you be the object of pleasure
In the harem of men's lust?
How long will you bow your proud head at his feet
Like a benighted servant?

 

Also in the series:

50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Jinous Nemat Mahmoudi

50 Iranian Women you Should Know: Simin Behbahani

 

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