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 last 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. These articles are biographical stories that consider the lives of influential women in Iran.
She spent the early years of her life in a small, remote village in southern Iran, wondering at everything from the rural landscape to local myths and legends passed down the generations. She began to write under a pseudonym in the 1980s, in the tense days after the Islamic Revolution, when new prohibitions and censorship cast a shadow over Iranian literary culture. But in time, Moniro Ravanipour would become an internationally-acclaimed author and critic in exile: and one in whose fictional works, women take center stage.
Ravanipour was born in Bushehr province in 1952. She attended Shiraz Pahlavi University in 1972, initially studying chemistry before switching to psychology. But her early political critiques landed her in hot water: her first short story collection, published in 1977 and entitled The Sparrow and Mr. President, was immediately banned and removed from bookstore shelves.
In the early years after the Islamic Revolution, Ravanipour found herself banned from further study, while her brother was executed and her sister and husband were sentenced to death and fled Iran. While working at a factory in Tehran, Ravanipour lived under one fake name after another, before being arrested during a period random detentions of Iranian citizenry in 1983. While in prison, she decided to become a serious writer.
From 1985 Ravanipour turned her attention back to writing. She began by working on children’s books and screenplays, later producing a parable of the Iran-Iraq war written from the perspective of a martyr’s mother. They are known for their magic realism and for the behavioral complexity of the female characters, which critics suggest might be contributed to by her field of study.
In an interview with Voice of America, Ravanipour has said: “I was the first writer who portrayed a woman running after a man in my book Gypsy by the Fire. In all the stories up until then, there were only men who ran after women.” In her 1988 short story Kanizu [Maid], she speaks about forced prostitution and elsewhere, has portrayed the struggles of female writers.
From 1988 onwards Ravanipour published under her real name, and her subsequent books – of which there are now 10 – garnered such critical acclaim that she was invited to speak in 21 countries, including Germany, France and the United States.
Ravanipour’s appointments abroad continued to interrupt her home life in Iran. During the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, she was invited by the Heinrich Boll Foundation to speak at the 2000 Berlin Conference about political change in Iran, alongside 16 other reformist Iranian writers and speakers. But those who attended came under fire from conservatives both inside and outside the country, and on their return home were rounded up, interrogated and later put on trial for anti-Iran propaganda. As a result of this experience, Ravanipour penned the short story collection Frankfurt Airport’s Woman.
Ravanipour was also an early supporter of the 2006 campaign for One Million Signatures for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws, otherwise known as Change for Equality: a movement by women in Iran calling for legislative change to improve their situation. It ended with a crackdown on one of its rallies during the first year of Ahmadinejad’s presidency and the arrests of many of its members.
That same year, Ravanipour was offered citizenship in the United States, and emigrated in 2007. She gained a scholarship at Brown university and then at UNLV's Black Mountain Institute's City of Asylum as a visiting author for three years, and obtained her master's degree in Educational Sciences from the University of Indiana.
Ravanipour is now 67 years old and her works have variously been translated into Arabic, English, Chinese, French, German, Kurdish, Polish, Swedish and Turkish. Her ironic and critical approach is evident in her online blogging as well as her published works.
Her husband is Babak Takhti, son of the famous Iranian wrestler Gholamreza Takhti, who their son is named after. Moniro has repeatedly said that she despises censorship and openly writes about her personal and private life as well as her aspirations and past, and engages with her audience on these topics. She believes that in order to fight censorship, we should begin with ourselves.
In her interview with the Voice of America, she added: “I have seen many people who hide everything for fear of reputation and say nothing. On the contrary, I intend to ruin reputation so that nobody will fear it.”
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