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I was born in February 1957 in Shiraz. From the early years of youth when children still do not know that the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is inconsequential and insignificant, I had seriously responded: “I want to become a writer.” And to this end, because I knew I would read literature on my own, I chose political science as my major at the university, hoping not to become a writer unaware of what befalls and has befallen the world around him.

I wrote for years, without anyone knowing and without wanting anyone to read; and for years without guidance I read, and I read a wealth of bad books until I learned how to distinguish a good book … And throughout these years, exactingly, I suppressed the temptation of publishing the toil of my inexperience, waiting for a time when itself would suggest that its time has arrived.

In the days of the 1979 revolution I was there in many scenes, I was a witness, because I knew, and it was my personal edict, that the writer must be present everywhere — wherever man’s life is plowed in injustice and blood, wherever man’s life finds a brief chance for joy; wherever there is a sob, a scream, a wail, and wherever there may be laughter — so that the word ‘anguish,’ so that the word ‘joy,’ become engraved in his flesh. And so, at the onset of the Iran-Iraq war, I joined the military and following the training period, although I was assigned to an instructional regiment in the “Shiraz Infantry,” in my own town, I volunteered for duty at the front. And as a non-career officer, for more than eighteen months, in the 191 Infantry, on different fronts along the western border, I saw war and became acquainted with life and death.

In the slow and lingering hours of hot summer days, and the freezing nights of the snow-covered mountains of the west, in cement trenches or holes dug in earth and stone — despondent and alone, with a film of dust or at times of lice covering my body—I accustomed myself to writing, in the light of a paraffin lantern, awaiting the hour when our share of mortar shells would come. If a 120mm Mortar—that a gentle wind, or a grit of sand beneath the support of its barrel, would determine its direction—landed over the trench, it would grind our flesh, and if it exploded nearby, it would be a close smoky reminder of another chance for life … And I would write and listen to the sound of the firing of enemy mortars.They traveled for no more than a few seconds, and in that short interval, I had at most the time to write one word, and this one word was all of my existence, and all of my strength and weakness. It was from this one word that I would grasp the significance of a word, and it was with this one word that I would come close, fearful and frenzied, to touching the dusty fingers of sublime prose …

Each time a bullet or a piece of shrapnel passed close to my body, each time I rediscovered the existence of my legs after a reconnaissance mission through a mine field, and each time the best soldiers, my friends, my fist on their bleeding wound, screamed out my name, and demanded their life from my helplessness, with anguish, apprehension and shameful relief at being alive, I grasped the beauty and splendor of life …

After the end of my military duty, I was enormously fortunate for the first reader and critic of my stories to have been Houshangh Golshiri. By this time, I had learned the flairs, forms and styles of the story, but from the critiques of this great writer of my land, I learned of the flight of imagination in the golden folds of the story.A lesson that on my own, I would have squandered years to learn …

And so, with the assistance of Golshiri, my first story was published in the magazine Majaleh Mofeed. I will not forget my feelings when I first saw my story in print on the newsprint stock of a magazine.On the sidewalk of the KarimKhan-e Zand Street in Tehran, the setting sun, the asphalt, the dust covered trees, the pedestrians, all were no longer as they had been. Every so often I would glance at a man or a woman thinking that perhaps he or she has read my story; that if they have read it, then we are no longer strangers to one another. And this, this very feeling that in the mind of that man or woman, now exist my words, and the characters of my story, and the sorrow that drove me to write – the sorrow that I have felt for the life, words and death of Mr. Farvaaneh, protagonist of my first published story – made the world seem new and unfamiliar and compassionate …

And from then on, I knew that my emergence from the hiding place I had in anonymity had begun, and I knew that from then on, the safety of being unknown, and the security of being amongst the general public, I would lose word by word.

 Nakedness had begun …

The first collection of my stories, titled Shadows of the Cave, was published in 1989. And the second, The Eighth Day of the Earth, in 1992 … And then, although I continued to write in the years that followed, I was not published again until 1997, and my handwritten works, waiting for a chance to come to life, gathered dust. Because of the difficulties of publishing and printing in Iran, at times my writings would pass from the hands of one publisher—whose license had been revoked—to the hands of the next; at times a publisher would not even have the courage to submit my novel to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for approval; and at times my book would fall captive to the Office of Censorship, and for words and phrases that from their perspective were problematic it would be rejected and returned to the publisher.  Finally, in 1997, following the May 23 election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, four of my books were published one or two years apart; so was a long story I had written for children …

During these years I was also engaged in librarianship, an occupation that I enjoy not only because of my love of books, but as a realization of a duty that seems to be upon us all to, even to a small degree, do our share for the advancement of the wounded and forlorn culture of our land. (And that under circumstances where the average reading habit among us Iranians is sadly very low ...)

I am married. And now father to Baaraan, born in 1983, and Daniel, born in 1993; and of fatherhood too I am very proud. The same is true of my family to whom I am indebted for their kindness and support: My father, mother and my wonderful sisters … And of course, I envy my wife her patience; for years she has endured life with the bitterness and severity of a man like me …

 I had always hoped that Shiraz—where the core of Persian culture was once in its proximity—would be home to a literary magazine, and together with my friends, we had on several occasions struggled to this end. In our last effort, following the publication of the first edition of a magazine titled Sarv, it was banned and shut down. However, in 1999 I took on, and continue to hold, the position of editor-in-chief of a literary and arts magazine titled Asr-e Pandjshanbeh (Thursday Evening); its seventieth edition is currently in print. …

I vividly recall the first time I set out to write. And that, that was the day in fourth grade, an autumn morning, when I decided to write my school composition myself, instead of my mother. In the garden of the house, on a carpet, under the caress of the gentle sun of Shiraz, I started to write “Describe the Season of Autumn” … And still the wonder and even the slight fear of discovering my ability to write and to bring forth words that I never thought would come easily to me remains in my heart. In accordance to the liking of the teachers, and their teachings, with impassioned words and outward beauty, I wrote of the yellow and orange leaves that fell dancing from the trees, I wrote of the song of the shepherd’s flute, and of the innocent sheep who happily grazed, and I wrote of how beautiful the golden rays of sun are upon the golden wheat field, and in similar vein I wrote of the waves in the wheat field from the wind,and I wrote that the wheat field is forgivingly ready to be harvested … and yet again I wrote of these that I had written, and I was sure that for the first time I would receive an excellent grade in composition. Therefore, courageously I volunteered to read my composition, and just as I reached the sentence about the wheat having turned golden, the teacher growled: “Lad! Wheat does not turn golden in autumn,” and again I read and again as soon as I read that the wheat field is ready for harvest, again the teacher yelled: “Ignorant boy, the wheat field is not harvested in autumn,” … and he penned a low grade at the bottom of the composition of my hope and pride and sent me to my chair with a lump in my throat … I know that much time has passed since that day, and how very many wheat fields have been harvested before autumn, and how very many wheat fields have gone toward spring,but of that pleasant autumn day, I still continue to write, so that I bring my own small wheat field to harvest in autumn.

 (Whether golden or not, infested or healthy, sparse or bountiful … whatever it is, it is a wheat field that I myself have created.)

 Thus, my years have passed in writing and my writings, and likewise they will probably continue to pass. When I glance at my past, I have no regrets for the path that I have chosen and the way that I have lived –– with all its pain and sorrow … I also feel untroubled and content, except for times when I remember how greatly I have been injured by all the bitter and oppressive obstacles that shorten the life of a writer, and because I could have written more, and more sagely, and I did not


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© 2018 Shahriar Mandanipour