A poetry triple header

Three Michener Center alumni—whose ties date back to birth and their undergraduate days— have debut poetry collections out and will read from their work at BookPeople at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 25. The poets are: Matthew and Michael Dickman, and Michael McGriff.

Twin poets Matthew and Michael Dickman beat long odds to both earn admission to the Michener Center’s graduate program in 2002, and they have gone on to curiously parallel successes.

Both landed first book deals at Copper Canyon Press. Matthew’s “All American Poem” released last September won the American Poetry Review Honickman First Book Prize in Poetry. While Michael’s “The End of the West” is due out this spring. Between them, five of their poems have been published by The New Yorker during the past nine months, an incredible track record for any writer.

The Dickmans met fellow poet Michael McGriff as undergraduates at the University of Oregon, and McGriff followed the Dickmans to the Michener Center in 2003. In his final year at Texas, McGriff received a distinguished Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship, and after graduation, a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford, where he currently is a Jones Lecturer.

MCGriff’s debut collection “Dismantling the Hills” won the Agnes Starrett Lynch Prize and was published by University of Pittsburgh Press last fall. He was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant for 2009.

Law Professor to Discuss "The Preemption War" at BookPeople

University of Texas law professor Tom McGarity will be at BookPeople this Saturday, Feb. 7, at 3 p.m. to discuss and sign his latest book, “The Preemption War: When Federal Bureaucracies Trump Local Juries” (Yale University Press, 2008).

McGarity, a regulatory law expert, says most consumers would be surprised to learn that the doors to the local courthouses are in jeopardy of being closed to them if they have been injured by a defective product, sickened by contaminated food, or disabled by an inadequately tested drug or medical device.

“The ones responsible for this injustice are not our local judges or legislators. They are faceless bureaucrats in the federal regulatory agencies who are supposed to be protecting us, but in recent years have been more concerned with protecting the industries they regulate,” McGarity said.

At the book signing, McGarity will explain how this has happened and what the Obama administration and Congress can do about it.

Michener Alum Reads at BookPeople Tonight

Texas Monthly’s new editor Jake Silverstein, a 2006 graduate of UT’s Michener Center for Writers, will read at BookPeople at 7 p.m., Jan. 20 from “Submersion Journalism: Reporting in the Radical First Person from Harper’s Magazine” (New Press, 2008).

The collection features 15 pieces of inside-out reportage by Silverstein and other cutting-edge journalists such as Barbara Ehrenreich, William T. Vollmann, Charles Bowden, Jay Kirk and Wells Trevor.  

“A piece I wrote on high-stakes poetry gambling is in the book,” Silverstein says. “This won’t be the most exciting thing to happen in America on Jan. 20, but I can promise that it will be short, funny, and there will be at least one good inauguration joke.”

Before joining Texas Monthly, Silverstein was a contributing editor at Harper’s. His journalism has been featured in Best American Travel Writing and won the 2007 PEN/USA Journalism Award.

Grad Student Publishes Memoir of Growing Up in Iran

After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini’s secret police executed and imprisoned tens of thousands of dissidents in a sweeping attempt to destroy all opposition to the regime.

UT doctoral student Nastaran Kherad was one of many who were imprisoned after the revolution.

More than 20 years after her brutal incarceration and flight from Iran, she has decided to share her story in the memoir “In the House of My Bibi: Growing Up in Revolutionary Iran” (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2008).

Born in Abadan, Iran, Kherad was raised by her maternal grandmother, Bibi, a gifted storyteller and wise woman of the local community. But as she grows up, Kherad feels the pull of the modern world, represented in the ideals of her brother Mohammad, a political activist.

After her brother is imprisoned and placed on death row by the Ayatollah’s government, the secret police mount a search Kherad, accusing her of sympathizing with the anti-revolutionary movement.

At the age of 18, Kherad makes the choice to turn herself in, believing it will help reduce her brother’s sentence to life in prison.

Nastaran Kherad

Nastaran Kherad

Instead, Kherad was tortured and imprisoned for a year in the women’s cellblock of Adelabad Prison. Her brother Mohammad was eventually executed for his political beliefs.

“In the House of My Bibi” offers a powerful account of Kherad’s imprisonment, juxtaposed with the peaceful memories of her childhood that sustained her during her ordeal.

In the following interview, she reveals why she decided to tell her story, what it means to live in exile, and her hopes for the future of Iran.

Q: Why did you decide to write “In the House of My Bibi”?

A: “In the House of My Bibi” is a tribute to my maternal grandmother, and to my older brother, Mohammad, who was arrested for his liberal ideals, tortured and executed after 28 months of brutal imprisonment, at age 24.

All I left Iran with was my memories, which haunted me quietly wherever I went. When my grandmother died in 1996 and I wasn’t able to return to Iran and say my farewell, it seemed that suddenly the old wounds opened and the pain gushed through me all over again.

The only way I could cope was through writing, seeking, perhaps, solace and reconciliation. Writing, at that stage, was a form of mourning in ink. I had to write and tell my story on paper to keep my brother’s memory alive, and many people like him whose only crime was demanding the basic human right: freedom.

Q: What do you hope readers will learn from your story?

A: Today Iran is considered an Islamic country in the Middle East, a much controversial and misunderstood country in the West, yet one of the most ancient civilizations of the world. My hope is that “In the House of My Bibi” will help many curious readers who wish to explore Iran and to understand its recent history, its people, its culture, and its politics.

By telling my story of struggle and survival, I also hope to depict Iranians’ struggle for justice and democracy, especially women’s resistance against an oppressive regime, with the hope of furthering justice and liberty for those still suppressed and subjugated.

Q: What helped you get through your imprisonment? Did you always have hope you would be released?

A: Being imprisoned as a political prisoner who has no rights whatsoever, and under such tentative, horrifying conditions, one does not know what will happen next. With the thought of death hanging over your head at all times, one does not have much choice but to live life day-by-day and even hour-to-hour. Your verdict could change and be increased, for instance, from one year to 10 years if the prison guards were displeased with your attitude.

What kept me sane was seeing many others in prison who had to suffer much worse than I, and it seemed that my sufferings were nothing in comparison to theirs. By the time I was released from prison, in addition to my brother, six of my cousins and relatives, all under age 25, were already executed. So, maybe that had an effect on the prison official’s decision in letting me go. I guess God had mercy on my mother who had already buried her young son.

Q: What is your favorite memory of your grandmother?

A: What I cherished the most was our time spent over the rooftop under the stars on the summer nights. I loved and value so much her sense of compassion and respect for others regardless of what social class and background or ethnic group they belonged to. My grandmother was a natural storyteller who had a wealth of oral history, which she shared generously with so many around her.

There are so many beautiful memories, but what I always love to remember is her easy laughter and her chubby, high cheekbones and the way she always reminded me in her beautiful idiom: “babam, it doesn’t matter what others decide to do, you choose to be good!”

Q: You had a special relationship with your brother Mohammad—what do you cherish the most about his life and memory?

A: I don’t even know who I would have been without my brother Mohammad. I look back and feel so blessed to have known someone like him. He was very protective of me, kind to everyone, and compassionate and sensitive towards the deprived and the oppressed. He opened a new world of ideas to me and introduced me to literature and art.

He had such great sense of justice from early on. If my grandmother taught me to see the world with an intelligent eye, Mohammad taught me to stand up for justice and what is righteous. I am not nearly as brave as he was, and I always think of him when I find myself helpless in a situation and seek his strength.

Q: Do you consider yourself to be living in exile? If so, what does it mean to be an exile?

A: Since I cannot go to my native country, Iran, for fear of the government, I feel very much in exile. But even before leaving Iran, I felt marginalized and exiled in my own home country. Because of my political beliefs, and the fact that I was imprisoned, I was banned from attending the university or working in public businesses.

After my release, I felt the watchful eyes of Revolutionary guards everywhere. Before long, I among thousands and thousands of other dissidents, were forced to seek exile. Torn apart from my own culture and language, I began a new life in the West.

Since leaving Iran in 1986, I have experienced an unremitting life of migration and at times a sense of loss and displacement. But, I believe that living in exile has its advantages, it offers the individual a profound sense of growth, compassion for all, and a worldly outlook.

Q: What do you think is the future of Iran under the current regime?

A: I must have asked myself this question a thousand times. In the past 30 years the government has managed to eradicate the entire opposition groups, imprison and execute thousands of young people, and brutally crush the student movement. The Iranian people have become impoverished, and the Iranian government continues to violate human rights.

My only hope is that there would be concrete and constructive changes within the country through the young people, intellectuals, and academics. I also hope that Western nations will help the Iranian people achieve freedom and democracy, and hold the Iranian government accountable for violating human rights. The Iranian people deserve to live a peaceful, democratic life.

After fleeing to the United States in 1990, Nastaran Kherad earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree at California State University. She is now a doctoral student in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, focusing on Persian studies and exile literature.

Kherad will discuss and sign copies of “In the House of My Bibi” at 7 p.m., Jan. 14 at BookPeople. Visit www.nastarankherad.com for more details.

“Dream City” Novelist at BookPeople

Michener Center graduate Brendan Short (MFA ’05) will be at BookPeople this Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. to read from his debut novel, “Dream City” (MacAdam/Cage, 2008).

Set in Depression-era Chicago, “Dream City” tells the story of a young boy’s obsession with comic book heroes, and his life-long attempt to recapture the innocence of his childhood.

Library Journal called the novel “an impressively mature first effort..complex and compelling…Highly recommended” in its Aug. 15 review. Check out more reviews of “Dream City” at Short’s Web site.

"Dream City" Novelist at BookPeople

Michener Center graduate Brendan Short (MFA ’05) will be at BookPeople this Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. to read from his debut novel, “Dream City” (MacAdam/Cage, 2008).

Set in Depression-era Chicago, “Dream City” tells the story of a young boy’s obsession with comic book heroes, and his life-long attempt to recapture the innocence of his childhood.

Library Journal called the novel “an impressively mature first effort..complex and compelling…Highly recommended” in its Aug. 15 review. Check out more reviews of “Dream City” at Short’s Web site.