2022/ 2023

Fatemeh Shams

EUME-CNMS Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 2021-23

Portraits of Exile in Persian Literary Tradition

Previous Fellowships: 2021/ 2022, 2020/ 2021, 2019/ 2020

is Assistant Professor of Modern Persian Literature at University of Pennsylvania. Her area of expertise includes literary production under authoritarian states, the social history of modern Persian literature, ideology and literary production. She is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning poet with three poetry collections. Her third collection, When They Broke Down the Door, won the Latifeh Yarshater annual book award in 2017. Her first monograph, A Revolution in Rhyme: Poetic Co-Option Under the Islamic Republic has been published by Oxford University Press. In the academic years 2021-2023, she is a EUME-CNMS Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

2021/ 2022

Portraits of Exile in Persian Literary Tradition

In its conventional sense, exile is a phenomenon symbiotic with nationalism, the idea of homeland and identity. A direct link between nationalist ideologies, exile and literature can be clearly drawn in a great number of countries throughout the twentieth century and has been the subject of numerous scholarly works – from the German genre of Exilliteratur, to writing from Italy, the Eastern Bloc, Turkey and over to Iran, Israel/Palestine, and the Arab states. The full complexity and nuance of exilic experience beyond official geographical displacement has, however, remained under-explored. As our wider understanding of exile grows to incorporate forms of sociological displacement and otherness, so must our analysis of the expression of these layered experiences in culture, language and literature. What does it mean to not feel ‘at home’ in one’s homeland? How does that impact creative output? Must a writer be expelled from their country to qualify as an exilic writer? How does uprooted-ness in geography impact literary expression? What happens to a writer’s relationship with language in a bi-lingual and multi-lingual context? Where do we place exophonic writings, in the literary tradition of the language they are written in or the language they long for or channel? How does the category of ‘exilic’ literature differ from ‘diasporic’ or ‘refugee’?

Portraits of Exile in Persian Literary Tradition is a book that Shams had been thinking about for the better part of a decade. In her first book, A Revolution in Rhyme: Official Poets of the Islamic Republic (Oxford University Press, 2020), she treats the relationship between literature, ideology and nation-building in Iran with particular focus on the past forty years. Her main focus was on the state-sponsored poets and their role in the production of ‘state-sponsored literature.’ The poets who were ‘included’ in the circle of power and were considered as an ‘insider’ (khodi) were the subject matter this work. Her second book project builds up on her first book by focusing on the alternate crowd, those writers who have not been part of the state ideological apparatus for various reasons. Those who have experienced an existence in void, a form of gender, ethnic, linguistic or political exile that has been echoed in their creative work. For them the exilic mode has been psychological rather than strictly geographical. The notions of ‘symbolic geography’ and ‘liminality’ in the works of these Iranian writers will be therefore among the key concepts that she aims at exploring.




Blurring Borders and Boundaries: Liminal Spaces in Modern Persian Poetry of Iran and Afghanistan

Globalization increasingly favors lateral and nonhierarchical network structures, or what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari call a rhizome. The figure of the rhizome suggests an uncontainable, invisible symbolic geography of relations that become the creative terrain on which minority subjects act and interact in fruitful, lateral ways. My project tackles the symbolic geography and ways in which it shapes the theme of home and homeland in the works of modernist poets of Iran and Afghanistan. By tracing hybrid spatiality in their work, this project aims to demonstrate how poets of Modern Iran and Afghanistan have blurred ideological and geographical boundaries of homeland and national identities through introducing a set of hybrid, invisible symbolic geography based on issues such as gender, sexuality, social justice, and anti-war sentiments. It proposes a recalibration of modern Persian poetics through a cartographical framework, exploring the themes of “home” and “exile” in the works of pioneering poets of Iran and Afghanistan.