Writing In Exile Helps Authors Connect To Home
JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jennifer Ludden, in Washington. Neal Conan is away.
When Iranian writer Azar Nafisi first lived in the U.S. as a graduate student, she dreamed of going home to teach at the University of Tehran. But when Nafisi returned to the United States years later as an exile from Iran, she joined countless other writers who've been forced to leave their homelands, fleeing war, political persecution or natural disaster.
While being forced to leave one's home can be a source of pain, even guilt, it can also be a source of creativity. Writing itself can be a way to stay connected to a life that seems increasingly distant. Azar Nafisi joins us in a moment. And we'll also talk with Zimbabwean author Chenjerai Hove and Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat.
We'd also like to hear from writers and artists in our audience today. If you've had to leave your home country, how has that influenced your work? Tell us your story. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, we'll man up with our vuvuzelas, the most overused words of 2010. You can email your suggestions now: email@example.com.
But first, the literature of exile. Azar Nafisi is the author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books" and "Things I've Been Silent About." Her forthcoming book is "That Other World: Nabokov and the Puzzle of Exile." And she joins us here in Studio 3A.
Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
Ms. AZAR NAFISI (Author): Thank you very much, Jennifer.
LUDDEN: Azar Nafisi, you've said that literature is the best answer to the feelings that an exilee(ph) has of loss and absence. What do you mean by that?
Ms. NAFISI: Well, to begin with, as a writer, you always have to look at the world through the alternative eyes of imagination, because you cannot see reality as it is, but in terms of its essence. So you always come to the world as a stranger. (unintelligible) used to call authors as pariahs. Salman Rushdie recently said, we're all international bastards.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LUDDEN: No one has a home.
Ms. NAFISI: No one. And so you have to feel a little bit restless, a little bit not at home to begin with in order to be able to write. And then the feeling of exile and lost of home is all about loss and absence. And through memory, and through literature, you retrieve what you have lost. You make presence than absence and you create a portable world that neither tyrants nor nature can take away from you. And I think that, for me, that's the safest place to be.
LUDDEN: You called it the republic of imagination.
Ms. NAFISI: Yes. It's the name of a book that I am also writing. "Nabokov" is a translation of my book in Persian into English. And this other book, "Republic of the Imagination," is all about this portable home.
LUDDEN: Do you think you see things in Iran, or details, or see things differently in a way that you would not have had you stayed there?
Ms. NAFISI: Definitely. I think you can never take away the pain and anguish of loss and of exile. But at the same time, you feel a little blessed because you can look at one world through the alternative eyes of the others. And always -you look at it through the fresh eyes of a child, of a stranger, of a visitor.
And even in the home that you were born into, the language you speak, you find the details and marvels that you had not seen before. So in another sense, I am glad that both America and Iran have been my home, and I keeping seeing one through the other.
LUDDEN: You've talked about explaining one to the other.
Ms. NAFISI: Oh, definitely. One of the ironies, at least of my life, was that, as you mentioned, for decades I wanted to go back home. And as soon as I went home, I discovered that home is not home anymore. And one of the things that Nabokov writes about, in "Invitation to a Beheading" and "Bend Sinister," is not feeling at home in your own home. And I think that is the most anguished form of exile, to be a stranger in your own home. People whom you expect to know you treat you as an alien and as a stranger, and that is how I first felt, like that.
LUDDEN: How did that happen?
Ms. NAFISI: Well, when I went back home, after the Islamic Republic, living in a totalitarian society, the first thing that society that - the regime, the state, not the society, does - is take away from its citizens their sense of individuality and identity.
So everything that I was as a woman, as a human being, a teacher, a writer, they said, this is not Iranian or Islamic. I felt quite orphaned. And the second thing that they do is rewrite history, so they confiscate both your past and your present. And if that is not an exile, I don't know what it is.
LUDDEN: We're talking with Azar Nafisi about the literature of exile.
If you've had to leave your home country, how has it influenced your work, or made you think differently about it? Tell us your story. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do you keep current - I mean, do you feel like anything you write about Iran has to be set in the time that you were there? Or can you continue writing about contemporary events even though you're not there?
Ms. NAFISI: Well, sometimes absence opens you to things that you routinely do not see or observe. So although I miss the physicality of Iran, it is always painful, and I miss a lot of things because of that. This is one time I can say thanks to Internet, you know?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. NAFISI: I'm very much technologically challenged, but I can say that thanks to that virtual world, I am in contact. But I also see and observe and hear things that I had not seen and observed and heard when I was there. When I was there, I was so involved in the life that I was leading, and sometimes I was so angry that I didn't see things.
Now, I see them through a distance, and I think that sometimes I see better, and definitely sometimes I miss certain things.
LUDDEN: We're also going to bring in another writer now, Chenjerai Hove. He is an author and poet from Zimbabwe. Chenjerai left his home country nine years ago, after running afoul of the government of Robert Mugabe.
He's now a writer-in-residence for the City of Refuge Program at Miami-Dade College. And this week, he's taking part in the 27th Miami Book Fair, which runs all this week. And he joins me now from member station WLRN.
Thank you for being on TALK OF THE NATION.
Mr. CHENJERAI HOVE (Author, Poet; Writer-in-Residence, Miami-Dade College City of Refuge Program): Thank you. Thank you very much.
LUDDEN: You have said that you felt also like an exile in your own country, even before fleeing. How did that happen? What made you feel that way?
Mr. HOVE: I was writing for a newspaper every Sunday, had a column. And also, at home, I was organizing a lot of literary activities, using every possible space that I could find. And that didn't go down very well, and then I became quite isolated by people not even wanting to talk to me. You go and sit there alone, and people are afraid to be associated or be seen to be associating with you.
And you walk in the street, and people are asking you whether you are still out. And when you say out of what? They say out of prison, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HOVE: So it really became a kind of very painful, internal exile. I was inside my country. I was in my home, but I was like under house arrest, as it were.
LUDDEN: And you left - initially you went to France, is that right?
Mr. HOVE: Initially, I went to France, yes, where I stayed for three years.
LUDDEN: And how did that, then, influenced what you wrote about after you left?
Mr. HOVE: Actually, I discovered that when I left - I had been traveling a lot throughout the world, but when you leave and you know that the possibility of coming back is not anywhere near, you have a different feeling from the feeling you would have if you were leaving for a few weeks and coming back. But a lot of things do change, as well. Of course, when one - especially the landscape, the language, the metaphors, the imagery that one uses in one's creativity. All those things go under some kind of intense transformation.
LUDDEN: What do you mean?
Mr. HOVE: You are looking at a right - always looking at the country or to -it's own motherland or fatherland from a distance. And then, like the lady was saying, there's certain things, when you're in the country which you actually take for granted. When you've left, you begin to hear even the sounds of birds, the rivers and the wind. Everything becomes different and much more intense because you now have an element of longing with you. And that becomes part of the creativity, as well.
LUDDEN: Let's take a quick call here before our break. Louisa is in Norman, Oklahoma. Hi, Louisa. Hi, Louisa. Are you there?
LOUISA (Caller): Oh, yes. Hello. This is Louisa, calling from Norman. I'm from - originally from Guinea-Bissau and also been, you could say, in exile for three decades now. I've lived in Europe. I've lived in England, France, and I now live in the United States. I've been here for 20 years. And this past summer, I went back home. And much like the writer from Iran has said, you know, you feel alien in your own country.
In our case, Guinea-Bissau went through a series of coup d'etats and military takeovers that have turned the country into - it's now basically a narcotic state. The Columbian narco-traffic has moved into Guinea-Bissau, so, you know, the possibility of me going back is not there.
But what I've found coming back to the United States is that it hasn't half my creativity. I'm also a journalist, was a broadcaster for 17 years myself. And I'm now working for RuMBA, which is a non-profit to help people living in rural areas access the Internet. So I'm doing something that I think is very, very positive here in the United States.
But, you know, what I wanted to add to the discussion is that, you know, what I've realized is that the world is but one country, and mankind its citizens. In fact, it was an Iranian prophet that coined that phrase, and I'm beginning to believe that we can make a home of the place we live in and we can all be very helpful to the...
LUDDEN: Oh, right. Louisa, we've got to leave it there, but thank you so much for calling and sharing that. We'd like to hear from other writers and artists in our audience. If you've left your home country, how has it influenced your work? 800-989-8255. I'm Jennifer Ludden. It's TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
LUDDEN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden.
We're talking with writers today about living and writing in exile and how that experience changes them and their work. The idea came from the Miami Book Fair. They'll host more than 350 authors from around the world this week in downtown Miami. Many of them will discuss their own stories of living in exile.
We'd like to hear from writers and artists in our audience today. If you've had to leave your home country, even if you're not in exile yourself, how has that influenced your work? Tell us your story. Our number in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address: email@example.com. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Our guests are Azar Nafisi, author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran," and the forthcoming book "That Other World: Nabokov and the Puzzle of Exile," and Chenjerai Hove, novelist from Zimbabwe and currently writer-in-residence for Miami Day College's City of Refuge Program.
We have a tweet from Jeff Arquette(ph), who says: It set my career back 10 years. Otherwise, I'm much more aware than I used to be. Was it worth it? Some days, yes. Others, no. Chenjerai Hove, was it hard to get go - was there a period when you just felt like things had just fallen apart for you creatively after leaving Zimbabwe?
Mr. HOVE: No, no. Not at all. Not at all. I actually was able to look at my country from a distance, and it give me a lot of creative energy and a lot of thinking to do about certain things which I'd taken for granted about my country. That's actually when I began to realize how beautiful my country was.
LUDDEN: Huh. That's nice. Let's go to a caller, Sayeed(ph) in San Jose, California. Go right ahead.
SAYEED (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I have a question to ask Miss Nafisi, and I understand that she has been going through a lot of the experiences that I had to go through as an immigrant who came to this country about 30 years ago, and have...
LUDDEN: And also from Iran, is that right?
SAYEED (Caller): Yes, from Iran. That's right. And I had to witness raising my kids in Americanized manner, but knowing that they're living here in a different culture. And I had to assimilate and adapt, as well. And so the question was always raised at dinnertime: Are you Iranian? The answer to which was yes, of course. Then what do we do here? And if we are Americans, how come we are different from the parents of our classmates?
Meanwhile, daughter and son - and Fabio(ph) my son, they both asked me. They were in - like six and 10-year-old then, and one of them was born here. And I really didn't know what to say, exactly, so I had to read some books then, which were, unfortunately, they couldn't understand. I had to read some really long stories in English to understand what happened.
And so that was one major problem I had here as an Iranian parent and (unintelligible) living here and trying to help our kids not to feel like they're being, you know, developed and raised in an unrealistic and hypocritical kind of a way. And our cultures being different, we could always be the best of both. So that's why I sat down and wrote this book. And I understand this now...
LUDDEN: So you've written your own book, Sayeed.
SAYEED (Caller): Yes. I wrote the history - 7,000 years history Iran in a concise form in English for - yeah.
SAYEED (Caller): And I wrote(ph) 123 books to myself to be able to start doing that. I don't call myself a historian, but I have to do it because there was no English version available that could be understandable in a short form for our youngsters, the young American generation here. And that book is now available. It's a compact(ph) history of Iran.
I'm glad that people like Miss Nafisi - by the way, my wife's name, who helped me write that book, is on there, as well. I'm happy to see ladies here, Iranian ladies, come here - and some of them are single parents. Single-handedly, they raise families, and they create a bridge between the past and the future. I'm proud of people like Miss Nafisi and other writers and other - honorable guests on your show, and I raise my hat to them.
I just wanted to ask Miss Nafisi if - does she particularly have a hope that experiences that she had gone through where people like me can anyway be introduced to the Iranian people, the younger people there who have no idea what an immigrant has to go through in any place, under any circumstances. And has she been doing anything in Iran in there, because I've been away from my country for three decades. I have no idea what's going on in there. Thank you very much for taking my call.
LUDDEN: Thank you, Sayeed. And we'll put that to you, Azar Nafisi.
Ms. NAFISI: Thank you very much, Saitwan(ph). I very much enjoyed hearing your voice and look forward to reading you. I do understand the dilemma that you're talking about. Of course, one good thing about living in this country is that you can carry your past with you. And I was very happy to know that I'm not just an American, but I am an Iranian-American, and I think that that is a quality that once this country loses, it would lose its soul.
So as an Iranian-American, your history of Iran will not only be useful to Iranians, but it will also be useful to the new - to the country you've adopted. But I wanted to tell you that one of the - I always think, whenever I feel homesick, of what the Germans thinker Theodor Adorno said, that the highest form of morality is not to feel at home in your own home. And when I was back in Iran, I was so much stripped of everything that I thought was me, my history, my religion.
The Islam that the regime talked about was not the Islam of my grandparents or the Islam of my parents. So I had to genuinely ask myself: Who is telling the truth? Am I really not Iranian? Was I not born in a Muslim family? And like you, then I had to excavate the past and investigate my own past, and through the past of my poetry and my history to connect to my own people.
And when I was there, whenever the regime talked about the U.S. being decadent and imperialist, the country that I knew so much about and that had accepted me so well, I would connect to my own people again through Saul Bellow and Emily Dickinson and Zora Neale Hurston. So literature became a vehicle through which I could communicate both with people inside Iran. And now that I am outside, whenever I want to talk to people about Iran, I want them to know that Iran is not the Iran that Mr. Ahmadinejad is representing.
Iran is Iran of its great poets. It is of its great philosophers. It's of its great culture. And so I think wherever we go, the absence brings to us new challenges, and challenge is what keeps us alive.
LUDDEN: All right. We have another - one last writer we're going to bring into the conversation now. Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and came to the United States when she was 12 years old. She's the author of several books that draw heavily upon life in Haiti, including "Breath, Eyes, Memory" and the American book award-winning "The Farming of the Bones." Her new book is "Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist At Work," and she joins us now from member station WLRN in Miami - there for the Miami Book Fair, as well.
Welcome to you.
Ms. EDWIDGE DANTICAT (Author): Thank you. Thank you for having me.
LUDDEN: Now, you consider yourself an immigrant, not an exile. What's the distinction for you?
Ms. DANTICAT: Well, I am probably the child of, you know, of that exile generation for my particular group of people, for the - for Haitian-Americans. So I am what exiles perhaps eventually become or what their children become, as the gentleman was talking about earlier. And in exile, I'm able to go back to Haiti, and I have been able to for as long as I can remember. So I don't consider myself an exile. I'm probably closer to an immigrant than an exile.
LUDDEN: But you have written about artists creating art while exiled from their home countries, or at least severely separated from them when their homelands are experiencing a time of crisis. How did you find that this separation informs their work?
Ms. DANTICAT: Well, I think for, you know, a lot of us who, as I mentioned, you know, come out - comes out of this generation, that before - my parents generation, for example, considered themselves sort of in wait here. They were - they came here during the Duvalier dictatorship in the '70s. And through the '80s, they perhaps envisioned this time when they would be able to go back and restart their lives. And then slowly, there's been this transition for people who are not artist, people who are artists, where there realize, well, maybe I'm here for awhile. Maybe I'm - you know, because there are other things, besides political power - you know, natural disasters, economic problems - that are keeping us here.
And it's the same for the artist. And some of them - now, there's this possibility that some have to go back and forth. There's also this thing in this conversation about exile and immigration that's called transnationalism, and that especially if you live in a place like Miami, I can be in Port-au-Prince quicker that I can be in New York City from Miami. So that also adds another dynamic to the conversation for - I think for both people who are creating artistically and feel like they need to go back and refresh, and other people who just going back to see relatives and so forth.
LUDDEN: And gives you, as we've been hearing, that unique outlook on both places.
Ms. DANTICAT: Yes. What I think of as a mixed gaze, because you are looking at the United States as a with Haitian eyes and that you're looking at Haiti with American eyes. And so there's a kind of - something in between that's perhaps sometimes personally uncomfortable, but I think it's rich terrain for art.
LUDDEN: All right. Let's get another caller on the line. Sukomar(ph) is in Folsom, California. Hi, there.
SUKOMAR (Caller): Hi. Thank you taking my call. I just very interesting discussion. I just wanted to make one comment. I'm an engineer by profession, but I've been writing for a long time because my parents have. And I write in my native language from Kanada which is a very, very big language in south India. I've been in the United States for almost 13 years now and have published poetry as well as short stories for several years.
The key point, though, is it's been so long since I've come here and I've kind of adjusted to life here. But even today, when I write either in Kanada or in English, what happens is I go back to my youth and my childhood, and every single poem or short story I write is from my past. However much I want to try and write today's stories of my neighborhood here, I somehow end up writing every single small story that I experienced in my youth and in my childhood.
LUDDEN: And do you think if you wrote in English, it might be different?
SUKOMAR: No. I actually am trying to write something different in English. But when I actually try to write in English, it just goes back to my stories from India of my teenage years and my childhood years. It's all different stories, but it's all from my past. So it's kind, you know, it's ingrained and it's really hard to change that.
LUDDEN: Huh. Well, thank you for sharing that with us.
SUKOMAR: Thank you so much for taking the call.
LUDDEN: Chenjerai Hove, do you feel that you left it's been nine years since you left Zimbabwe. Are your stories still set in that time? Or could you write something in modern day Zimbabwe, do you feel?
Mr. HOVE: Oh, yes. I have just finished writing a novel called "Others." It's about the violence which we have allowed to infiltrate our politics. And also, an anthology of poetry called "Love and Other Ghosts." And the more I write, the more I actually am able to feel the coarseness or the smoothness and softness of the land of my birth. So it is really a way of going back all the time. And I think one also realizes the dynamic that no society can no culture can be stagnant. It is to be moving all the time.
And one has to realize that as a writer, for me to write is always - even when I was in the country, sometime I was writing about my aspirations and I put characters in a future Zimbabwe somewhere and let them deal with certain issues in a certain way. So one is always looking for these possibilities being possibilities of the past and the future and the present, mixing all those and being able to search for another possibility because for me, literature is a journey of exploration.
LUDDEN: All right. Let me just mention, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's take another call. Mahnoz(ph) is in San Francisco, California. Go right ahead.
MAHNOZ (Caller): Oh, hi. My name is Mahnoz Badician(ph) and I'm Iranian-American like Azar Nafisi. And I just want to tell you that it is to be in exile and live in a country that you didn't grow up with is such a dramatic experience. You actually become two person. One person that - you belong to other, your original country, and then the second person in a host country.
And I also although I lived in this country more than half of my life, but still, always with my poetry, with my writing, I'm trying to bridge the gap between these two person inside me, or bridge the gap between the two cultures that I'm dealing with every day. And that's a very, very amazing experience that I, you know, I just try to prostrate in my poetry and my writing. And actually, I made a website that - it's for language, and the main goal is to gap to bridge this gap between cultures.
LUDDEN: All right. Well, thank you so much and I appreciate your call. And let's take one more here. I'm going to get your name wrong. Rahja(ph) in Seattle, Washington.
RAHJA (Caller): Yes, hello. Thank you very much for taking my call. Yes, my name is Rahja Harbie(ph). I reside in Seattle, Washington. I'm a published author and artist working out of Seattle. But I travel and I still work internationally as well and read internationally.
What I would like to add to the conversation is just the observation - I've been in the United States for well over 20 years, perhaps 35. It is the fact that I, as a person, as an artist and a writer, I quite often come across a reaction to - not a reaction to my work, but I oftentimes finds that there are, including in some media outlets, there are some predetermined perimeters as to the topic, the themes that should be or are in my work, whether it's the visual arts or in the literary work, arts.
And I must admit that, for instance reviewers and critics have more difficulty sometimes writing review of my work in paintings than they do in poetry because, obviously, the word is more accessible. And I think it's because the there is an expectation which I think is really done at the detriment of cultural individual cultural distinctiveness. And these predetermined parameters expect that we write about certain things...
LUDDEN: Because you have come from a different country, is that what you're saying?
Ms. HARBIE: Well, they expect that we you that you're going to that your work is going to be informed mostly by, for instance, the experience of an exile caused by very visible political reasons, such as political...
LUDDEN: And you're we've just a few seconds left here until the break. But you're saying that's not necessarily so? Is that what you're saying?
Ms. HARBIE: I'm saying it's more complex than that. There is, - I think every biculturalism is very often just like in the throughout the conversation that we that I'm listening to, biculturalism seems to be the focus. And I'm saying there is multiculturalism in each one individual artist. Our work is very often informed by love of cultures, and culture is something that's really dynamic.
LUDDEN: All right.
Ms. HARBIE: I mean, there's so much in what we I mean, we didn't use...
LUDDEN: Rahja, we've got to leave it there. But we thank you so very much for the call. We're talking about the literature of exiles. We're joined by Azar Nafisi, Chenjerai Hove and Edwidge Danticat. And they'll be back with us in just a moment.
You can email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Jennifer Ludden. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
LUDDEN: We'll get to the top overused words of the year in a moment. Right now, we're wrapping up our conversation about writers in exile. Azar Nafisi is with us. She's author of a number of books, including "Reading Lolita in Tehran." Also, Edwidge Danticat, her new book is titled "Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work." And Chenjerai Hove is an author and poet originally from Zimbabwe.
Let's get one more call in. Jay is in Ottorbach(ph), Germany. Hello, there.
JAY (Caller): Yes. Hi. Can you hear me?
LUDDEN: Yes. Go right ahead.
JAY: Yeah. I'm in sort of a different situation. I'm kind I'm actually recently retired from the air force. And I was a professor in English at the air force academy. And I chose sort of to put myself in a year-long exile to write. And, cause I find that it's that distance that gives you kind of a perspective on some of the insanity (unintelligible) that going on in our own world - but I should say the United States. But...
LUDDEN: So you're you've self-exiled yourself from the U.S. to write about the U.S.?
(Soundbite of laughter)
JAY: Yes. I'm blogging also about war literature which is sort of my passion, but I'm also a fiction writer. And, you know, historically, getting perspective and sort of stepping back and hearing different voices around you, it's like being in your own imaginative bubble in a way. You hear all these voices that sort of work through you in a different way, I think, when you're out of your own place. And I'm also a pilot, so I'm fascinated with this notion of distance and how our imagination works differently with distance. And I'm interested in what your panel has to say about that.
LUDDEN: All right. Well, Jay, thanks so much for the call. Edwidge Danticat, do you think there are things you can say about Haiti that you just couldn't have had you stayed there?
Ms. DANTICAT: Well, I...
LUDDEN: And not just politically, but just things that you wouldn't have even thought the same way or looked at things the same way.
Ms. DANTICAT: Probably. I think there's the value of distance, as we've been talking about, even linguistic distance in my case because English is my third language. So there's a level of sort of social politeness or level of fear of offending that you benefit from. For example, I always say that I have a year, for example, between translations of my book. And I cherish that year because I get a year to you know, not to worry about being in trouble until the translation comes out a year later.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. DANTICAT: So there are certain - there's a certain level of freedom that, perhaps one allows oneself that one may not from inside the language or inside the culture. So that's something that I've always thought as possibly one of the consoling benefits of being in a situation where you're outside the place where you were born.
LUDDEN: Hmm. Chenjerai Hove, who do you write for? Are you writing for Zimbabweans at home or abroad like you, or for Westerners or do you think about that?
Mr. HOVE: I actually, to be honest, when I'm writing I just want to express myself sincerely about a subject. I cannot stand up and say I write for so and so, for Zimbabweans, because they didn't elect me to write. I write because I have my conscience which says I should write certain things, which certain stories or poems, which if I don't, I will feel burdened the rest of my life.
But what I'm also doing is, by communicating with myself in my writing, I also, in the process, discover the other. I will resonate with the others, with the other people who would read. So in a situation also when, for example in my country, the economy is in rather bad shape, you cannot assume that people can afford to just walk into a bookstore and buy books. And publishers cannot even sometimes afford to publish the books because it's so expensive. So I really write in search of myself.
Mr. HOVE: And in the process, also search and find the other, who is the reader, whoever it is.
LUDDEN: Azar Nafisi, the same question to you. And I'm wondering also, though, if social media has changed this. We learned during some of the demonstrations last year in Iran that quite a few people are on Twitter and, you know, the Internet over there. Has that changed who you feel your audience is?
Ms. NAFISI: Oh, well, I, like Chenjerai, feel that my - I call the readers strangers who, through sharing the same passions and dreams, become intimate in strangers with you. So my readers are - I don't where they are. Because the only place where there are no boundaries of nationality or ethnicity or language, is the realm of imagination. And so that is the realm where I work.
But social media has changed means of one level, which is information. But still, to know - to put yourself in place of how someone feels in Zimbabwe or Haiti or New Orleans or Iran, you have to experience the story, you have to have the feel of it. And for that, you go to the land of imagination.
I just wanted to say one small thing. Up to now, we've been talking about how we can illuminate our past or the places where we came from. But I think some of the greatest writing has been also about writers like Conrad or Nabokov, who have illuminated and given us fresh views about the new countries they adopted. Nabokov's best work was about America, and it was written during his period of exile in this country and later in Switzerland. And I think he could see this America through the eyes of his Russia. And even Russian language glimmers through those amazingly light field scenes in Lolita or his other works.
So it is not just that other country that comes to us. This new country is also nourished because language is also a home. And when you change that home and come to a new thing, you'd love to play with it. And that's what I love about English, I can play with it.
LUDDEN: All right. And I think we have to leave things there. This has been fascinating. Azar Nafisi is the author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir of Books." Her forthcoming book is "That Other World: Nabokov and the Puzzle of Exile." She joined us here in Studio 3A. Thank you so much.
Ms. NAFISI: Thank you so much.
LUDDEN: We're also were joined by Edwidge Danticat, the author of "Breath, Eyes, Memory" and "The Farming of the Bones." Her latest book is "Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work," and Chenjerai Hove, the author and poet originally from Zimbabwe. He's now a writer-in-residence for the City of Refuge Program at Miami-Dade College. And they - you both joined me from Station WLRN in Miami. Thank you so much.
Ms. DANTICAT: Thank you for having us.
Mr. HOVE: Thank you so much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.