Porochista Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles area (South Pasadena, to be exact). Her first language was Farsi, her second (and luckily mostly forgotten) tongue, Valley Girl. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and The Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars MA program. She has been awarded fellowships from Johns Hopkins University, Northwestern University, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Yaddo.
She began writing as an arts and entertainment journalist—her subjects have spanned from clubs (Paul Oakenfold!) to couture (Paul Poiret!); Maggie Gyllenhaal (Maggie’s first big feature!) to Fabio (Porochista’s first feature at 16!); New York City’s finest drinking establishments (Paper magazine bar columnist, 2000-2001, as well as New York magazine online bar critic) to rural Illinois’s most dangerous skydiving compound (2004 staff writer stint at The Chicago Reader). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The Village Voice, The Chicago Reader, Paper, Flaunt, Nylon, Bidoun, Alef, Canteen, nerve.com and FiveChapters.com, among others.
She currently spends a third of her time in New York City and two thirds three hours away in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania where she teaches Fiction at Bucknell University.
Question: Are you part of the Iranian diaspora community?
Khakpour: Since the novel has come out I have become. But previously I was never . . . I never felt part of the Iranian Diaspora community. I never knew where they were in Los Angeles. I had very little contact with the youth of Tehrangeles partially because I didn’t relate to them. My family wasn’t wealthy. You know we weren’t a bunch of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and we were not encouraged to be doctors, lawyers, engineers either. We were sort of a slightly artsy, nerdy family with my father as an academic. And we grew up very modestly in a small suburb, and I had very little contact with them. And when I would see them – those types of Iranians – I felt a slight sense of revulsion because they . . . they were the first . . . You know I felt that in trying to become Americans, they had sort of done it to such an exaggerated degree, you know? You suddenly had Beverly Hills High kids, you know, were platinum blonds; tons of designer clothes; you know BMWs, Mercedes. It was like everything about American culture that I didn’t like done to absolute excess. And so I really never met them. And when I went to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, there were a few half Iranian kids and that was about it. And they were sort of like me. They hadn’t really grown up in an Iranian-American immigrant community. So I never had the chance to be around them much. And then when the novel came out, it did get the support of an Iranian-American community, and I was able to see that there were other Iranians like myself who didn’t fit into that Tehrangeles culture that I grew up very phobic of. And that was wonderful, and now I’m in touch with lots of Iranian and Iranian-American artists, writers, musicians, and they come to some of my readings. And it’s mostly wonderful. I get e-mails from a lot of people in Iran, actually, who can’t get the book, but who have heard about it. Iranians in Iran are on the Internet all the time. They’re obsessed with blogs and all that. So they’ve discovered me a little bit, and I get sort of interesting e-mails from them, which is fine. A lot of them trying to figure out what my name means, am I Muslim or not. I get this all the time. Even in readings, you know, there will always be some old Iranian guy who will come up to me and ask me my religion, which I find very startling. But the Iranians in Iran are hilarious. I had one guy, an old . . . He seemed like an older carpet seller, and he wanted to . . . He gave me a long speech in his e-mail about what an honor it was for an Iranian to be getting press. And, “Congratulations on your victory,” it said. And then he said would you be interested in buying these incredible rugs he does of Zoroastrian images . . . imagery in very broken English. So he was trying to do business, I guess. And it was lovely. But I correspond a lot with some of the English speaking bloggers in Iran who are incredibly progressive, and incredibly bright and interesting, and are very curious about what’s going on here. And I get . . . Some e-mails . . . I’m on Good Reads, and I run a literature of the Iran and the Diaspora group there. And I constantly get e-mails from the Iranians there who . . . They’re always asking, “Well what are you guys reading? What are the good novels by Middle Easterners in the U.S.? Because all you people ever do is recommend “The Kite Runner” to us, and we hate “The Kite Runner””. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve got from Iranians who just seem so upset about “The Kite Runner” being a hit here. They think the writing is pedestrian, which I think is very funny.