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: What is the most overrated book?
Khakpour: I can’t say books, but I can say genre. I think a lot of the Iranian novels of the last 20 years or so – highly overrated. I don’t think they . . . they have good writing in them. And I don’t think it was a priority for those writers to push themselves in terms of writing. Nor was it a priority of their publishers to put out great writing. I think they were selling, again, the image of a woman in a veil crying maybe in a kitchen. So I’m very frustrated with that. And I hate to say that on some level, but I do take it personally that some of the writing is so bad. I wonder if those people are writers even, you know? It’s not enough to have a story to tell. Everybody has a story to tell. I really believe that. And then there’s cycles in history where one person’s story becomes more relevant than someone else’s, say. But what goes around comes around always, and so I just think that when you compare the sort of literary tradition in Iran, and then put that up against those types of books that have come out in the immigrant community, the exile community – it’s just shocking. I mean Iran is a country where you had such a progressive poet like __________ – one of the, you know, greatest confessional poets probably in all of history – you know, writing this incredibly candid, startling verse in the ‘50s and ‘60s. And then you also had a writer like _________ who, you know, could be talked of in the same breath as _________ and _________; and his sort of intensely scary, incredibly progressive, and innovative writing. And then to compare it with the stuff that’s come out, it’s just sort of embarrassing. You know it’s like looking at the great Indies versus Hollywood blockbusters. So that motivated me to try to write a book where the actual sentences were, you know, rich and well done. A lot of the female writers, I have been sent their books before. And I . . . Their shadow has sort of followed me a lot, you know. And I’m sort of expected . . . been expected to embrace them and say, “We’re all a happy family of these female Iranian writers.” But if anything I think they made it tough for me to get my book published because I wasn’t interested in those buzz words. And I wasn’t interested in telling that same story that seems to over and over capture western audiences. I wanted to tell a different type of story, and I wanna continue to write a different type of book. I’d like it to be incidental that I’m Iranian eventually. But for the time being I’m sort of interested in some of those Middle Eastern issues. I happen to be, so I might linger there for a while longer. But my hope is that I can eventually be freed of what’s expected of a person with my background.