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.
Khakpour: I thought . . . You know after 9/11 I just . . . I was really, really interested in what made Middle Eastern men tick; and I was just interested in the profiles of the terrorists; and I was interested in the media’s portrayal of the profiles of the terrorists; and the idea of Osama bin Laden; and the idea of Muslim radicals; and I was also fascinated by people like my father or my brother who were completely outside of that. And I’ve always written . . . I’ve always tended to write from a middle-aged male perspective already. Most of my short stories were always about men in mid life. So it was sort of natural for me to go there with . . . with the Middle Easterners somehow. I just thought there had been so much also written about women of the Middle East. And so much of it was getting so stereotypical and hysterical in a sense. You know it’s a loaded word with women. Oops. But it really was. I was so sick of these books coming out about Middle Eastern women or Iranian women in veils, cooking spices in a kitchen, and crying all the time. It wasn’t my reality, and it wasn’t a reality I’d observed. And I was sick of it, and I had a feeling those books were just getting published because of the “not without my daughter” syndrome in the U.S. And I just . . . I wanted to look at the men. I thought their story was interesting, and the set of pressures they dealt with were endlessly fascinating. So I started with my own . . . my own father and my brother in a way and expanded from there. And now my second novel sort of deals more with terrorist mindset and those other to my own reality. But . . . I think I have always read books by middle aged men. I grew up very much loving, I would say, the books in Harold Bloom’s western canon for whatever reason. I mean they were . . . Probably because I was Iranian and female, I gravitated towards the most traditional literature, you know, one could gravitate towards. And so I ended up reading a lot of dead White men always. It was very unpopular in the ‘90s, particularly at a place like Sarah Lawrence College. But I always wanted to read, you know . . . you know the 19th century British writers. And then the American experimentalists and meta fiction writers. So I . . . And they often write about themselves, so they weren’t writing a lot about minority women. So I was always somewhat in their mindset. So I think that’s why as a child I was always writing about White versions of my father. It’s . . . And I’ve had to now make a conscious effort on the second novel to write about women, but it feels foreign to me somehow. That’s . . . that’s fascinating. Women I think are also more complicated and more loaded in a way. I’m able to go back to a slightly more blank palette with men, strangely. I don’t . . . I don’t even know what that means and why I think that. I’ll leave that to psychologists, I guess.
Recorded on: 1/18/08