Can memory be taught?
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.
Porochista Khakpour: Yeah memory . . . Memory can be narrative, right, in some ways. And sometimes it’s not your own narrative. Xerxes through much of the novel is trying to shed his parents’ narrative. And much of that comes out of the memories that he doesn’t know are his or theirs – the fights they had in the house; the things that were mentioned; what’s his, what’s theirs. You know it’s constantly a challenge for him in the novel. That’s a great question.
It’s hard to know. Memories are passed down, and it’s sort of your choice what becomes yours and what you discard. For me my whole life I’ve worked hard to not adopt a lot of the troubling narrative of my own parents. But sometimes there are moments when I think, you know, “Did that really happen? Or is that something they told me?” They often think that my first memory of Iran was something that they . . . they told me about. But I swear I remember. You know I remember the anti-aircraft missiles in the courtyard outside their bomb shelter; and sort of, you know . . . a series of pink lights in almost an oval . . . in a perfect oval in the sky. And my mother praying, you know, something I have never seen her do again. But my mother with me in her arms praying. My mother says, “You can’t remember that. You were only about three.” But I remember it vividly. But I also . . . That’s part of why I like it too, the notion of memory. There’s so much gray area. And the novel has a preoccupation, I think, with the gray areas.
Recorded on: 1/18/08
"There's so much grey area," Khakpour says.
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