Porochista Khakpour On A Hyphenated Identity
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: Where are you from and how has that shaped you?
Khakpour: It’s a loaded question with me actually because I’m from Iran originally. I was born there. And the first several years of my life we lived there, and the plan was to stay there. And of course the Islamic revolution messed that up, and so we moved to Los Angeles. I was raised in Los Angeles, but my formative years were actually spent in New York from 18 onwards. So I have a sort of ultra hyphenated identity I guess as Iranian-American and Los Angelino and New Yorker – bicoastal, bicultural.
Question: When did your parents emigrate?
Khakpour: Well at the time of the hostage crisis they were still in Iran, and they . . . Because my mother and my father were both educated abroad to a degree, they . . . You know when they got to the U.S. they spoke English. They were able to work here. It wasn’t horrible, but for them a lot of the fear came in just getting out of Iran. The airports were shut down when they tried to get out because of the Iran-Iraq war. And you know they were basically sort of gypsies through much of Europe. You know they were in Turkey. And from there we went to France, then Germany. And they just finally went to Los Angeles by default because that’s what all the Iranians were doing. But it wasn’t so bad for them. And I imagine it wasn’t so bad for a lot of the Iranians because they all thought this was temporary. They didn’t even . . . They only had two suitcases with them. So . . . And all their stuff is still in that house they own in Iran to this day that’s left pretty much untouched – everything as it was when they fled. Because when they talk . . . people talk about Iranians fleeing, they really did flee. Some of them made the decision quite rapidly. For some people like my family it was almost an overnight decision because it never really seemed like it would be permanent.
Question: Which do you identify with most?
Khakpour: That’s a very tricky question as well. I . . . As I get older I tend to become more Iranian. But I guess I’ve now, since the novel come out, been forced to consider myself as an Iranian-American more and more so. My family is a fairly traditional Iranian family. But the novel really split me in two. It made me sort of consider being a Californian and a New Yorker. So in some ways I emerged more confused than ever.
Born in Iran, raised in Los Angeles, living in New York - the many sides of Porochista Khakpour.
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