Dr. Reza Baraheni is a poet, novelist, literary theorist, human rights activist, translator, and university professor. He co-founded the Writers Association of Iran more than forty years ago with fellow writers Jalal Al-Ahmad and Gholamhossein Saedi and was instrumental in turning the Association into Iran’s most important human rights organization. In the United States, Baraheni worked with Noam Chomsky, Arthur Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Roth, Daniel Ellsberg, and many other prominent poets, writers and activists, to promote human rights in the world, particularly in Iran.
He is the author of more than sixty books of poetry, fiction, literary criticism, literary translations and social Issues. He was the President of PEN Canada from 2000-2002.
He has taught in the University of Tehran, Iran, the University of Texas, Austin, Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the University of Toronto, and York University. He has also been a Fellow at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and a Fellow at Oxford University, England. From 1982, the year he was fired from the University of Tehran for his advocacy of equal rights for Iranian women, to 1996, the year of his forced departure from Iran, he taught courses in creative writing and literary theory, first at the home of friends, and later at the basement of his own apartment.
An Azerbaijani Turk from Iran, he was imprisoned and severely tortured by both the Shah’s regime and the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was the original writer and signatory of the “Text of 134” Iranian Writers and the Charter of the Writers Association of Iran. He has dedicated his lifework of over five decades to human rights and freedom of expression in Iran, particularly for women and minorities in Iran. Addressing a large audience at Massey College, University of Toronto, Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s Nobel Laureate for Peace, noted that it was from the lesson of the dedicated work of her friend Baraheni that she had set out to fight against repression in Iran.
His fiction has been anthologized along with works by Vladimir Nabokov and Gabriel Garcia Marquez; his poetry along with the poetry of Anna Akhmatova, Jorge Luis Borges, Paule Eluard, Nazim Hekmat, Osip Mandelstam, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz and Wislawa Symborska (Approaching Literature in the 21st Century, ed. Peter Schakel and Jack Ridl, Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston, New York, 2005; God’s Spies, ed. Alberto Manguel, Macfarlane, Walter & Ross, Toronto, 1999; The Prison where I Live, ed., Siobhan Dowd, Forward by Joseph Brodsky, Cassell, London, 1996; Voices of Conscience, Poetry from Oppression, ed. Cronyn, McKane and Watts, Iron Press, Great Britain, 1995) and many other anthologies. His works have been translated into a dozen languages, among them: Arabic, Dutch, English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish. He has also written poetry and prose, originally in English, among them: The Crowned Cannibals (Random House, Vintage, New York, 1977, introduction by E. L. Doctorow); God’s Shadow, Prison Poems (Indiana University Press, 1976), the long poem, “Exile Poem of the Gallery,” in Making Meaning (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2000); and the long poem, “Death of a Greek Woman in Seattle,” in Exile Writes Back (Massey College, Toronto, 2001).
His poetry has appeared in the Time Magazine, City Lights Anthology, The New York Review of Books, The American Poetry Review, Magazine of the International PEN and many other prestigious periodicals. There have been numerous and laudatory reviews of his books in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Le Monde, Le Figaro Litteraire, Figaro Magazine, Liberation and other world press. The publication of the French translation of his long suppressed novel in Iran, Les Saisons en enfer du jeune Ayyaz (Pauvert, Fayard, Paris, 2000), and two recent novels, Sheherazade et son Romancier (Fayard, Paris, 2002), and Elias a New York (Fayard, Paris, 2004) have gained him comparisons with Georges Bataille, Jean Genet and many other French and world authors. Two plays of his, Enfer and Queskes, directed by Thierry Bedard, the outstanding modernist director in the main section of the Avignon International Festival in July, 2004, were widely reviewed by the major press in France and other parts of Europe. A recent novel of his, Exilith, adapted for the stage by Bedard, has been performed in all major festivals of France.