Monday, December 24, 2012


 "There is a first, false idea that needs to be set aside, which is that the philosopher can speak about everything. This idea is exemplified by the TV philosopher: he talks about society's problems, the problems of the present, and so on. Why is this idea false? Because the philosopher constructs his own problems, he is an inventor of problems, which is to say he is not someone who can be asked on television, night after night, what he thinks about what's going on. A genuine philosopher is someone who decides on his own account what the important problems are, someone who proposes new problems for everyone. Philosophy is first and foremost this: the invention of new problems.

Alain Badiou
From: Philosophy in the Present - Badiou and Zizek

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Free Expression, Expensive Listener

My throat is constricted. Not only because it is cold in Canada and my body cannot fight the free viruses roaming around, but also because I have so much to say, I feel like screaming.

I need to scream.

Don't get me wrong. Expression is free here. It is finding a listener that is challenging.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Farzad, they killed you, not knowing you will never die!


Can you hear it? That is the sound of the secret history of the Kurds. It sounds just like a lullaby passing through cracks in concrete walls. 

Farzad Kamangar, a village teacher labelled terrorist, counts those cracks, argues innocence and shares the hopeful sweetness of homemade chocolates with his fellow prisoners. 

"Under ropes, the chocolates melt in our mouths..." and we, the readers hear through the cracks. 

Hear it here: the lullaby of legendary Farzad Kamangar. 

by Ava Homa

The illustration courtesy of Tamar Levi
The cover design by Hagit Shechter. 
Publisher: Novel Rights ( 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Been Looking for an Open Mic. Event?

Pen Lecturer–in–Residence Ava Homa: Reading and Open Mic.

LOCATION: 200 King St. East, St. James Campus, Career Centre
DEPARTMENT: Centre for Preparatory and Liberal Studies
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ava_homaWednesday, November 28, 2012
Time: 5 - 7 pm
Location: 200 King St. East, St. James Campus, Career Centre
A reading event featuring Ava Homa along with an Open Mic.
Refreshments will be served and prizes will be offered for the best readings/performances of that night.
For more information about the Pen Lecturer-in-Residence please 
Office Hours: Ava Homa is available for individual meetings every Friday between 3-6 pm. By appointment only.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Canadian Federation of the University Women and Ava Homa

Last night, Thursday Nov. 15th, I was the guest speaker for the Canadian Federation of the University Women, the international affairs group, in Mississauga. They were the loveliest, most sympathetic woman who wanted to know about the rest of the world and were awed and bewildered to hear about the Kurds.

I showed them images of Kurdistan, the natural beauties as well as the human cruelties. I could only offer a glimpse of our tragedies and they were almost in tears.

Some of them purchased my book, Echoes from the Other Land and other got my card. 

Despite politics brutalities and immoralities, people are just amazing. I realy enjoyed my conversation with these woman.   

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

An Interview with Me Published by the Negative Press

My story "A Rose for Raha" was published in a truly beautiful art book, Still, where diverse writers wrote stories inspired by the award-winning photos of the lovely and talented artist Roelof Bakker. An interview with me is published in the publisher's website which you might find interesting.

Q&A | Ava Homa

Ava HomaAVA HOMA LIVES IN TORONTO, CANADA. She is a Kurdish-Iranian-Canadian writer. Her collection of short stories, Echoes From the Other Land was nominated for the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Ava’s writings have appeared in various journals including the Toronto Quarterly,Windsor Review and the Kurdistan Tribune. She’s finishing work on a her first novel and teaches creative writing and English. For Still she wrote ‘A Rose For Raha’, a story about a Kurdish family trying to find their way in Canada.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Eastern Kurdistan (Iran) and my parents still live there. Being a Kurdish woman, I was stigmatised both for my gender and my ethnicity. Nevertheless, living in a collective culture, I’d received unconditional love from my family and close relatives. Something I really miss here. I entered Canada on a student visa six years ago.
How do you describe yourself: Canadian, Kurdish, Iranian?I have a hyphenated identity: I am Kurdish-Iranian-Canadian. The truth is that I have been exposed to all these cultures and have picked and chosen the best in each as much as I have been able to. The unconscious part of my brain has done its own selection without my consent.
Your story ‘A Rose For Raha’ is about a Kurdish family now living in the free world in Canada, but still not being able to be free. Is this based on your own experience? If not, where did the inspiration come from?Writing fiction means feeling for others and writing about them. My family never left Kurdistan, but I have observed that the dictatorship mentality lasts long after the dictator is gone. I have observed that victims of oppression can sometimes turn into victimisers without being aware of it.
Female Artists Dressing Room (Rose) by Roelof Bakker
Female Artists’ Dressing Room (Rose) by Roelof Bakker
You selected a photograph with a dried yellow rose. Is the rose significant for you or in Kurdish/Iranian culture?It was hard to choose between all the inspiring and beautiful photos, but something drew me towards this rose, not because of a significant cultural connotation, rather because of the sense of attractiveness mixed with exhaustion. That’s the sense this photo instilled in me.
Did you enjoy collaborating with an artist?It was my first experience and a lovely, stimulating one. I look forward to more such collaborations.
How did you get into writing?It was in me from a very young age. I completed my first manuscript at grade 5: an animal story illustrated by my immature drawing. I followed my instincts to write despite the infinite cultural/economical obstacles. Now, I am hooked on the joy of writing.
Who/what was your greatest influence?I am constantly inspired by great people. I can mention two examples: Leila Zana, the female Kurdish leader who was imprisoned by the government of Turkey for ten years but never lost her strength and spirituality. She gives me hope as to what extent humans can be resilient.
Bahman Ghobadi, the award-winning Kurdish writer and director of A Time for Drunken HorseTurtles Can Fly, Half Moon, and most recently Rhino Season. I believe he has served the Kurds in the best possible way. He is passionate, artistic, honest, talented, lovable, inspiring.
Your book of short stories, Echoes From the Other Land, explores the position of women in Iran. Are you active politically to improve women’s lives in Iran? Do you collaborate or work/write with women in Iran?
Iranian women live under horrific laws that openly discriminate against them. For example, based on the law, they cannot leave the country or get a job without their husband’s permission. Yet, they are highly educated, strong, resilient, and ambitious. We work with each other, we support each other, we help each other.
What’s the most important thing you have learnt from life?
No one can help me better than myself.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am editing my completed manuscript: a novel tentatively titled Many Cunning Passages.
Echoes From the Other Land

About Negative Press London

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Truly Insightful Article by Hifa Asadi

جایگاه زن غیرفارس در مبارزات زنان ایران

هیفاء اسدی | Sat, 03.11.2012, 22:16

علی‌رغم تاریخ طولانی مبارزات زنان در ایران برای احقاق حقوق مدنی و انسانی خود که عمری به قدمت جنبش دموکراسی‌خواهی در ایران دارد، این مبارزات آن چنان که باید و شاید به ثمر ننشسته است و در سال ۱۳۵۷ هر آنچه که زنان مبارز تا به آن زمان درو کرده بودند با طوفان انقلاب به یکباره از بین رفت. از آن تاریخ سایه سنگین حکومت انسان‌ستیز و زن‌ستیز جمهوری اسلامی شرایط مساعدی را پدید آورد تا قانون به کمک جامعه مردسالار و سنت زده ایران بشتابد و اوضاع به آن حد برسد که زن و حقوقش نه هیچ جایگاهی در گفتمان سیاسی حاکم بیابد و نه حال و روز بهتری در فرهنگ عامه پیدا کند. این است که مبارزات و مطالبات زنان در ایران هیچ‌گاه در حد یک چالش مدنی و سیاسی جدی گرفته نشده است و توجه جز طیف محدودی از اپوزوسیون را به خود جلب نکرده است.
در این میان کار زنان اقلیت‌های به حاشیه رانده‌شده در ایران بسی سخت‌تر است. مجموعه عرب و ترک و کرد و بلوچ و ترکمن و... بیش از نیمی از جمعیت ایران امروز را تشکیل می‌دهند و این نصف ایران تماما به حواشی فقر فرهنگی و اقتصادی رانده شده‌اند.
تفاوت‌ها و چندگونگی فرهنگی و زبانی و تاریخی این مردمان را به شکلی ویژه از هموطنان فارس‌شان متمایز می‌کند. تمایزی که نه نظام انسان‌ستیز جمهوری اسلامی پذیرای آن است و نه اپوزیسیون «انسان محور» ایرانی چه در داخل و چه در خارج از ایران به آن ارجی می‌نهد.
در نتیجه این تفاوت‌های فرهنگی و اجتماعی زنان ملت‌های غیرفارس در ایران شرایطی را تجربه می‌کنند که بسیار متفاوت است از آنچه که فعالان حقوق زن تصور می‌کنند و برای تغییرش به مبارزه مشغولند.
البته که نویسنده این سخن از همه خوانندگانش انتظار درک این مفاهیم و شرایط «انتزاعی» را ندارد اما حداقل انتظار از آنان است که طعم تلخ تبعیض و نا برابری را چشیده‌اند و برای «رفع همه اشکال» آن مبارزه می‌کنند.
در اساسنامه‌ها و بیانیه‌ها و تلویزیون‌های این مبارزان آن چه که به وفور یافت می‌شود حرف‌هایی شنیدنی و زیبا از حقوق انسان و برابری و محکومیت تبعیض و ستم جنسی و نژادی است. اما آنگاه که درد تبعیض را برای این دوستان بازگو می‌کنیم و از تفاوتهایمان می‌گوییم و از شرایط سخت مردمانمان، در بهترین حالت شاید کلماتی از باب همدردی و پاره‌ای حرف‌های قشنگ نصیب‌مان می‌شود و وعده نشست‌های بیشتر و فرصت‌های بهتر برای مطرح کردن قضیه زنان‌مان. وعده‌هایی که محقق نمی‌شوند و نشست‌هایی که هیچ وقت برگزار نمی‌گردند. گویا که قرار است امتیاز درک معنای والای انسانیت در انحصار خانم شادی صدر بماند.
مبارزین آزادی و حق و برابری، برای توجیه این دوگانگی حرف و عمل همیشه حرف‌هایی را آماده گفتن دارند که شاید خود نیز به پاسخ آن کم و بیش واقف باشند اما در اینجا من باب روشنگری و و رفع هرگونه شبه به برخی از این حرف‌ها می‌پردازم.
به اعتقاد نویسنده بزرگترین چالش رو در روی هر زن غیرفارس تعامل با زبانی است بیگانه از زبان مادر و قوم و تبارش. شیوه فعلی آموزش زبان فارسی به این زن و به ملیتی که این زن به آن تعلق دارد از نامعمول‌ترین و بی‌ثمرترین روش‌های آموزش یک زبان خارجی به غیر متکلمان به آن است. دختری ۶ ساله را از دامان پدر و مادری عرب به مدرسه می‌کشانند و از او می‌خواهند که بخواند و بنویسد «بابا آب داد» حال انکه این کودک تا نفهمد که این یعنی «البابا اعطانی الماء» هرگز نمی‌تواند نه بخواند و نه بنویسد «بابا آب داد».
همین کودک در حالیکه هنوز در صفحات اول کتاب فارسی اول دبستان دست و پا می‌زند باید پا به پای همکلاسی فارس‌اش به حساب یک و دو و سه مسلط شود در حالیکه شاید تا آخر سال هم نفهمد که یک و دو و سه یعنی همان «واحد واثنان وثلاثة».
دختر عرب روستایی چند سالی را در دبستان در جا می‌زند تا بالاخره به دیگر خواهران و برادران نا موفق خود بپیوندد و عطای درس خواندن به یک زبان خارجی را به لقایش ببخشد و خانه‌نشین فقر و تبعیض فرهنگی شود.
ما از زنان‌مان می‌گوییم که دخترانی بوده‌اند با چنین تجربه‌ای. و وقتی که از چنین تجربه‌ای سخن می‌گوییم به طور حتم در جستجوی مترجمی برای کارهای دوا و درمان‌شان و مراجعات‌شان به بازار و دادگاه و... نیستیم که این ساده‌انگاری و بی‌اهمیت جلوه دادن مساله‌ای‌ است که در حال حاضر بزرگترین مشکل کل جامعه غیرفارس در ایران است. و این مشکل یکی از مهمترین چالش‌های پیش روی مدافعان حقوق بشر و حقوق زن است و این مساله همانا برداشتن اولین قدم برای رفع همه اشکال تبعیض نژادی در ایران است.
نویسنده اعتقاد دارد که هویت جنسی زن، هویتی مستقل و متمایز از مرد و جامعه و فرهنگ است به این معنا که چیزی جز جنسیت زن او را از مرد متمایز نمی‌کند و لذا مستحق تمام حقوقی است که یک مرد در جامعه و قانون دارد. به این معنا که نه مرد و نه سیستم و جامعه مردسالار هیچگونه حق تعیین تکلیف و «آقایی» بر او را ندارد. با این حال، هویت زن در عین استقلال و تمایز وابسته به فاکتورهای فرهنگی و محیطی است که زن در سایه آنها پرورش یافته است. این است که نمی‌توان با این هویت مستقل از فرهنگ و محیط پیرامونش تعامل کرد. و در عمل نیز چنین کاری ممکن نیست زیرا که هر فرد آیینه فرهنگ مادری خویش است.
یک زن قبل از آنکه زن شود در سال‌های اولیه زندگی خود کودکی است که شخصیت و هویت فردی و اجتماعی خود را از دامان خانواده می‌گیرد. این چنین می‌شود که نگرش و رفتار و عادات یک زن مدرن اروپایی تفاوتی عمیق دارد با همجنس‌اش از روستایی در اصفهان. و این است که زن عرب اهوازی برخاسته از فرهنگ و جامعه‌ای است کاملا متفاوت با فرهنگ فارسی، ترکی و ... مشکلات این زن به دلیل همین تفاوت‌های بسیار، ریشه‌هایی کاملا متفاوت دارد. به این تفاوت‌های فرهنگی که تعاملی متفاوت را از سوی فعالان حقوق زن می‌طلبد باید تفاوت‌های آسیب زده و بیمار ناشی از تبعیض نژادی دولت مرکزی را نیز افزود.
گاهی زن روشنفکر عرب و ترک را به انتقاد می‌گیرند که برای زنان ملتش کاری نمی‌کند و به جای آن به نزاع‌های ناسیونالیستی مشغول است. همه آنچه که تا به اینجا در این نوشتار آمده خود مقدمه‌ای است بر دفاع از روش زن روشنفکر عرب اهوازی برای مبارزه برای احقاق حقوق هم جنس و همزبان‌اش.

سیاست‌های جنسی رژیم ایران و مواد زن‌ستیز قانون اساسی جمهوری اسلامی دست در دست بافت اجتماعی مردسالار همه زنان را فارغ از پیشینه فرهنگی و اجتماعی‌شان مورد هجوم و تبعیض جنسی قرار داده است. در این میان آنچه که از دید مبارزان حقوق زن پنهان می‌ماند و یا نادیده انگاشته می‌شود تبعیض مضاعفی است که زنان ملل غیرفارس از آن رنج می‌برند. تبعیض مضاعف جنسی و نژادی این زنان را بیش از همه اقشار جامعه رنگارنگ ایران مورد ستم و ظلم قرار داده است. این تبعیض مضاعف نتیجه بی‌توجهی به تفاوت‌های فرهنگی و تاریخی این ملل است. پرداختن به این تفاوت‌ها مجالی جداگانه می‌طلبد و امیدوارم که بتوانم در فرصتی دیگر به تفاوت‌های زنان عرب با همجنسان‌شان از دیگر ملل بپردازم. به هر حال مجموعه این تفاوت‌هاست که به فعالیت‌های زنان غیرفارس رنگی دیگر می‌دهد و اینجاست که چرایی گرایشات هویت‌خواهانه زنان غیر فارس در چارچوب ملی‌گرایی واضح‌تر می‌شود.
زن فارس پس از آنکه حق تحصیل و به تبع آن امتیاز و حق کارکردن و معلم و پزشک و وکیل شدن را گرفته است در پی آن است که استقلال تام و کامل خود را از مفهومی سنتی به اسم «ولی امر» بگیرد و از یوغ بردگی جنسی رها شود و از زیر فشار خشونت خانگی کمر راست کند تا اختیار روان و جسمش را به تمام و کمال در دستان خود گیرد همانگونه که لایق هر انسان آزاد است.
قصه زن عرب اما طنز تلخی است که عمق آن را کسی نمی‌داند جز خود او و همدردان او. آنجا که زن فارس به دنبال استقلال از شوهر و پدر است، زن عرب در آرزوی خلاصی از وضعیتی است که هم خود او را در بر گرفته است و هم شوهر و پدرش را.
وقتی که شوهر بی‌کار است و پدر بی‌پول و مادر و خواهر و برادر گرسنه و بی‌لباس و بی‌امید و بی‌آینده بی‌گمان صحبت از خشونت جنسی و حق سقط جنین و... در حد لطیفه‌ای نا مفهوم برای زن عرب باقی می‌ماند.
بی‌پرده بگویم، هم‌زبان و هم‌فرهنگ و هم‌جنس من از ابتدایی‌ترین حقوق حقه هر انسان محروم است، بر دریایی از نفت زندگی می‌کند اما فرصت‌های عادلانه اجتماعی و فرهنگی از او سلب شده و راه به جایی ندارد و نمی‌داند فردا برایش چه می‌آورد. بخش بزرگی از زنان ملت عرب اهواز به همراه مردان‌شان در شرایطی که حتی در خور چارپایان نیست زندگی می‌کنند. تبعیض سیستماتیک نژادی مثل خوره جان و مال و کودکان این مردم را نشانه رفته است. در خانه امنیت اقتصادی و آرامش روان ندارند و خارج از خانه با سیستمی انسان‌ستیز و فاشیست در تعامل‌اند. در چنین شرایطی زن عرب نه استقلال از شوهر می‌خواهد و نه حق طلاق چرا که به گونه‌ای طنزآلود حتی زیستن نیز حقی شده است که باید برای به دست آوردنش بجنگد.
تبعیض نژادی علیه مردمان غیرفارس با چراغ سبز دولت مرکزی به صورت سیستماتیک در سرزمین‌های مادری‌شان علیه ایشان اعمال می‌شود. در خوزستان - که تا سال ۱۹۳۶ میلادی رسما عربستان خوانده می‌شد - مردم عرب طی بیش از ۸۰ سال همواره از به دست گرفتن امور مدیریتی سرزمین مادری خود محروم بوده‌اند. در سرزمین مادری خویش به دلیل عدم فهم زبان فارسی که ظالمانه توسط رژیم‌های مرکزی بر آنها تحمیل شده است همواره مورد تمسخر و تحقیر مرکز نشینان مهاجر بوده‌اند. این رفتارهای نژادپرستانه و سیاست‌های انسان‌ستیز مرکز با گفتمان نژادپرستانه تاریخ و ادبیات فارسی ترکیبی عالی شده است برای عقب نگاه داشتن مردم عرب و ماندن بی‌گریزشان در پس مدرنیته. پر واضح است که در این میان سهم زن عرب به دلیل جنسیت‌اش و نژادش محرومیت و فقر چند برابر است.
این فقر که در وهله اول سیاسی است زن عرب را - در کنار همجنس‌اش از ملیت‌های ترک و بلوچ و کرد و... - از تحصیل به زبان مادری محروم می‌کند. فرهنگ عقب نگاه داشته شده بومی نیز - به کمک سیاست‌های زن‌ستیز دولت مرکزی- بی‌فایده بودن تحصیل زن را ترویج می‌کند. در این میان نباید تجربه‌های تلخ کودکان غیرفارس را در محیط مدرسه از یاد برد. نگرش و رفتار تحقیرآمیزی که از سوی معلم و مدیر و هم‌کلاسی فارس متوجه دختران و پسران عرب است - و خود نویسنده نیز از آن بی‌نصیب نمانده است- خود مایه دلسردی و بی‌میلی این کودکان به مدرسه و درس است. درس به زبانی که نماینده فرهنگی است که فرهنگ و زبان مادری این کودکان را به باد تحقیر گرفته است.
تحصیل شاید ضامن کار نباشد اما یک زن بدون تحصیلات در ایران شانس کمی برای کار دارد. و البته که زن عرب تقریبا هیچ شانسی ندارد. مقوله وضعیت اقتصادی زنان غیرفارس خود مجالی جدا می‌طلبد و من به همین نکته اکتفا می‌کنم که تحت تاثیر شرایط عمدتا سیاسی حاکم بر جامعه غیرفارس در ایران زنان این ملل از لحاظ اقتصادی همواره متکی بر مردان هستند و فقر اقتصادی گسترده که دست و پای این ملل عقب نگاه داشته شده را بسته است تاثیری دو چندان بر وضعیت زن غیر فارس دارد.
طیف‌های مختلف جنبش زنان در ایران و خارج از کشور از زنان ملل غیر فارس هم راهی و هم خوانی اهداف و سطح مطالبات را طلب می‌کنند و مبارزه برای حقوق ملل به حاشیه رانده شده را امری خارج از حیطه اهتمامات زن به صورت عام می‌دانند. در همین راستا فعالیت‌های هویت طلبانه زنان این ملل را دونی می‌پندارند و ارزش آن را زیر سؤال می‌برند. گویا این نکته واضح تر از روز را نادیده می‌انگارند که در مبارزات حق خواهانه، هخوانی اهداف و مطالبات گروه‌های مبارز فقط در صورت همگونی بستر و خاستگاه آنها میسر است. آنگاه که بستر و شرایط از گروهی به گروه دیگر متفاوت باشد توقع این همخوانی نا بجا و دور از منطق است. زن غیر فارس دقیقا در نتیجه خاستگاه ویژه‌اش، شرایطی متفاوت از زن فارس را تجربه می‌کند. این تجربه متفاوت به تنهایی دلیل لازم و کافی است تا مبارزه زن روشنفکر غیر فارس برای احقاق حقوق هم‌جنس و هم‌تبارش در جریانی به ظاهر متفاوت ریشه گیرد. اینجا من از کلمه «به ظاهر» استفاده می‌کنم تا یاد آور حرفی شوم که عمدتا فعالان حقوق زن تحویل من و هم‌فکرانم می‌دهند. این که ما فریب افکار «ناسیونالیستها» و «پانها» را خورده‌ایم و به جبهه‌ای کشیده شده‌ایم که رزم ما نیست! این حرفها در عین سادگی فکر و اندیشه زن غیر فارس را به استهزاء می‌گیرد و امثال نویسنده را بازیچه دست این جهت و آن حزب می‌شمارد.
مرد غیر فارس اگر از حقوق ملتش حرف بزند به تندروی و خیانت متهم می‌شود و زن غیرفارس اگر حقش را بخواهد توسط این زنان «برابری خواه» دنباله رو و طفیلی خوانده می‌شود. اینجاست که دوگانگی حرف و عمل مبارزان راه «برابری» به شکل غم‌انگیزی نمایان می‌شود. این خانمها یا حقیقت را نمی‌بینند (که از پیشکسوتان و مجربانی چون ایشان بعید است) و یا به مانند اکثریت اپوزیسیون ایرانی هنوز آنقدر بالغ نشده‌اند تا بتوانند از خط قرمز «نژادگرایی» خود عبور کرده، آزادی و برابری را از شکل شعار خارج کنند و آن را از انحصار یک گروه خاص در آورده و برای آحاد مردمان ساکن ایران آن را طلب کنند.
زن عرب برای اینکه منزلت انسانی خود را همتراز با یک زن فارس به دست آورد در ابتدا نیاز دارد تا به همترازی هویتی دست یابد. به این معنا که هویت وی در چارچوب فرهنگ و زبان مستقلش به رسمیت شناخته شود و اجازه یابد تا در این چارچوب که تعریفگر شخصیت و شان انسانی ویژه اوست حرکت کند. زنی که هویت او را از او سلب کرده باشند و مجبور به سانسور فرهنگی خود شود هرگز نمی‌تواند با همجنسش که زبان و فرهنگ خود را با افتخار و بی‌هیچ مانع علم می‌کند برابری کند. چنین زنی، چنین انسانی همواره با خلائی زندگی می‌کند که مانع رشد و تکامل روان و روح او می‌شود و او را از پیش روی سالم باز می‌دارد.
آنچه که زن عرب به دنبال آن است در ابتدا اعتراف به هویت مادری او توسط سیستم حاکم و پذیرش همه تفاوت‌های فرهنگی اوست. آنگاه که حاکمیت و اپوزیسیون این هویت را پذیرفته و به آن ارج نهند شرایطی مساوی برای زن عرب فراهم می‌شود تا در ادامه مبارزاتش به مطالباتی بپردازد که هم اکنون همه هم و غم فعالان حقوق زن است. با تاکید بر این نکته که از ابتداء تا انتها این مبارزه تلاش برای احقاق حقوق بشر است و فعالیت‌های زن غیرفارس برای احقاق حقوق ملتش هرگز نمی‌تواند و نباید جریانی انحرافی محسوب شود، چرا که این جز تقلیل‌شان این زن و مبارزات انسان‌گرای وی و شکستن حرمت انسانیت و حقوق انسانی نیست.
به زعم اغلب گروه‌های مخالف دولت ایران در خارج و داخل، مبارزات هویت‌طلبانه زن غیرفارس گرایشی نژادی و دنباله رو دارد و این البته از اوهام خام و تفسیرهای توجیه‌گرانه این گروه‌هاست که در پی نفی و نادیده انگاشتن هر وجود و هویتی غیر از هویت «خودی» هستند. گرایش فعالان حقوق ملت‌ها اما گرایشی کاملا انسانی است و مبارزات هدفمند ایشان در جهت احقاق حقوق انسانی مللی است که بی‌صدا و بی‌منبر مانده‌اند و کسی نیست تا دردهایشان را فریاد کند.
آنجا که زن فارس به دنبال استقلال از شوهر و پدر است، زن عرب در آرزوی خلاصی از وضعیتی است که هم خود او را در بر گرفته است و هم شوهر و پدرش را.  این است که زن روشنفکر عرب اعتراف به هویت عربی‌اش را طلب می‌کند و در همین راستا حق تحصیل به زبان عربی را - در عین بدیهی و ابتدایی بودنش - برای همجنس هم زبانش فریاد می‌کند شاید که پس از آن امیدی باشد به استقلال اقتصادی او و ... و شاید بعد از آن نوبت همه آن حرف‌های قشنگ و مدرن هم برسد و برای زن عرب تک‌همسری و حق حضانت فرزند و ... تبدیل شود به مساله روزش. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fiction Writing Workshop Announcement

LOCATION: 200 King St. East, St. James Campus
DEPARTMENT: Centre for Preparatory and Liberal Studies
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ava_homaFriday November 2, 9 & 16, 2012, 6:00-7:30 pm. Room 237E, St. James Campus, 200 King St. East
Over the course of a 3-session workshop, Ava Homa discusses crafting a piece of fiction: “How to create characters who breathe on the page,” “The art of writing dialogue,” “Plot is the thing: Suspense and conflict,” “Point of View” and “Setting.”
Short stories are distributed to the participants prior to the beginning of the workshop. During each session, participants are encouraged to read the text and analyze one element mainly. After that, members will be asked to read their own work out loud and get constructive feedback from peers. This way the workshops help the writers build skills from session to session.
For more information about the Pen Lecturer-in-Residence please 
Office Hours: Ava Homa is available for individual meetings every Friday between 3-6 pm. By appointment only.

Monday, October 29, 2012

قرار بود سر بی گناه بدار نباشد قرار بود فقط تا به پای دار بیاید

My Programs at George Brown College as the 2012 Pen Lecturer-in-Residence

Guest Lecture Ava Homa is available to visit your classes as a guest speaker and engage your students in a variety of discussions.
  1. Fiction Writing 3-Session Workshop: November 2, 9 and 16, 2012 
  2. Broadcasting International Movies and Generating Discussions:November 6, 2012,  “Turtles Can Fly
    November 20, 2012, “A Separation
  3. Reading and Open Mic., November 28, 2012 
For more information about these events, please visit Centre for Preparatory and Liberal Studies Events page.
For more information about the Pen Lecturer-in-Residence please
Office Hours: Ava Homa is available for individual meetings every Friday between 3-6 pm.. By appointment only.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Review of Bahman Ghobadi’s latest movie: Rhino Season

Review of Bahman Ghobadi’s latest movie: Rhino Season

Powerful, suggestive, subtle, and sensual, Rhino Season was screened, for the first time, at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is devoted to the recent Kurds killed by the government of Iran: Farzad Kamangar, the Kurdish teacher, who was executed on May 2010, his crime being “animosity with God” and “threat to national security,” none ever proved. The second person the movie was devoted to was Sane Jaleh, the young Kurdish student who was killed during the Iranian’s protest to the rigged presidential election of 2009. Ghobadi also devotes the work to all the other political prisoners in the notorious prisons of Iran.
Despite the predominance of poetry and passion in this movie, suffocation is, at times, overpowering. Walls, narrow brick staircases, prison, handcuffs and the ugly face of lust are present. Love and humanity, nevertheless, continue to flourish among the dirt and debris.  The change of the regime in Iran plays a significant role in the dramatic shift in a life that Iranians try to hang on to desperately. The desperation is present, betrayal and injustice, torture, rape and exile are the motifs.
The protagonist, Sahel Farzaneh, is a poet who has no dialogues in the movie and only speaks through his poetry. This character is based on an unknown Kurdish Poet that Ghobadi only introduces as Mr. Kamangar. This man still lives in Kurdistan. Ghobadi’s uncle was killed by the government of Iran. This unknown man was incarcerated for decades by the government of Iran because of his work despite the fact that his poetry wasn’t political. Ghobadi refused to reveal the poet’s identity to save him further trouble. Ghobadi says he tried to get close to the poet and when he was on the set, he decided to act like a poet. The story and the dialogue took place on the set and he tried to stay loyal to the poetic cinema.
Water seems to claim a considerable portion of the movie through appearing as sea, rain, snow. In a scene, the audience only hears the waves of the sea and the sound of the seagulls while Sahel, the protagonist, who is inundated by pain, only stares at the waves and a piece of his poetry is recited. This powerfully evocative movie conveys the truth more through image and the character’s gesture than through conversations.  
In one of the close ups, an eye of a horse is at the centre of the screen, facing an eye of a human being, of Sahel, the Kurdish poet from Baneh. Mental and emotional earthquakes are visualized in Rhino Season
Ghobadi is economic in dialogues: except the nonsense of a female pimp, conversation is rare. Calligraphy is present and the words the poet tattoos on his back make for a powerful end to the movie.   
Toronto Star in its review of Rhino Season writes that: “The imagery is stark and stylized while the colours are bleached creating a washed look filled with brown and blues. There is hardly any dialogue so it is left mainly to the pictures to tell the story and in the case of the actors they have to convey their emotions through their gestures, facial expressions and eyes; even with the limitations placed upon him, the performance of Behrouz Vossoughi is haunting… What did leave a lasting impression were the dream-induced visuals which are both beautiful and disturbing.”
Animals are present in this movie, including turtles and horses reminding the audience of Turtles Can Fly and A Time for Drunken Horses, Ghobadi’s previous movies. This makes this director’s fourth title with animals. Nobody Knows about Persian Cats was his previous movie. “I love animals” Ghobadi says. “But all I did was to visualize Kamangar’s poetry. He loves animals as much as I do.”
This is the first time Ghobadi is using professional actors. For his other movies, Ghobadi, relied on local people. In an interview Ghobadi briefly refers to the difficulties of working with the ordinary people such as a man who tells him “Your movie is only two hours. I have already worked more than five hours and I won’t be back tomorrow.” Having people, as opposed to actors, in Ghobadi’s movies builds priceless credibility and contrasts them to the shiny Hollywood movies. This choice makes movie marking harder for Ghobadi, but proves this Kurdish man’s creativity. When asked how come he decided to invite professionals, Ghobadi answered that it was all due to the respect he has for Vosooghi. Ghobadi mentioned the Vosooghi was his childhood hero, the man whom he’d passionately watch on the screen of a small cinema in Baneh of Kurdistan, a man who’d render Ghobadi sleepless when he was beaten by the bad guys in the movies.
The movie is haunting and dreamlike. Greg Klymkiw in his review of the Rhino Season states that: “The picture is, quite simply, dazzling - an original voice that yields a deeply moving, artistically daring and consummate demonstration of how cinema can work at the highest levels of the medium. In the case of Rhino Season, the medium is simply not the message, nor the message it conveys, but how the medium is pushed over the usually accepted boundaries. If this tale doesn't move audiences to tears, nothing will.” The movie stars Behrouz Vossoughi, Monica Bellucci, Yilmaz Erdogan, Belçim Bilgin, Caner Cindoruk, Arash Labaf and Ali Pourtash.
visit Ava Homa's profile
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Friday, October 5, 2012

Review of Rhino Season directed by Bahman Ghobadi (Kurdish)

This is my review of Rhino Season directed by Bahman Ghobadi published in Kurdistan's Bas newspaper.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

‘Echo Gods and Silent Mountains’ by Patrick Woodcock – a review

‘Echo Gods and Silent Mountains’ by Patrick Woodcock – a review

Echo Gods and Other Mountains cover
By Ava Homa:
Rather than standing at a distance and putting Kurds under a Western microscope, Woodcock becomes a Kurd when he writes, as if he has lost loved ones in genocides too, as if his hometown, school and hospital have been smashed too, as if he has unearthed the ground and has tried to identified the long-“disappeared” family and relatives too. “For as long as our city sits/on oil/we will sit in blood,” (p. 21).
Deciding on the genre of poetry, rather than non-fiction, while writing about a nation the rest of the world is repellently ignorant about, is a rare and brave decision of a writer who does not exchange his art with sales and book buzzes, and does not wish to discourage the reader from visiting Kurdistan. In a conversation with CBC, Woodcock explains his decision on the genre that, “Poetry allows you to explore the broad canvas of the page and manipulate space, language and rhythm. It lets you capture a moment that would be lost of lesser eyes while letting its beauty come forth in a way that non-fiction is incapable of.”
Woodcock is not “only curious;” beyond and regardless of language, cultural, and gender chasm, Woodcock empathizes with the Kurds. That’s why when, in his poetry, Mariama says, “They want to ride you like a mule, have you carry the weight of their cowardice. Nareen, we are only seen through our organs …” (23), we believe the voice. “Time is male. Time broke me. I wanted to sue my parents in the graveyard. They taught me love, forgiveness, purity. How does that help in corrupt times?” (25-6). Woodcock does not jump between the reader and the character. We hear Mariama.
Patrick Woodcock
Patrick Woodcock
Woodcock pinpoints and portrays humanity, purity and sacrifice, in the midst of debris, chaos and corruption. While he is aware that, “The rapists are now hotel owners and company Presidents. Hair that was once shaved off is now dyed,” (27) Patrick zooms on Mama Najat who, in his teahouse, shelters and tends to “those labelled ‘crazy,’” but  Najat “barely has enough money to care for his twelve children.” Mama Najat bathes these men, pays for their medication, and is worried that they get teased and hurt. “People call them crazy, but they are not. Saddam’s fucking regime made them like this. Some of these men were educated and had families,” (44) Woodcock, or rather Mama Najat, says. “I have one man who gets very angry when his food is late./He throws things. Once he even hurt me, but I cannot blame him./Sometimes Hadi sits and yodels, or sings words from old songs …I cry …/I like it when he sings. He has a lovely voice,” (45). Mama Najat points out that foreigners come by, take photos but leave and forget. He receives no support.
Woodcock is not the Westerner whose country manufactured the weapons that Saddam used to bomb the Kurds over and over again. “In the construction of your communities,” Woodcock writes, “think of us/ your roads are not ours/ your parks and cars as well/But we are yours,” (40). “They have stolen from us, without veils or blindfold,” Woodcock has no qualm to condemn the thieves.
Patrick Woodcock, borrows the voice of the Kurds, does not distance himself, does not judge, does not analyze. “When my brother was born, I recorded his date. June 14th is not July 1st.” His poetry is powerful, beautiful, complicated, deep, and inundated with Kurdish references.
Echoes Gods and Other Mountains, in this reader’s opinion, is the best book ever written on Kurds: unique in both form and content. The book is a proof of Woodcock’s exceptional ability to commiserate with a nation invisible to the rest of the world; he becomes a Kurd, feels the plight, and carries the weight of a century of massacre, of endless pain. Woodcock is a genuine voice.
Coming across writers like Patrick Woodcock who writes for the love of it, regardless of what sells, is heartening. I have come across writers who publish on Kurds without having read enough about the Kurds or have lived in Kurdistan for more than a week. Woodcock spent two years in the heat and dust of Kurdistan, mingled with the Kurds and listened to their stories without trying to make decisions for them.
“Among history’s elaborate/labyrinths of hate/ can purity/perdure/copulate?” Patrick Woodcock.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Kurds and United States

Here are some of my notes while researching for the World Kurdish Congress

the United States provided $500-million in agricultural and manufacturing credits to Iraq as that country was destroying thousands of Kurdish villages and gassing Kurds. "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," a documentary by Samantha Power.

"After Vietnam had ousted Cambodia's Pol Pot regime, the United States, in an effort to deny Vietnam influence in that country, took the lead in the United Nations in recognizing the genocidal Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia. The United States also led the arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims, even though it was clear that doing so would prevent them from defending themselves. And it did everything in its power to remove U.N. peacekeepers from Rwanda and prevent their return.Some 800,000 persons died as a result; the violence also spilled over into neighboring countries, setting off local and regional wars. Other examples pile up." 

"During the 1980s and 1990s, the United States supplied Turkey with $15 billion worth of armaments as the Turkish military carried out widespread attacks against civilian populations in the largest use of American weapons by non-U.S. forces since Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Most of this took place during President Clinton's first term. Over 3,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed and over two million Kurds became refugees in an operation where more than three-quarters of the weapons were of U.S. origin.

The Beginnings
At the 1919 Versailles Conference, in which the victorious allies of World War I were carving up the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, President Woodrow Wilson unsuccessfully pushed for the establishment of an independent Kurdistan. Since that time, however, U.S. policy toward the Kurds has been far less supportive and often cynically opportunistic.
For example, in the mid-1970s, in conjunction with the dictatorial Shah of Iran, the United States goaded Iraqi Kurds into launching an armed uprising against the then left-leaning Iraqi government with the promise of continued military support. However, the United States abandoned them precipitously as part of an agreement with the Baghdad regime for a territorial compromise favorable to Iran regarding the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Suddenly without supply lines to obtain the necessary equipment to defend themselves, the Iraqi army marched into Kurdish areas and thousands were slaughtered. Then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger dismissed concerns about the humanitarian consequences of this betrayal by saying that "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work."
The 1980s
The uprising by Iraqi Kurds against the central government in Baghdad resumed in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, led by guerrillas of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK.) Strong Iranian support for the PUK made virtually all Kurds potential traitors in the eyes of Saddam Hussein's regime, which responded with savage repression. In the latter part of the decade, in what became known as the Anfal campaign, as many as 4,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed, more than 100,000 Kurdish civilians were killed and more than one million Iraqi Kurds--nearly one-quarter of the Iraqi Kurdish population--were displaced.
Despite this, the United States increased its support for Saddam Hussein's regime during this period, providing agricultural subsidies and other economic aid as well as limited military assistance. American officials looked the other way as much of these funds were laundered by purchasing military equipment despite widespread knowledge that it was being deployed as part of Baghdad's genocidal war against the Kurds. The United States also sent an untold amount of indirect aid--largely through Kuwait and other Arab countries--which enabled Iraq to receive weapons and technology to increase its war-making capacity.
The March 1988 Iraqi attacks on the Kurdish town of Halabja--where Iraq government forces massacred upwards to 5,000 civilians by gassing them with chemical weapons--was downplayed by the Reagan administration, even to the point of leaking phony intelligence claiming that Iran, then the preferred American enemy, was actually responsible. The Halabja tragedy was not an isolated incident, as U.S. officials were well aware at the time. UN reports in 1986 and 1987 documented Iraq's use of chemical weapons, which were confirmed both by investigations from the CIA and from U.S. embassy staff who visited Iraqi Kurdish refugees in Turkey. However, not only was the United States not particularly concerned about the ongoing repression and the use of chemical weapons, the United States actually was supporting the Iraqi government's procurement efforts of materials necessary for the development of such an arsenal.

The suffering of the Kurdish people under Saddam's rule was shamelessly used as an excuse, but should under no circumstances be considered an actual motivation, for the American conquest.

The 1991 Kurdish Uprising
At the end of the Gulf War in 1991, the Kurds launched a major popular rebellion against Saddam Hussein's regime. With the Iraqi army already devastated from six weeks of massive assaults by the United States and allied forces and then forced to fight a simultaneous Shiite-led rebellion in southern Iraq, the Kurds initially made major advances, seizing a series of key towns. These gains were soon reversed by a brutal counter-attack by Iraqi government forces, however. Despite President George Bush calling on the people of Iraq to rise up against the dictatorship, U.S. forces--which at that time temporarily occupied a large strip of southern Iraq--did nothing to support the post-war rebellion and stood by while thousands of Iraqi Kurds, Shiites, and others were slaughtered.
In the cease-fire agreement following the expulsion of Iraqi occupation forces from Kuwait, the United States made a conscious decision to exclude Iraqi helicopter gunships from the ban on Iraqi military air traffic. These were the very weapons that proved so decisive in crushing the rebellions.
U.S. officials have claimed that they were tricked into thinking that Iraqi military helicopters would be used only for post-war humanitarian relief. Others suspect, however, that the Bush administration feared a victory by Iraqi Kurds might encourage the ongoing Kurdish uprising in Turkey, a NATO ally.
By the end of March 1991, as many one million Kurds had fled their homes to escape advancing Iraqi government forces. Most were able to flee to safety in Iran, but the U.S.-backed Turkish regime--while allowing some to seek temporary refuge--blocked more than 100,000 Kurds from entering their country, thereby trapping them in snowy mountains in violation of their obligations under international humanitarian law to allow the fleeing civilians sanctuary. Without food, water, or shelter, as many as 1,000 refugees reportedly died each day.

, far more Kurds were killed by U.S. air strikes than by Saddam Hussein's regime.
during the 1990s, the United States--while condemning the PKK--was largely silent regarding the Turkish government's repression.
Zunes, Stephen. "The United States and the Kurds: a brief history." Foreign Policy in Focus 25 Oct. 2007. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 Sep. 2012.

Monday, August 20, 2012

CLAIMING DIFFERENCE: The Fourth and Last Instalment of my Piece in LRC


By Ava Homa
Living in a condition of censorship and suffocation, trapped in an abusive relationship where I had no rights as a woman, being harassed socially, politically and emotionally, living with the inevitable horrors of arrest, torture and the perpetually threatened invasion by the United States which had already attacked our neighbours: Iraq and Afghanistan, I fled the country in which I was born and raised. It was August 2007, and during my 20-something-hour Aeroflot flight from Tehran to Toronto, with nine hours transit in a Moscow airport, I was robbed—a passenger had stolen my wallet from the overhead compartment—and my Iranian passport was taken away from me by the Russian pilot, to be returned when I arrived at the destination. None of this mattered much because I eventually landed in Canada, the land of my dreams, ostensibly to be a student but in reality only to seek asylum in a less stereotyped, quicker and safer way.
After two years, I defended my master’s thesis in English and Creative Writing from my beloved University of Windsor. Echoes from the Other Land, my collection of short stories on modern Iranian women—the generation born and raised after the 1979 Islamic Revolution—was published in 2010 by TSAR Publications. Echoes from the Other Land was nominated for the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and brought me joy and pride. Canada, my treasured country, generously allowed me to experience what it means to be terror-free, to breathe, to write freely, to laugh, to let my scalp feel the breeze … to live. In this country, I met the love of my life and I have been living with him now for three happy years.
I no longer needed to fight to prove that the treatment of women in Iran was unjust and humiliating; kind and gentle Canadians sympathized with the fictional females of Echoes from the Other Land who had to tackle patriarchy while treating the wounds of circumcision, cross-dressing, divorce, cancer, deception and seduction. But…
In May 2012, I read part of my new novel-in-progress, Love and Peace, at the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing conference. An audience member asked me if I do any research, if literary merit matters to me! It took me awhile to see that for mainstream readers I am a poor Iranian girl who is supposed to remind them not to take their freedom for granted, and for intellectuals I am the stereotypical exile who gains recognition for a life story without literary merit.
Writers-in-exile have compelling stories, but how valuable are these people in this competitive job market? I have left the supportive English department at the University of Windsor and now work as a part-time teacher in a few private high schools and colleges. I have learned not to let my bosses, colleagues or students know that I am a writer-in-exile, that I have escaped persecution and that Canada is my refuge. I have seen how it exposes my vulnerability, how it turns me into an easy target for bullying. A previous chair tried to get me involved in a pyramid scheme. Maybe it was not a scam, but it was definitely unethical to put such pressure on a contractor striving and struggling to become full-time. When I politely refused, she told me that I did not understand. A couple of months later, she yelled at me when a student complained about her grade. This chair, of course, does not treat other teachers like that. Her primarily pitiful looks changed to contemptuous treatment. I cannot explain how much stress she put me under. I no longer work for that school.
Is being a writer-in-exile an advantage after going through so much pain? Is claiming difference supposed to incite admiration or is it a source of humiliation? Or is being a writer-in-exile a strange combination of both?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Semicolons: A Love Story

Semicolons: A Love Story


When I was a teenager, newly fixated on becoming a writer, I came across a piece of advice from Kurt Vonnegut that affected me like an ice cube down the back of my shirt.
“Do not use semicolons,” he said. “They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
At the time I was less struck by the cranky, casual bigotry of the statement (a great deal of Vonnegut’s advice sounds as if it was rasped between grandfatherly coughing fits) than by the thrilling starkness of the prohibition. A writer was simply not to use semicolons. Ever.
At that point I’d written a number of not very good short stories over which I’d sprinkled semicolons (along with inapt adjectives and “symbolic” character names) like the wishful seasonings of an amateur cook. Now I would have, if it had been physically possible, scrubbed the accursed symbol from my keyboard and never thought about semicolons again, except to harrumph cruelly when I witnessed other, lesser writers succumbing to this particular form of misguidedness.
Advice from Vonnegut was not, to me, just any advice. To say that he was my literary hero doesn’t quite capture the intensity of the worship and obsession I heaped upon him. I wrote him letters that I can only pray he never saw. I read all of his books and then, once I’d finished, I started collecting editions of “Slaughterhouse Five” in other languages (none of which, it goes without saying, I could read a word of). I even began narrating my life to myself in his weary, gravelly voice. (Ben sat down to finish his history homework. What this meant, mostly, was learning how one group of apes butchered another group of apes. So it goes.)
Vonnegut’s dismissal of semicolons therefore struck me as more than a mere matter of style. This was, like his refusal to describe his war experience in heroic terms, a demonstration of virtue. To abjure semicolons was to declare oneself pure of heart, steely-eyed, sadly disillusioned. I pictured Vonnegut and Hemingway sitting together on a porch, squinting grimly out at the road, shaking their heads at what the literary world had come to. I wanted nothing more in life than to climb onto one of the empty rockers beside them.
Peter Arkle
My disdain for semicolons outlasted my devotion to Vonnegut. Well into college I avoided them, trusting in the keyboard’s adjacent, unpretentious comma and period to divvy up my thoughts. I imagined that, decades hence, if some bright-eyed teenager were to ask me for advice, I’d pass Vonnegut’s prohibition right along, minus the troublesome bit about transvestites and hermaphrodites. By now I’d come across Isaac Babel’s famous description of periods as irons capable of stabbing the heart. And I knew, of course, that commas were indispensable. The semicolon sat there in my literary utensil drawer like a cherry pitter, theoretically functional, but fussy and unloved and probably destined for the yard-sale table.
So it’s been with considerable surprise, these past few years, that I’ve found myself becoming something of a cherry-pitting maniac. This may just, as Vonnegut says, reflect the fact that I’ve now been to college, though honestly I can’t remember anyone’s expressing a single semicolon-related sentiment while I was there. Regardless, I’ve come to love the awkward things, and to depend on them for easing me through a complex thought.
I blame my grammatical fall on an unlikely corrupter: William James. For the past year or two I’ve had on my nightstand a fat Library of America collection of his writing, and it took me a while to realize that one of the things I was loving about it — one of the things that made me feel as if I was sitting beside a particularly intelligent, humane and excitable friend on a long trip in a horse-drawn carriage — was his use of semicolons. James’s paragraphs, as lucid and unpretentious as can be, are divided and subdivided, as intricately structured as the anatomical diagrams he includes in “Psychology: Briefer Course.” Semicolons, along with exclamation points and dashes and whole sackfuls of commas, are, for him, vital tools in keeping what he called the “stream of thought” from appearing to the reader as a wild torrent.
And once I’d seen him using semicolons this way, their pleasing possibilities became irresistible. I’d been finding myself increasingly flummoxed by the difficulty of capturing even a rough approximation of thought on the page, and it seemed absurd to leave such a handy tool unused out of obscure loyalty.
Many times a week I’d been experiencing a mental event like this: I’d be reading an article about a flood in Mexico, which would lead me to thinking about a wedding I once went to in Cancún, which would lead me to thinking about marriage, which would lead to gay marriage, which would lead to the presidential election, which would lead to swing states, which would lead to a fascinatingly terrible country song called “Swing” — and I’d be three songs into a Trace Adkins YouTube marathon before I’d glance back down at the newspaper on the table.
It’s in honoring this movement of mind, this tendency of thoughts to proliferate like yeast, that I find semicolons so useful. Theirtextbook function — to separate parts of a sentence “that need a more distinct break than a comma can signal, but that are too closely connected to be made into separate sentences” — has come to seem like a dryly beautiful little piece of psychological insight. No other piece of punctuation so compactly captures the way in which our thoughts are both liquid and solid, wave and particle.
And so, far from being pretentious, semicolons can be positively democratic. To use a semicolon properly can be an act of faith. It’s a way of saying to the reader, who is already holding one bag of groceries, here, I know it’s a lot, but can you take another? And then (in the case of William James) another? And another? And one more? Which sounds, of course, dreadful, and like just the sort of discourtesy a writer ought strenuously to avoid. But the truth is that there can be something wonderful in being festooned in carefully balanced bags; there’s a kind of exquisite tension, a feeling of delicious responsibility, in being so loaded up that you seem to have half a grocery store suspended from your body.
So yes, Kurt Vonnegut: simplicity, in grammar as in all things, is a virtue, not to be sneezed at. But I can’t agree that semicolons represent absolutely nothing; they represent, for me anyway, the pleasure in discovering that no piece of writing advice, however stark, however beloved its deliverer, should ever be adopted mindlessly.
Ben Dolnick
Ben Dolnick is the author of “Zoology,” “You Know Who You Are” and, most recently, “Shelf-Love,” an e-book about Alice Munro. He lives in Brooklyn.