Writer Porochista Khakpour
Velvet Coat — Saturday, April 4, at 4 p.m.
Porochista Khakpour, author of the critically acclaimed novel The Last Illusion and writer-in-residence at Bard College, reads Saturday at the Velvet Coat as part of Mission Boutique, a feature of the Mission Creek Festival. Recently, Little Village spoke with Khakpour about her new novel, her love and fear of the mystical, and how her multiple identities of being an Iranian, an American and a New Yorker weave their way into her in writing.
Your latest book, The Last Illusion, is an Iranian coming of age novel that focuses on a boy, Zal, who is cast out and rejected by his mother. What is it about the formative childhood period interests you as an author?
I don’t think we ever stop coming of age. In this book, Zal perpetually tries to be human, which I think we all strive for — I do believe all humans feel outsiders to some degree, in that individual consciousness is inherently alienating.
Your writing is lyrical, your storylines are haunting, and the tone is often mystical. Do we sense a hint of a mystic in the author herself?
Not me, really. I am both terrified and enamored with the magical and mystical. I love New Age, culty, weirdo-psychedelic-spiritual aesthetic, but I can’t live it. I am a dual citizen of life and death in the way goths are maybe! Or I wish.
In your work, you explore poignant themes relating to immigration, nationalism and how the U.S. is dealing with religious and cultural change. What obstacles have you encountered in terms of response?
Most of my obstacles have been as an essayist and as a Middle Eastern person in the world. Otherwise, I’ve been a novelist and you are protected in some sense by fiction. It’s more all the 9/11 in my fiction that freaks people out.
In The Last Illusion, 9/11 is the backdrop against which the story unfolds. Was there a reason you to set this particular story against this event?
It’s the major event of my life — I was 23 — rivaling only the other major event of my life: the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Iran-Iraq War. 9/11 is a big subject of mine — in both of my books, and in many essays. It chose me, more so as a New Yorker than as a Middle Easterner or even as an American.
Your writing often speaks to your identity as an American and an Iranian. Any thoughts on the current, often antagonistic, relationship between these countries?
Right now we just got good news from the Iranian nuclear talks and so both my Iranian and American sides are very proud, for the moment at least. Rarely been prouder! In my lifetime being Iranian and American have been more than a bit loaded — both sides were very much bad guys. Not tonight though.
You have a wonderful Twitter feed and we see there that it’s clear you find your students’ work rousing and inspiring. What does your viewpoint allow you to see about posterity? Does the future look bright?
I absolutely love young people — I am not nostalgic about the past or old things. I am into what’s next and I think so much good comes from hearing and empowering young people and even letting them lead the way. I’ve been lucky to have incredible students but even luckier to have amazing professors who came before me. I’m just passing their energy down.
Your next book will be a memoir. What do we have to look forward to?
Late-stage Lyme, benzodiazepine addiction, ERs, psych wards, stalkers, celebrities, a few good cults and a whole lot of exes.