On Sept. 3rd, 2013, the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies had the distinct honor of paying tribute to the leading fiction-writer of 20th and 21st centuries Iran, Mr. Mahmoud Dowlatabadi. Under the auspices of the ASPS, the event was organized through the Artistic Directorship of Ms. Ariana Barkeshli, the Iranian “Keyboard Scheherazade,” and the Artistic Director of the Conference. In a memorable evening of celebration, the Master of Ceremonies of the Tribute Night, Professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, and the Convener, Professor Pourshariati, participants celebrated and paid tribute to a life time of literary achievement by the Iranian Laureate, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi. The Tribute Night began by the welcoming remarks of the Convener of the event, Pourhariati, and continued with a lecture by Prof. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, one of the foremost scholars of classical and modern Persian literature, on the life and times of the Master fiction-writer of contemporary Iran, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi. Mr. Dowlatabadi then delivered a key-note speech, Words Etched in Rock: The Artist’s View of His Life and Art, where the audience was captivated by a poignant and touching piece, composed and read by the writer, of his life and work. Ariana Barkeshli’s brilliant performance of pieces by modern Iranian composers, Aminollah Hossein and Alireza Mashayeki, then alternated with readings of excerpts of the work of Mr. Dowlatabadi by the writer himself, which were then read in an English translation by Prof. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak.
Born in 1940 to the family of a poor shoemaker in the village of Dowlatabad in the northeastern city of Sabzevar, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi began work early on, as a farmhand, a laborer and an actor, among other jobs. However, books provided an early inspiration to the young man which the accomplished author of today still cherishes with gusto. As an author of numerous novels, Dowlatabadi began his writing career in the genre of short story. Today, the ten-volume Klidar, three-volume The Bygone Era of Seasoned Folks, and the all-time favorite novel Missing Soluch (English translation: Missing Soluch, 2007) rank among his most notable accomplishments.
At age seventy-three, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi stands on the summit of literary achievement in his homeland of Iran, having steadily climbed his way up to such a height in a landscape of literary giants. He has not only contributed to the growing sophistication of the modern tradition in Persian fiction, but also seems to have brought together the two sides of that tradition, as he has gradually moved more and more away from a more or less linear and straightforward narrative style to one that has, over the decades, come to include important experimentations in newer ways of telling stories, from the stream of consciousness technique to magical realism. In my introductory talk, I briefly reviewed this trajectory starting with his earliest works in the1960s to his latest work, a novel titled The Colonel. Indeed, in him, I argued, the fictional art in Iran, may well have found a way finally to bridge the gap between realistic and supra-realistic trends in modern Persian fiction, the world of concrete reality and of abstract thought, modernism and post-modernism.
University of Maryland