Keeping Her Voice

On Iranian Revolution anniversary, writer appreciates ability to work without restraint in Las Vegas

In 1982, Moniro Ravanipour was arrested on the street randomly in her native Iran and spent a month in prison. This was after Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution on Feb. 11, 1979, and the hard-line Islamic rule of the Ayatollah Khomeini took power.

Ravanipour was questioned daily; She could hear the sounds of torture down the corridor. To that point she had written in a journal but had not considered becoming a writer. But, she thought, “If you were a writer or a famous woman, they wouldn’t kill me.”

Eventually she was let go, and she did step up her literary efforts, becoming one of Iran’s most respected post-revolutionary writers. She’s had eight books published in Iran, and translations of some of her work have appeared in the West.

But a few years ago, Ravanipour needed a change. Her country had become stifling creatively. The Iranian government hacked her website and her e-mail. One of her story collections, Satan’s Stones, had been banned in the country.

“I felt I was in a prison,” she says. “I couldn’t do anything.”

Her search for a change resulted in a six-month fellowship at Brown University. From there, in 2008, she became a resident writer in the Black Mountain Institute’s City of Asylum program, which provides safe haven for writers whose work has been censored or whose lives are threatened.

Ravanipour lives in Henderson with her husband and their son, and plans to stay when her residency at BMI ends later this year.

Her time in the United States has been extremely productive. She recently finished a manuscript of a novel, An Angel on Earth, about an Iranian man who commits suicide because of the “unbearable pressures of life under the clergy” and must face judgment in the hereafter to decide his fate. She has two more novels under way, including one about her time spent in the United States.

While she finds Las Vegas a wonderful city that “reminds me of my childhood,” her thoughts and work remain focused on providing a voice during a turbulent period in Iran. The so-called Green Revolution—the large protests following the disputed re-election last year of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over Mir-Hossein Mousavi—has been accompanied by an increase in government violence and torture against Iranian citizens.

Ravanipour still has students back in Iran, and she has writer friends there in hiding. She’s constantly on her computer trying to keep in touch. Two of her friends were arrested last week. “Everybody has to yell. Everybody has to shout.”

Ravanipour, for her part, is doing her best to make sure her voice is heard.