It is a place without entry and exit polls. Where the paradigm of success is not billionaire Donald Trump and celebrity Kim Kardasian but rather the orphaned tramp Huck Finn and Jim the slave. It is where flawed literary individuals — what author Henry James called “perfectly equipped failures,”– flourish and teach us to follow our convictions. It’s where we develop our capacity for empathy. Where Mark Twain refers to himself as one of America’s “many shaded exquisite mongrels.”
It is a place author Azar Nafisi calls the Republic of Imagination.
This past Saturday, Nafisi spoke at Northwestern as part of this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival. I was there and had the great honor of being transported by Nafisi to the wondrous place she writes about in her book, The Republic of Imagination, A Life in Books.
Imagination, says Nafisi, is at risk in America. Fiction is not valued the way it used to be. And yet our country was founded upon it. Upon the words of Henry James, Mark Twain, James Baldwin, Sinclair Lewis, Carson McCullers, Harper Lee, and many others.
I agree with her that we need the words of our literary founders. Now more than ever. And we must make sure that they are celebrated, not banned, censored or forgotten.
“I chose to be an American in 2008. And when you choose a country, you ask yourself what kind of citizen you will be. I knew the kind of American I wanted to be. One like Mark Twain, who said, ‘Love your country. Love it’s government, when it isn’t wrong.’ Be disruptive. That’s what we are supposed to do when we read and learn. Be disruptive,” Nafisi said on Saturday.
I have been a fan of Nafisi’s ever since I read her first book, “Reading Lolita in Tehran.” Her passion for literature and truth is contagious.
When I published a post on the Oregon School Shooting, Nafisi and I were in contact and agreement on Twitter about the issue of gun control. I discovered she had a very personal reason for her opinions. Her son had been a student at Virginia Tech during that school’s mass shooting. He was locked in a separate classroom and was ultimately fine. But for Nafisi, who left behind a totalitarian regime in Iran, experiencing random violence like that in America was very disturbing.
Through Twitter, we talked about meeting at Northwestern. I was so excited to meet her and she seemed genuinely glad to meet me. I am confident we will stay in touch.
Thanks to her, I also know I will return to the republic of imagination often.
Thanks to my friend, Sue Ferrell, for taking the photos of me and Azar Nafisi. Many thanks also to friends Jan Hofmeister and Jenny Scott for their support and assistance.
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Filed under: Travel
Tags: Azar Nafisi, Carson McCullers, Chicago Humanities Festival, gun control, gun violence, Harper Lee, Henry James, Huck Finn, Huckleberry Finn, Iran, James Baldwin, Mark Twain, mass school shooting, Northwestern University, Oregon school shooting, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Sinclair Lewis, Tehran, The Republic of Imagination, Virginia Tech