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An Interview with Author Deniz Khateri

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Deniz is an Iranian-American theatre artist based in New York. Her works experiment with form and they focus on memory, grief, immigration and the concept of home. Her plays have been performed in several national and international festivals. She has written and directed experimental music-theatre projects that challenge the status quo and current vernacular of the theatre and modern opera scene. Her opera Salt has been acclaimed as “remarkable on every level” (Ewing Reviewing). A former resident artist at Center at West Park and resident playwright at the New Perspectives theatre women’s short lab, she has also designed and directed international shows, video arts and shadow puppetry visuals for companies such as OperFrankfurt, Guerilla Opera, Dinosaur Annex, and Long Beach Opera. Holding an MA in Theatre from City University of New York, she has trained in master classes with prominent international artists including Peter Brook, Paul Zaloom, and Gardzienice theatre company of Poland. She is an adjunct lecturer at Hunter college and Queens borough community college of CUNY.

Deniz is the recipient of the NYFA award for her Oscar-qualified documentary animated web series, Diasporan, which explores the daily struggles of immigrants.

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Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I was asked by a theatre company to write this play right when the travel ban was issued. A short version of it was performed in Boston in 2017. As an Iranian immigrant, I was surrounded by people who were affected by this order, but I only saw the deeper effects a couple of years later when I saw how much it impacted the marriage of a close friend. I started to dig deeper into it, asked her more questions and asked her permission to get inspirations from the story. Although the final result came out completely different, with characters that don’t even share the same backgrounds with my friend and her husband. But what learning about their story did for me was that I learned about the feelings that they were both experiencing and the little details in a relationship that goes through such situation.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

It went through many working titles, but none of them captured the image and feeling I had in mind. It’s a very specific sensation that often accompanies immigration, triggered by the interplay of light, sound, and movement in your surroundings: the melancholy of a sunset, the sound of seagulls, and their shadows scattered over the landscape reflecting a red sun in the water. It’s a distinct sense of loneliness, the uncanny nature of the unknown, the shedding of old skins and routines, and the entrance into a space where you belong to neither your origin nor your destination.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I’m a multidisciplinary artist in theatre which means that I direct, perform and design puppets as well as writing plays and librettos. I also teach in the theatre department of some of CUNY’s campuses. When you wear multiple hats, it’s hard to define yourself and I try to avoid that because I don’t like to limit myself but in today’s world, people don’t have time for you to explain yourself. Everything needs to be consumed and digested fast. It’s easier to say (and hear) “I’m a playwright” rather than “I’m an actor, director, playwright and shadow puppetry artist…and an educator!” People don’t like to hear that!

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

I read a lot of poems by Iranian contemporary poets : Akhavan Sales, Royaee, Barahani, Shamloo, etc. I also read a lot of Neruda, Pessoa and Borges. Given that the structural composition of the play incorporates poetic elements, I have developed a habit of delving into poetic verses before crafting scenes of similar stylistic nature.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I hope the readers get a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by women in cross-cultural, long-distance relationships, especially in the context of political barriers like the travel ban. The play depicts the female character’s coping strategies, showcasing her resilience and determination as a middle eastern woman, as well as how she perceives her partner’s culture and how this interaction works as a symbol of the political dynamics between the two countries through a feminist lens.

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