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An Interview with Lida Amiri

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Lida Amiri is a former refugee from Afghanistan and a multilingual artist fluent in English, French, Persian and German. She writes multilingual poetry and translates Persian poetry into English. As Assistant Professor at Utrecht University, Lida teaches prose and poetry while contributing with her research to Persianate and Refugee Studies.

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

As a secondary school student, I browsed the local bookstore, where I purchased the first novel by Atiq Rahimi, whose highly creative work has haunted and inspired me ever since. My obsession with fiction and its translation started much earlier and covered work from the Middle Ages until contemporary timeless works of World Literature. I find multilingual prosaic and poetic works utterly fascinating. To put my own mind at ease amidst the current political tumultuous time since 9/11, I have started writing myself.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

I was appalled by the biased media regurgitating the same orientalist narratives about Afghanistan and refugees from that country. To view us as another ethnic monolith and to be judged for being seen as the ‘Other’ prevents a genuine and honest exchange across cultures and religions. I hope that my book can convince readers that there is more to these members of society who were forced to flee their country.

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

Finding a title is one of the more difficult tasks. The title keeps changing since I cannot decide how to invite readers purchasing it not only for their interest in Afghanistan but possibly for curiosity in the wider refugee discourse.

Describe your dream book cover.

I would want the image of the 3-D light projection of the giant standing Buddhas in Bāmiyān/Bamyan as a form of protest of fundamentalists’ actions destroying Afghanistan’s cultural memory. I would like to visually capture the pre-Islamic art created during the Gandhara civilization.

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

As s student, I had a variety of part-time jobs: student assistant, support teachers for second and third generation migrants, teaching assistant in USA, France, Australia, UK and Germany, sales assistant, IT assistant, freelance translator, etc.

Currently, I remain in education. I have started to share it more often and not be ashamed of it: I was born a refugee, while my parents risked their lives to offer their children a better future. My hectic and vibrant lifestyle was already predestined.

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

Since I write about domestic violence, persecution, oppression, I find peace in reading and translating Persian poetry, which was composed by women. My preference is to select poetic voices of women, who were either assassinated for their political convictions or killed for dishonoring their family by writing poetry. My latest picks are: Marie, Farzana, ed. Load Poems Like Guns: Women’s Poetry from Herat Afghanistan and Anvar, Leila, ed. Le Cri des femmes afghanes.

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

I hope that readers trust me with my extensively research. Writing this book or short stories, such as “Parwana,” published with asymptote magazine (March 2024), is part of my goal to challenge stereotypes and add my voice to this discourse about us.

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