May 23, 2018

Tehran Book Fair Uncensored continues, highlighting censored voices from the Persian diaspora


The Tehran International Book Fair (TIBF) came to a close on May 12th, two days after Donald Trump announced that the United States will be withdrawing from the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. Several days later, Amir Masoud Shahramnia, Deputy Director of the TIBF, announced that the fair had been “the most visited book fair with the second largest area in the world.” According to Shahramnia, the fair hosted more than 2,500 publishers, featured more than half a million books, and hosted more than two hundred committee meetings, which is an unusual metric for evaluating the success of a book fair, but whatever! He also announced, in regard to the fair’s organization, that “We are happy to say that a valuable effective step was taken on the path.” Again, great! Whatever!

The success of this year’s fair, and the optimism of its organizers, mask the discomfort of many—including the guest of honor, Orhan Pamuk—who feel the festive mood belies the fundamentalist nature of Iran’s current regime, which is a frequent and aggressive censor of journalists, publishers, and media outlets of all stripes. According to Reporters Without Borders, Iran ranks seventeenth-worst globally in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, and the Committee to Protect Journalists often has cause to call the country out for unjustly imprisoning journalists.

With this repressive state of affairs in mind, the Alliance of Independent Publishers has, for the past three years, sponsored Tehran Book Fair Uncensored, a kind of roving protest festival celebrating voices of the Persian diaspora who are prohibited from publishing in Iran, and are therefore excluded from participation in the TIBF. From their website:

For the third year, publishers in Farsi outside of Iran, will be organizing the uncensored Tehran book fair, all around the world. The goal is to provide an opportunity for the authors, whose works will be censored in Iran, to speak out freely and present their works. Each year many authors and publishers in Europe, Canada, and the United States meet their audiences and discuss the status of persian literature all around the world. This will be unique opportunity to know, support, and promote the uncensored persian literature

Porter Anderson, writing at Publishing Perspectives, interviewed Laurence Hughes, manager of the Alliance of Independent Publishers, about the mission and development of the project over the last few years. In the interview, Hughes announces that this year will mark the first publication of Uncensored, which he describes as “an anthology of free Persian literature” that will eventually collect “all the texts, novels, poems that are censored in Iran but not yet published outside the country.” Hughes hopes that such a collection will give the rest of the world a sense of the ideas and projects being censored there.

Perhaps Hughes and her partner publishers’ efforts will give those looking in on Iran from afar a broader and richer sense of what Iranian culture might look like if not for the intense repression there— and, indeed, what it did look like before local extremism and Western interference colluded to produce the revolution of 1979.



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.