Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi

date of birth : 01/12/1955 | date of death :
Born on December 1, 1955, Tehran, Professor, writer, Nafisi has been a visiting fellow and lecturer at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and served on the Board of Trustees of Freedom House.

Birth, Birthplace, Time of birth:

Azar Nafisi was born on December 1, 1955 in Tehran, Iran.

Father's name: Ahmed Nafisi
Mother's name: Nezhat Nafisi
Spouse: Bijan Naderi
Children: Two daughters: Negar and Dara

Personal Information:


Life events:

Early years

Professor and writer Azar Nafisi was born in 1955 in Tehran, Iran. Her father Ahmed Nafisi was the mayor of Tehran and her mother NezhatNafisi was one of the first women to serve on Iranian parliament. The Nafisi family had a passion for literature and exposed young Nafisi to stories of Persian classics during family walks and before bedtime. At an early age, Nafisi developed an appreciation for literature that would ultimately be the focus of her literary career. Nafisi was educated in Switzerland but returned to Iran when her father was imprisoned. She later attended the University of Oklahoma, earning a PhD in English and American Literature.

Iranian student movement

At the University of Oklahoma, Nafisi joined the Iranian student movement, but was more interested in the opportunity to examine revolutionary writings such as Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State and Marx's The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Nafisi felt conflicted as a member of the Iranian student movement because she appreciated Western literature despite protesting against Western imperialism. After obtaining her PhD and her fellowship at Oxford University, Nafisi returned to Iran in 1979 and taught American literature at the University of Tehran.


1979 was a crucial time in Iranian history; it marked the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, an influential figure of the Islamic Revolution. His vision was for Iran to be ruled as an Islamic state. The veil was enforced for Iranian women and strict regulations were implemented in order for women to have conservative roles. Nafisi was enraged by the restrictions placed on women. She felt that the rules stripped women of their individuality. Being educated in the West, Nafisi was exposed to the political and personal freedoms of Western women, and growing up in pre-Revolutionary Iran, she had known women to have more freedom. In 1981, Nafisi was expelled from the University of Tehran for refusing to wear the veil. She taught at the Free Islamic University and AllamehTabatabai University until she quit her teaching positions in 1995. She then formed a reading book group with several of her best female students where she secretly taught Western novels, such as Lolita, Invitation to a Beheading, and Madame Bovary. Nafisi challenged her students to establish a connection between the novels and contemporary Iran. Nafisi's secret reading group was the inspiration for her critically acclaimed novel, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. Nafisi left Iran for the United States in 1997. She wrote op-ed articles for publications such as The New York Times, Washington Post, and The New Republic about the political relevance of literature and culture as well as human rights for Iranian women. Also, some of her articles focused on the relations between the United States and the Middle East and how people can avoid misconceptions of the Middle East portrayed by the West. In her article, “The Veiled Threat,” the cover story for the February 22nd 1999 issue of the New Republic, she criticizes the Iranian government for the harsh restrictions placed on women. She also talked about the importance of Iranian women historical figures and how the restrictions prevent Iranian women from having a history. Nafisi asserts that making the veil mandatory for women conflicts with their Islamic faith. “For some traditional women, the imposition of the veil was an affront to their religiosity—changing what had been a freely chosen expression of religious faith into a rote act imposed on them by the state. My grandmother was one such a woman. An intensely religious woman who never parted with her chador, she was nonetheless outraged at those who had defiled her religion by using violence to impose their interpretation of it on her grandchildren. ‘This is not Islam!' she would insist.” Nafisi presented her grandmother's testimonial as a rebuttal to those who believed that imposing the veil on women was an affirmation of Islam. She used this argument to point out that the extreme actions under Khomeini's rule were against the values of Islam. Most famous for her memoirs, particularly Reading Lolita in Tehran, she is also the author of Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov’s Novels and a children's book, BiBi and the Green Voice. She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and two children.


She was educated in Switzerland and received her Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma in English language literature.

Occupation and Career:

Azar Nafisi is a Visiting Professor and the executive director of Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, where she is a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, and teaches courses on the relation between culture and politics. Azar Nafisi held a fellowship at Oxford University, teaching and conducting a series of lectures on culture and the important role of Western literature and culture in Iran after the revolution in 1979. She taught at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University, and Allameh Tabatabai before her return to the United States in 1997 – earning national respect and international recognition for advocating on behalf of Iran’s intellectuals, youth, and especially young women. In 1981, she was expelled from the University of Tehran for refusing to wear the mandatory Islamic veil and did not resume teaching until 1987.

Awards /Honors:

Her book, Reading Lolita in Tehran has spent over 117 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The book has been translated in 32 languages, and has won diverse literary awards, including the 2004 Non-fiction Book of the Year Award from Booksense, the Frederic W. Ness Book Award, the 2004 Latifeh Yarsheter Book Award, an achievement award from the American Immigration Law Foundation, as well as being a finalist for the 2004 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for Memoir. In 2006 she won a Persian Golden Lioness Award for literature, presented by the World Academy of Arts, Literature, and Media.


  • Reading Lolita in Teheran: A Memoir in Books (2003)
  • Things I've Been Silent About (2008; in paperback 2010)

Another Works

  • "Images of Women in Classical Persian Literature and the Contemporary Iranian Novel." The Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran. Ed. Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1994. 115-30.
  • Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov’s Novels (1994).
  • "Imagination as Subversion: Narrative as a Tool of Civic Awareness." Muslim Women and the Politics of Participation. Ed. Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997. 58-71.
  • "Tales of Subversion: Women Challenging Fundamentalism in the Islamic Republic of Iran." Religious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women (1999).

Quotes and Memoirs:

  • “Most great works of the imagination were meant to make you feel like a stranger in your own home. The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted. It questioned traditions and expectations when they seemed too immutable.”
  • “Living in the Islamic Republic is like having sex with someone you loathe.”
  • “With fear come the lies and the justifications that, no matter how convincing, lower our self-esteem.”
  • “Those who judge must take all aspects of an individual's personality into account.”
  • “A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.”