The trailblazing Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad was not a woman to be silenced. Forced into marriage at 16—and divorced within two years—she wrote modern, women-centric poetry that earned her both tireless devotion and vehement disapproval. Her poetry was banned for more than a decade following the Iranian Revolution, but it lived on to inspire generations of women—including Jasmin Darznik.
Author of the New York Times bestselling memoir The Good Daughter, Darznik was born in Tehran and came to America at the time of the Iranian Revolution. Her debut novel, Song of a Captive Bird, is inspired by Farrokhzad’s life. To celebrate its release, Darznik chose several favorites from her bookshelves and told us about some of the women who have meant the most to her as a writer.
“Like most novelists, I’m obsessed with the question of what makes people who they are,” says Darznik. Nowhere is this fascination more evident than in her vast collection of memoirs and biographies about women writers and artists. “You can’t become what you can’t see,” she says, stressing how vital these books have been to her, particularly as an immigrant for whom “a writing life has always seemed a wildly improbable and dangerous thing.”
Click on the white dots to read Darznik’s thoughts on each title, and the women who continue to inspire her.
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The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
Whenever I read an essay by Rebecca Solnit, I come away awed by her fierce and capacious intelligence. She’s our contemporary Virginia Woolf, which is to say an artist deeply attuned to the world around her, yet somehow always timeless.
Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi
Reading Fatima Mernissi in college was a revelation to me. Her feminist readings of Islam are both nuanced and visionary. Dreams of Trespass, her memoir of growing up in 1940s Morocco, evokes the older women whose voices and stories shaped her. When she passed away in 2015, I reread it and found myself just as engrossed and inspired as I had been the first time.
Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad translated by Sholeh Wolpe
When my family left Iran in the late 1970s, one of the few books my mom brought with her was a book of poems by Forugh Farrokhzad. Forugh was and remains an icon in Iran, a brilliant and audacious woman who lived—and wrote—at full tilt.
Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
One of the last “romantic explorers”—a kind of female Lawrence of Arabia—Freya Stark travelled and wrote extensively about the Middle East from the 1920s to the 1970s. While her adventures supported an imperialist agenda, what strikes me about her was her gift for observing and communicating the real life of the people she encountered.
Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe by Laurie Lisle
About 10 years ago, I visited Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in Abiquiu, after several decades worth of obsession with her. I will never forget the spare beauty of that small, adobe house. Here was a woman who lived, and made art, on her own terms.
Eva Luna by Isabel Allende
As a teenager I spent hours at Book Passage, a local bookstore that brought—and still brings!—amazing writers to the Bay Area. Isabel Allende was one of them, and this novel is the one that made me want to be a writer. On top of being a wondrous storyteller, she’s a real spitfire—smart, sharp, and very, very funny.
Dorothea Lange: A Photographer’s Life by Milton Meltzer
How does a girl from Hoboken—and one with a leg crippled from polio—become one of the most exceptional photographers of the century? Lange had guts. She was a complicated woman who made hard choices in order to do the work she did. A woman we all know, and maybe are ourselves.
Featured image: Courtesy of Jasmin Darznik; Author Photo: Sarah Cramer Shields