Born in London to Iranian parents, Niloufar Talebi is the quintessential Iranian on the edge of creation. With a BA in Comparative Literature from UC Irvine and an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College, she is well equipped to tackle any of piece of literature. Instead she has chosen to use her personal experiences and love for language to make the world a smaller place. Her energy and enthusiasm is infectious. Her “Translation Project” has already won 4 major US translation awards. Not only is Niloufar’s work visually stunning, it is also accessible by all. She is bringing much needed attention to Persian poetry and writing, paving the way for an Institute to support Persian literature. In our interview, she discusses the latest project “Midnight Approaches” and tells us why Iranian poetry is so hot right now.
“Art is a universal and sacred practice” – Niloufar Talebi
PM: What is it about translation, poetry and art that you like?
NT: I love translation because it engages most of my faculties, including all the senses, and I am able to integrate all my knowledge plus everything I need to find out into one activity. They say translators need to know everything, meaning, they need to know where to find out the information, which is a wonderful challenge. I also love linguistic connections and translation obviously poses a great opportunity for that. Art is a universal and sacred practice. We can all make art if we just allow ourselves some time. I like being creative and I like creative people, in any arena. Poetry, well, what is there not to like? It tackles our most complex emotions in the most distilled and open manner. My work developing the organization called The Translation Project engages my love for the arts plus my organizing and producing skills. We incorporate literature, translation, collaboration amongst artists and broadcasting and performance into our projects. Our mission is to bring contemporary Iranian literature to the world stage in multiple languages and media. The idea is to make Iranian literature in translation so available on a global level, that Iranian writers have a chance to participate in an international dialogue and have the chance to be further considered for recognition by prizes such as the Nobel Prize in literature.
PM: Who were some of the great masters you admire and why?
NT: Most artists, visionaries and thinkers spend much of their time alone—pain-stakingly—because only in the quietest hours can one hear “the purest strings of the heart”, as Tennessee Williams said it. I admire people who labor to create something authentic and who push their own and others’ boundaries to create something new. To name a few: Pina Bausch, Nima, Astor Piazzolla, Forough Farrokhzad, Martha Graham, Beethoven, Julie Taymor…
PM: Tell us about Midnight Approaches.
NT: It’s a DVD of short videos based on contemporary Iranian poetry, a digital collection of input by many different artists who collaborated in their making. These artists were master musicians, performers, dancers, directors, designers etc. I wanted not only to translate contemporary poetry, but also to create an opportunity for others to engage in it directly, and by that I mean for artists to create work based on this literature as the inspirational foundation for other artwork. In doing so, this literature immediately enters into the psyches of the artists involved, as well as their audience’s. We have recently released Midnight Approaches, which contains 6 short films based on the poetry of contemporary Iranian poets who live outside Iran and who recite in Persian. The DVD also contains audio versions of poems, which will be made into films in the future once we secure funding for production. Each poem is presented with original music and performance. Midnight Approaches is available as a gift with a donation of $100 or more to our non-profit work, The Translation Project.
PM: Who is the audience you are hoping to capture?
NT: Sally-Suburb, Everyman, Iranians, immigrant Iranians all over the world and their foreign-born children, and everyone in between. Most importantly, we want to make Iranian literature available in other media in order to reach a broader audience. Studies have shown that foreign policy is better facilitated and yields better results when there is significant cultural exchange between nations and we believe there is no better time than now for this exchange.
PM: What do you hope to achieve with this project?
NT: I founded The Translation Project in 2003. We have created several projects, including An Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Poetry Around the World (forthcoming 2007), several live collaborative performances, and our DVD, Midnight Approaches. The Translation Project has won 4 major US translation awards. We are working towards creating an International Institute for Iranian Letters, which will advocate Iranian literature internationally, through translation and preservation of a literature that has been subject to censorship for many years. German literature has the Goethe Institute to advocate it; French literature has the Alliance Francaise. We need such an Institute for Iranian literature. Both those institutes are funded by their respective governments and we realize that it may not be possible for our Institute to receive non-partisan funding from the current Iranian government, so we are seeking private funding for its creation.
PM: What can our readers do to support your work?
NT: Our literature deserves the most professional and thorough approach to preserving and advocating it. In order to serve it this way, our projects need funding. I would like for everyone to consider the urgency and importance of investing in our cultural endeavors, since we cannot rely on support mechanisms through the current Iranian government. We must understand this shift in structure and be pro-active about creating a platform for cultural exchange. If every reader donated $100 to the project, we would be well on our way to establishing our institute.
PM: What is your next project?
NT: Creating the International Institute for Iranian Letters and delving into the research and team needed to edit a “Persian Poetry for Dummies”-style book that breaks down and explains our poetry from its classical roots till present.
PM: Desert Island Three things. What will you take?
NT: A good friend, a resourceful friend and a funny friend.
For more on Niloufar Talebi’s Translation Project and the Midnight Approaches DVD, visit her website at www.thetranslationproject.com.
Full Name: Niloufar Talebi
Favorite Color: Orange
Favorite City: San Francisco in the US, but I’d like to discover Eastern European cities at some point.
Favorite Drink: good old-fashioned H2O, juice of young coconut without added sugar
Languages: Persian, English, French, some Spanish and German