Immersion and subversion: Azar Nafisi on the radical power of literature



4 July 2015


Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne

Iranian–American writer and memoirist Azar Nafisi has built a career around her passion for interpreting literature from alternative and sometimes forbidden perspectives – and her dedication to the idea that narrative can be a liberating, transformative and subversive political and social force.

A decade ago, Reading Lolita in Tehran told Nafisi’s story of how she – secular and living in Iran – taught proscribed Western classics in secret, dodging state censors and arbitrary raids. The book ran to the heights of bestseller lists worldwide and was published in 32 languages.

Her latest, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books, picks up the thread of her earlier work and extends an emphatic argument for literature’s crucial place in democratic societies.

Drawing on her experiences in Iran and America, Nafisi shared her thoughts on the necessity of imagination, the economic and political dangers of living in a society that lacks vision, and the utility of the humanities in a time of crisis.

Presented in partnership with The Wheeler Centre and the Sydney Opera House.


  • Dr Azar Nafisi
    Author and Visiting Professor, School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University

    Azar Nafisi visited the US Studies Centre in July 2015. Nafisi is the author of the bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Random House Publishing Group, 2008), which spent over 117 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and won many diverse literary awards. She is a Visiting Professor and Director of the Dialogue Project at the Foreign Policy Institute of John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.