A Brief Biography of Nader Naderpour

An Iranian Poet, Thinker, and Patriot
Who Died in Exile

By Farhad Mafie
February 18, 2001

In the introduction to his tenth and last collection of poems, Earth and Time (Zamin va Zaman), Naderpour wrote:

Poems come from “Heaven” and remain alien on “Earth”; instead of “place” they deal with “nature” and instead of “time” they deal with “history.”

A poet who leaves his country and migrates to an alien land talks about his new home in terms of his original homeland. With his words he pictures the nature of his homeland, and instead of speaking of the “past” or the “future,” he links “history” with “eternity.” . . .

For an exiled poet the images of his homeland will always stay alive, but the homeland’s history, as well as its present, will be (for him) “eternity.”

A nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature and a 1993 recipient of the Human Rights Watch Organization’s Hellman-Hammett Grant (awarded to writers in exile whose works are banned in their own homelands), Nader Naderpour was born on June 6, 1929, in Tehran, Iran. The oldest of two brothers and three sisters, Naderpour had artistically inclined and culturally rich parents. His father, who died when Nader was only fourteen, was a skillful painter and a literary man. He taught young Nader Persian literature, especially classic poetry. By the age of thirteen Naderpour had read the great classical Persian poems, and journals of the time published his classical-style poetry. His mother was an accomplished player of the tar (an Iranian string instrument), and she helped Nader develop an appreciation for music.

Nader's primary education in Tehran included art appreciation, music, and French, and he entered Iranshahr High School in 1942. A year later, in the aftermath of the Allied occupation of Iran, Naderpour, like many other high school students of the time, became involved in politics. He participated in a small nationalist party group. Later, he joined the Tudeh Youth Organization, part of the Tudeh Party of Iran, which became Iran’s major Communist party. By the time Naderpour was graduated from high school in 1948, he had already left the Tudeh Party.

The young Naderpour was despondent over the 1946 Azerbaijan crisis. Like many other nationalist intellectuals, he was convinced that Soviet Communism did not make provisions for independent nationalist communist movements in other countries. Subsequently, Naderpour supported efforts to ensure that Iran’s sixteenth parliamentary elections would be open and fair; he was sympathetic to Mohammad Mosadegh and other nationalist victors in those elections.

In 1950 Naderpour attended the Sorbonne University, where he studied French literature. While in Paris, he became a freelance writer for various publications. He also wrote for the Third Force Party, which Kkalil Maleki had established within the umbrella of the National Front Organization in Iran. After receiving his baccalaureate degree, Naderpour returned to Tehran and started working in the private sector.

In 1954 Naderpour published his first volume of poems, Eyes and Hands (“Chashmha va Sasthayash”), which by the late 1970s enjoyed more than five printings. One year later Naderpour’s second collection of poems was published, Daughter of the Cup (“Dokhtare Jame”), which by the late 1970s enjoyed through three subsequent printings. And in 1958 his third collection of poems, The Grape Poem (“Shere Angour”), was published by Sokhan, whose editor, Dr. Natel Khanlari, commented: “The poems appearing in this collection are some of the very best poems in the modernist school.”

In 1960 Collyrium of the Sun (“Sormahe Khorshid”), Naderpour’s fourth collection of poems, was published, which included several poems that allude to Naderpour’s first marriage (in 1957 to Shahla Hirbod, whom he had met the year before). In August 1959 he composed a beautiful poem called “Iris,” which he dedicated to their only daughter, “Poupak,” who was born that month. Naderpour and Shahla were separated in 1961.

Also in 1960 Naderpour arranged the first modernist Persian poetry reading in Tehran, held at the Iran-America Society. Later, he worked as a consultant at the Office of Dramatic Arts of the Ministry of Arts and Culture. He was named editor of Namayesh magazine, and he worked on one issue of another magazine, Naghsh va Nehag.

In 1964 Naderpour traveled to Europe. In Rome and in Perugia he continued his studies of the Italian language and Italian literature. He also spent time in Paris, studying French literature and French cinema, and devoting time to his own poetry.

Nader Naderpour was one of the thirty or so founding members of the first Association of Writers of Iran in 1968 (1346) and one of its Manifesto’s signatories, along with several other distinguished Iranian writers and poets. When Jalal Al-e Ahmad, the driving force behind the Association, died in 1969, the Association chose Naderpour to speak on its behalf at the interment ceremony. For two consecutive years Naderpour was elected a member of the steering committee for the Association of Writers of Iran. Later on, in 1977, he decided not to participate in the rejuvenation of the Association of Writers of Iran due to differences of opinion and Naderpour’s preference for the loner’s role.

In 1971 he became the director of "Goroohe Adabe Emrooz" on Iranian National Radio and Television (INRT). He directed many programs on the lives and works of the most respected and accomplished contemporary poets, writers, and artists. His work contributed greatly to introducing contemporary world literature to Iranians. In the opinion of Dr. Mohammad Hossain Mostafavi, one of Naderpour’s closest friends (as well as his co-worker on the INRT’s "Goroohe Adabe Emrooz" from the beginning), the seven years Naderpour worked on the program were some of the best and happiest years of Naderpour’s life in Iran.

In 1978 Naderpour published three new volumes simultaneously: Not Plant and Stone, But Fire (“Giyah va Sang na, Atash”), From the Sublime to the Ridiculous (“Az Aseman ta Risman”), and The Last Supper (“Shame Baz Pasin”). To explain the delay in publishing, Naderpour claimed that most of the poems in these collections had been published separately.

One year after the 1979 Islamic revolution Naderpour moved to Paris, preferring self-imposed exile in an alien land to a forced exile in his homeland. He left Iran carrying a single suitcase of clothing, copies of his books, and a partial manuscript for a new collection of poems.

While in Paris he joined the National Resistance Movement, headed by Shahpour Bakhtiyar (the last Prime Minister under Iran’s constitutional monarchy before the revolution). In 1982 the National Resistance Movement published Naderpour’s False Dawn (“Sobhe Doroughin”), which includes his works from the spring of 1978 through the fall of 1982.

In the introduction to False Dawn, Naderpour wrote:

Three and half years ago when the first steps and fists made Iran’s earth and sky start trembling, a feeling told me to be scared of the unawareness of these excited people. My feeling was not in disagreement with those shaking their fists in fighting against the corruption, but it did not prefer expelling of corrupt to a more corrupt. It was seeing that those fascinated people, thanks to their good faith, were following an old-fashioned tradition blindfolded—the faith that all the Iranian freethinkers from Ferdowsi, Khayyam, Hafez, till Iraj, Dehkhoda, and Hedayat in different eras followed in their fighting.

It saw that those fascinated people have been childishly following a lie and a power-hungry faith: the mentality that all the great constitutional thinkers such as Akhond Zadeh, Talebofe Tabrizi, Mirza Agha Khan Kermani, and Mirza Jahangir Khan Shirazi called the enemy of progress and did their best to denounce.

It saw that behind those masses and their fists, side by side with the political struggle, a cultural fight has begun: a fight between “tradition” with “unorthodoxy” and “prejudice” with “progress.”

It was such, that my awakened feeling was seeing the terrible future in that uneducated revolution, and with the passage of time has shown that he was right. . . .

That awakened feeling did not claim divination. … But knowing the past helped understand the news of the future But the help of knowing the past it was giving news about the future. . . .

While living in exile in Paris, Naderpour met Jaleh Bassiri, whom he had known from Iran in the 1970s and in September of 1984 they married. His marriage naturally rejuvenated life in exile; indeed, Jaleh inspired him with a new attitude toward life, both spiritually and socially. For seventeen years Jaleh was truly more than a wife to Naderpour: She was Best Friend, full-time Editor, Partner, and Companion to Naderpour during his toughest years in exile. In appreciation, Naderpour dedicated many of his poems to Jaleh, including his last poem, “Conversation in the Dark” (composed in December 1999), and his entire last collection (which he inscribed “To my dearest: Jaleh and Poupak”). After Naderpour’s death, Jaleh established The Naderpour Foundation in Los Angeles to preserve Naderpour’s memory and appreciate his work.

During his exile in Paris, Naderpour was awarded honorable membership in the French Authors’ Association and lectured at several conferences while living in Paris. He lived in Paris until 1986, when he moved to the United States, eventually settling in Los Angeles. He was invited to participate in the Iranian Cultural Foundation in Boston. A popular speaker, he lectured at Harvard University, Georgetown University, University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), University of California, Irvine (UCI), and many other American universities.

For more than 14 years Naderpour’s classes at UCLA and UCI were the meeting place for many Iranian professionals interested in Iranian literature, history, culture, mysticism, politics, etc. Naderpour was a living encyclopædia of Iran’s recent history. His wealth of life experience in Iran’s recent history, his detailed objective analysis, his unique style of expression, and his keen vision contributed to his extremely interesting and comprehensive lectures.

Naderpour is also well known for his extensive research on Iran’s contemporary poetry and for his thorough, insightful analyses of many Iranian poets (Hafez, Ferdosi, Khayyam, Molavi, and others). In addition, he is recognized for his perceptive commentaries on Iran’s recent history and his astute observations on Iranians’ cultural and political challenges. Fortunately, many of his lectures are captured in more than 300 hours of audiotapes and videotapes, an invaluable collection for Iranians all over the world and for generations to come.

For many reasons, Nader Naderpour became a very special and unique celebrity among many Iranians living in the West, among them:

  • As a poet living in exile, Naderpour truly reflected his love for Iran in his poetry, as well as beautiful images of his homeland. Throughout all his work in exile, he expressed a heartfelt sadness for Iran.
  • For Iran’s politics and its future, he had certain strong principals and beliefs. He always defended his vision and his viewpoints strongly, thanks to a solid foundation of Iran’s recent history, his familiarity with Iran’s cultural and religious challenges, and his ability to interlink past history with today’s events and challenges.
  • His political and scholarly writings reflect a combination of his creative poetic talents and his objective thinking and analytical strengths.
  • He practiced what he preached! Those who became close to him saw a man who genuinely led a unique and noble lifestyle.
  • aderpour considered two of his own characteristics “non-Iranian”: One was being extremely direct and to the point; the other was being very prompt.
  • He loved an intellectual challenge. He reveled in political, social, cultural, and religious discussions. Yet Naderpour would avoid meaningless debates with those who had little knowledge or a weak foundation in the subject.
  • In all his works he was scrupulously honest, never borrowing someone else’s idea, never failing to clearly cite a source (unlike the many who have “borrowed” his ideas and exploited his original thoughts with no mention of Naderpour’s name).
  • Naderpour was one of the very few Iranian intellectuals who were against the Islamic revolution from the start. In a TV interview he once said, “I am not against revolution, but I am very much against this type of revolution.”
  • Although his beliefs were strong and his positions unshakeable, Naderpour was always willing to listen to objective reasoning, new information, verifiable data. Unlike so many others, to his credit he did not change his position daily in an effort to gain money, fame, or recognition.
  • Naderpour’s insights into the Islamic government’s games and tactics were simply uncanny. How often his analyses and predictions of the government’s political maneuverings hit the bull’s-eye! Unquestionably, he displayed a facility for seeing past the smoke and discovering the truth.

Indeed, Naderpour ’s keen observations are legendary. One of his most important insights concerned events in Iran in 1997. In April 1997 a German court was able to prove the IRI’s direct involvement and responsibility in the murder of Iran’s dissident Kurdish leaders in 1992 and thus convict Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, President Rafsanjani, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and Information and Security Minister Ali Fallahian. The conviction was the result of superb cooperation and teamwork among all the Iranian opposition forces, allowing the German court to gather all the needed documents and necessary evidence. The court’s ruling led the E.U. nations, all 15 countries, to withdraw their ambassadors from Tehran on April 11, 1997.

Immediately afterward, on April 15, Japan suspended its high-level dialogue with Iran. By April 15, 1997, the Islamic Republic of Iran became completely isolated from the Western world. The same countries that were supporting the IRI in every possible way ended up suspending their political ties with the IRI due to the pressure of public opinion.

The IRI needed to present a completely different image in order to rebuild its badly damaged relationships with its European trade allies. That’s when the idea of the moderate movement as a vehicle to save the IRI from this blow was suddenly created and Mr. Khatami’s so-called “moderate government” was born.

Naderpour was the first Iranian intellectual who identified the Islamic government reformist movements as a game, a political maneuver intended to extend the Islamic government’s life. In his famous article “Khomeini on the Moon and Khatami on a Satellite” (published in Kayhan in London) he called the reformist movement and its leader Mr. Khatami another lie for Iran and Iranians. In the same article he also expressed his extreme disappointment for those Iranian leftists living in the West who became reformist supporters almost overnight.

Today, almost four years later, many Iranian writers and political activists such as Daryoosh and Parvaneh Forouhar have been brutally murdered during Khatami’s regime. Today, even some Islamic government officials have admitted to and have publicly discussed Iran’s deteriorated condition! Now, finally, more and more Iranians respect Naderpour’s pointed vision and his accurate judgment.

Naderpour published a large number of scholarly papers on Iran’s politics, culture, history, and literature in publications such as Iranshenasi, Mehregan, and Rahavard. He published many individual poems in various Iranian publications, including ten collections of poetry.

The Islamic Republic of Iran banned the publication of all Naderpour’s work in Iran; distribution of his work in Iran is illegal.

The Hillman Hamet prize (awarded to writers in exile whose works are banned in their own homeland) was bestowed upon Nader Naderpour by the Human Rights Watch Organization in 1993 (1371).

Nader Naderpour died in his Los Angeles home on Friday, February 18, 2000, at 11:00 a.m.

Visitors to the Los Angeles area often pay their respects to Nader Naderpour, one of Iran's greatest contemporary poets and thinkers, by visiting his gravesite at Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary (1218 Glendon Avenue).

Hear Nader Naderpour