Industry Spotlight: Literature

By Sarah Bryn Witmer, Research Associate

From ancient poetry to modern graphic novels, Iranian literature has been shaped over the millennia. Combining this extensive history with a national literacy rate of nearly 90%, Persian literature remains important to the country's psyche and a great source of national pride.  

In addition to its cultural significance, Iran’s book industry also plays a role in the economy and in matters of public policy.  In 1992, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance commissioned the creation of the Iran Cultural Fairs Institute in order to establish book fairs across the country and around the world.  As part of this directive, Tehran will host its largest literature-related event of the year in May 2017 - the 30th annual Tehran International Book Fair (TIBF).  The government points to events like these and a long list of Iranian publishers, unions, and translation companies as evidence of a vibrant publishing industry. However, outsiders are more skeptical.  Organizations like the International Publishers Association (IPA) raise serious concerns over copyright limitations, censorship, and banned books.  Approximately 65,000 new book titles are produced each year, but the IPA notes that censorship is hindering the industry. There is a substantial and voracious market for readers in Iran; and, in the face of censorship, many are turning to the internet for a broader selection of works.

Notwithstanding challenges for the industry, Tehran has become both a national and international center for literature. Over 75 percent of the country’s books are published in the capital. Furthermore, the Tehran Book Garden, a vast library, bookshop, garden, and cultural center, was completed last May. Open year-round, the center highlights its extensive selection of children’s literature.  Tehran's book fairs also attract substantial foreign interest: vendors at the TIBF sell books in Farsi, Arabic, and English, and to a lesser extent in French, Chinese, and Japanese, among other languages. This year, the TIBF has invited Italy to be its guest of honor, offering particular attention to Italian literature.

It is important to note that Iranian women have emerged as a strong presence in the publication scene. Over the past few decades, women novelists such as Fataneh Haj Seyed Javadi, the first woman to have a top-selling novel, and Fariba Vafi, who has won multiple prestigious Iranian literature awards, have chronicled changes to and conflicts in Iranian society, and how they have affected women. Author Marjane Satrapi has become internationally acclaimed through her graphic novel Persepolis, which chronicles her childhood memories of the Iranian Revolution. The comic was later adapted into a highly popular animated film.

Despite social and political challenges, the country's history, legacy, and culture of valuing and creating great literature persists. Currently the most prolific genres of Iranian book publication are in creative literature, religion, and social and applied sciences.  However, Persian poetry that is centuries old continues to shape both Iran and the wider world: poets, historians, and politicians alike still look to Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, the longest work of epic poetry ever written, for its wisdom and seeming clairvoyance. Some contend that books by 14th century poet Hafez are found in nearly every Iranian home. Contemporary Iranian poetry is translated and published throughout the world. Without question, Iran presents a wealth of great literature.  More information about the Tehran International Book Fair is below.

Tehran International Book Fair 2017
Tehran Permanent Fairground

May 3-13, 2017

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