- Iran (Islamic Republic of), Norway, -
Fatemeh Ekhtesari was born in Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad, in 1986. She studied midwifery at Mashhad University before moving to Teheran to do her MA at Tarbiat Moderes University. Having written poems and prose from an early age, Ekhtesari joined Mehdi Mousavi’s writing workshops first in Mashhad and later in the capital. Mousavi, a pharmacist by training and a poet by calling, ran a series of influential workshops and reading sessions in the literary underground. In this fiercely avant-gardist environment, the post-modern ghazal was cultivated as one of the main expressions of a new generation. Ekhtesari soon grew to be one of its leading practitioners. Together with Mousavi, Ekhtesari edited the literary magazine همین فردا بود / It was just tomorrow until it was banned by Iranian authorities in 2008. Whilst living in Iran, she published three collections of poetry:
یک بحث فمنیستی قبل از پختن سیبزمینیها / A Feminist Discussion before Cooking Potatoes (2010), کنار جادهی فرعی / Beside the Tracks (2013) and منتخبی از شعرهای شاد به همراه چند عکس یادگاری / A Selection of Cheerful Poems with Some Memorable Pictures (2015).
All publications in Iran being subject to rigorous censorship, Ekhtesari’s poetry books were no exception. Her portrayal of women’s lives, sexuality, gender discrimination, and domestic violence led to interrogations, confiscations, and bans on her books. With characteristic ingenuity and indomitable defiance, she circumvented the state’s censorship of her first book by substituting words considered offensive like ‘kiss,’ ‘freedom’, ‘breast’, ‘naked’ with ellipses (…), and filling them in by hand after publication, or posting the missing words online for readers to fill in. When the censors at the Ministry of culture found out, ellipses were added to their list of forbidden features …
After returning from a literary festival in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2013, Fatemeh Ekhtesari was arrested by the Iranian security services and subjected to severe interrogations, including torture and 38 days in solitary confinement in the infamous Evin prison. Her home was raided, and her laptop, hard disks and notebooks were confiscated, obliterating all her work save that which had been published online or stored externally. Ekhtesari was eventually released on bail but suffered steady surveillance and harassment by the security services whilst awaiting trial and was forbidden to leave the country. In 2015 she was sentenced to 11,5 years in prison and 99 lashes for “crimes against the Iranian government” and “immoral behaviour and blasphemy”. With help of opposition groups, she managed to escape Iran, firstly to Iraq, and later to Turkey.
In 2017 Ekhtesari was given protection through International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) and took up residency in Lillehammer, Norway, as the town’s guest writer for two years. After the initial residency, she stayed on in Lillehammer and developed her international career with Norway as her base. Since she left Iran, Ekhtesari has self-published one poetry collection, بت بزرگ / The Great Idol (2018); two collections of short stories – شنا کردن در حوضچهی اسید / Swimming in the Acid Pool (2017) and تبر / Axe (2018) along with two hybrid books – روز انفرادی اوین عمیق کشید، یا ۳۸ مردهای که مرده بود یک نفس / The Dead who Took a Deep Breath. 38 Days in Evin’s Solitary Confinement (2017) and نزدیکی / Nazdiki (2020). In addition, she’s had, and continues to have, a steady output on social media, where she maintains an influential role in Persian literature both in Iran and in the global diaspora. After arriving in Norway, Ekhtesari set up the online magazine ادبیات مستقل ایران / Independent Iranian Literature, which she is currently the chief editor of.
Ekhtesari has rapidly become a central figure on the Norwegian literary scene, gaining a reputation for her powerful poetry readings and novel mix of traditional Persian poetry forms with modern content. Her use of rhythm and metrical forms convey a determinist desperation, and rebellious explorations of identity. The poems are varied in form, but all marked by emotional intensity, intellectual curiosity, and linguistic playfulness, often attempting to describe how we humans are trapped by family, society, our own feelings, and our own bodies. As the Norwegian critic Ingunn Økland wrote about Ekhtesari’s latest book, She is not woman: “In Fatemeh Ekhtesari’s poetry, the ‘de-sexed’ body becomes political in an eruptive and impressive way. She is not woman reminds me of a woman cutting off her hair.”
In 2019 a small selection of Ekhtesari’s poems was translated into Norwegian and published in the anthology Å kysse en ørken, å kysse en myr / To kiss a desert, to kiss a bog, while a larger selection زنده نمیمانیم / Vi overlever ikke / We do not survive was published as a bilingual edition in Norwegian and Persian in 2020. Ekhtesari’s latest publication is the poetry collection زن نیست / Hun er ikke kvinne (2022) which was developed simultaneously in Persian and Norwegian, and received much critical acclaim in Norway. She is currently working on a collective Nordic piece for Cornerstone / Bergen Drama Festival and finishing her next collection of short stories titled ابی / Ebi. Her poems have been and keep being translated into various languages, including English, German, Spanish and Swedish.