Azar Nafisi on Winning the 2004 Book Sense Book of the Year Award for Nonfiction

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Author Azar Nafisi

Photo: Lili Iravani

At ABA's Celebration of Bookselling at this year's BookExpo America, Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Random House), was named the winner of the 2004 Book Sense Book of the Year Award in the adult nonfiction category. Nafisi, who was unable to attend, sent this inspiring acceptance speech, which was read by Tom Perry, vice president, director of publicity, Random House Publishing Group.

It is a great privilege and a pleasure to accept this award, and I regret that I cannot be with you at a gathering where I would feel so at home. For if I were to choose a true home, it would be the one you are already quite familiar with: the Republic of Imagination, where the boundaries are not defined by nationality, geography, race, class, or gender, but where the citizens' only identity papers are the passion and the thrill that bind a young girl born in a country called the Islamic Republic of Iran to an African-American woman living in mid-20th century America called Zora Neale Hurston and to a Russian-born male American writer named Vladimir Nabokov.

I want to accept this award with a statement by Mr. Nabokov: "Readers are born free and they ought to remain free!" Of course we celebrate writers and their freedom of expression, and when in different parts of the world their rights and freedoms are impinged upon, or taken from them, we celebrate those who protest and express their outrage about these incursions.

But what about the millions of readers around the world and their rights -- to imagine and to obtain the kind of lives they desire? I believe books, like hothouse flowers, would wither and die if they were not properly nourished and nurtured. Books, to survive, need to be read and interpreted by different readers with different perspectives, who live in different times and locations. So I accept this award both as a writer and a reader, and I would like to celebrate with you not only writers and the act of writing but readers and the act of reading.

Finally, I want to share this award with my students in Iran, to whom every page of my book is dedicated. As we remember and express our solidarity with those like my students in Iran, we also remember that neither democracy and human rights nor fundamentalism and terror are culturally or geographically determined, and that support for freedom of expression for both readers and writers is an obligation that will never become irrelevant or unnecessary in any part of the world at any time.

You, gathered here, fulfill this obligation bravely and so I thank you not only for this award but for the wonderful work you do on behalf of books every day. --Azar Nafisi