Click on photo above to go to original Voyager Denver interview!
-Dec 14, 2021
Today we’d like to introduce you to Ari Honarvar.
Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I’m the founder of Rumi with a View, dedicated to building music and poetry bridges across war-torn and conflict-ridden borders. As a Musical Ambassador of Peace, I facilitate Resilience through Joy workshops for refugees and volunteers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
I lived most of my childhood during the Iran-Iraq War and crackdowns on civil liberties. My new novel, A GIRL CALLED RUMI was inspired by my experiences growing up in those dark days—when I was six, women in post-Revolution Iran, lost their right to ride a bicycle or sing in public. As part of the strict interpretation of shariah law that the Islamic Republic implemented, I could no longer play with my best friend who was a boy. We as women and girls had to sit on the back of the bus while my best friend could dress as he wished and run in the street and of course, sit in front of the bus. I found this quite unfair. Just as this war on women was becoming our new normal, Saddam Hussein attacked Iran and started a war that lasted 8 years and destroyed countless lives. Many of us relied on the soul-saving power of poetry and storytelling to get through another day. Through extraordinary circumstances, I was able to migrate to the US at the age of 14 and without my parents. I didn’t speak English and I missed my family and friends. At times I succumbed to deep depression but my body knew what to do—I listened to music and danced (something that was denied to me as a child as music and dancing were illegal in Iran.) I found moving my body to music quite healing. That’s why I joined Musical Ambassadors of Peace to bring the same healing (and a sense of community which I longed for as a newcomer) to other refugees.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I’m an author, visual artist, and speaker. As a journalist, I am curious about many topics, including social justice, parenting, and mental health. I’ve written for Parents, Teen Vogue, The Guardian, Washington Post, Newsweek, Vice, and elsewhere. I also created Rumi’s Gift Oracle Deck (Schiffer Publishing, 2018). My debut novel, A Girl Called Rumi (Forest Ave. Press, 2021), received a Kirkus Starred Review and was recommended by Buzzfeed, Ms. Magazine, Deepak Chopra, and other luminaries and magazines.
As the Iranian Musical Ambassador of Peace, I’ve been working with MAP for the past 4 years, providing ongoing music-centered service for refugees from the Middle East, Africa, Haiti, Mexico, and Central America.
Alright so before we go can you talk to us a bit about how people can work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
The idea for dancing with refugees is the outgrowth of the unique Boulder-based nonprofit, Musical Ambassadors of Peace. MAP ambassadors study the indigenous songs and music of countries that receive unfavorable media coverage in the U.S. and Europe and then use that music to build cross-cultural bridges between the people of those countries and people in the U.S.
Its co-founders, Cameron Powers and Kristina Sophia have been utilizing music’s transformative power for more than two decades and can perform songs in 13 different languages. Shortly after the American-led invasion of Iraq, the two traveled to Baghdad and, armed with only an oud and Iraqi love songs, began playing and singing in the streets. The Iraqi people, who up to that point had mostly encountered only U.S. military personnel and contractors, were seeing a different side of America.
Now the group has several musical ambassadors from different backgrounds and countries. Their motto: Healing the world through music.
I’m also the vice president of Gente Unida, a nonprofit focusing on the wellbeing of migrant children. MAP and Gente Unida are collaborating to provide ongoing donations and music-centered services for refugee kids and their families.
“A Girl Called Rumi” by Ari Honarvar (Forest Avenue Press, 2021; 350 pages)
Fall arts preview 2021: Author Ari Honarvar channels her past
“A Girl Called Rumi”: “The timelessness and the relevance of wisdom that shines through Persian poetry and myths, that’s what I really wanted to highlight. That’s kind of what has stayed in Iran, but has also been somewhat of savior for me here, too.”(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
San Diego author Ari Honarvar, who makes her debut with ‘A Girl Called Rumi,’ on the power of poetry and the resilience of the human spirit
BY SETH COMBSWRITER
SEPT. 12, 2021 5 AM PT
Ari Honarvar owes her life to a poem.
This is not an exaggeration. In the late 1980s, just a few years after the Iranian Revolution and at the closing salvos of the Iran-Iraq war, Honarvar’s mother wrote a poem to the Indian Embassy in hopes of securing a visa to get out of Iran. The Indian ambassador apparently liked the poem so much that he gave a then-teenage Ari and her family visas to come to India from Shiraz, Iran.
Once in India, Honarvar says she “miraculously” received a visa to come to the United States even as her family was about to head back to Iran. She was 14 years old when she arrived in the U.S.
“It’s rare to find people who can say that their lives were literally saved by a poem, but mine probably was,” says Honarvar from her home in University Heights. “It doesn’t surprise me that my mother still believed in the power of poetry and was confident that it was going to save us.”
Considering how the importance of poetry and writing was imprinted on Ari Honarver at such a young age, it’s not surprising to learn she became a writer herself. From its initial inception as a screenplay to its publication, Honarvar’s debut novel, “A Girl Called Rumi” (out Sept. 21 on Forest Avenue Press) took 15 years for the author to complete.
Weaving back and forth through time and told from the perspective of varying characters, the novel mainly centers on the story of Kimia as she grows up in post-revolutionary Iran and, later, working as a spiritual adviser in 2009 San Diego. After having something of an existential awakening while going through some of her mother’s old things, Kimia reluctantly returns to Iran, where she must reckon with her past in the midst of the country’s own Green Revolution. Interspersed are chapters told from the perspective of others, including Kimia’s brother Arman, her mother Roya and even a hardline Iranian commander.
And while the plot of “A Girl Called Rumi” is strong enough to where Honarvar could have written a straight-ahead novel, she chose to incorporate fantastical and even magical elements into the story. Posing as a boy named Rumi so she can still play with her male best friend, Kimia visits Baba Morshed, a local mystic who introduces her to “The Conference of the Birds,” a 12th century epic poem by Farid ud-Din Attar which works as a metaphor for humanity’s, and later Kimia’s, inability to attain enlightenment.
“Perhaps the more relevant question is, who are you?” asks Baba Morshed to Kimia in the novel after from “The Conference of the Birds.”
“I still wasn’t used to the odd feeling of leaving with more questions than I had arrived with,” thinks Kimia after Baba Morshed poses this question to her. “But what competed for my attention was the new sensation that had stirred inside my belly. Like all children of war, I was well-versed in anxiety; I knew by heart all its subtle tweaks and jabs. But this was brand-new.”
In many ways, the novel serves as a love letter and tribute to the myths and art of Persian culture, with a young Kimia dutifully absorbing the stories as a means of coping with the war and, as an adult, using the stories to come to a better understanding of her existence.
“The timelessness and the relevance of wisdom that shines through Persian poetry and myths, that’s what I really wanted to highlight,” says Honarvar. “That’s kind of what has stayed in Iran, but has also been somewhat of savior for me here, too.”
The more one learns about Honarvar and her own life, the more parallels there seem to be between her and Kimia. For example, she recalls writing “anti-regime rhetorics on the walls” when she was a teenager, a protest that is also performed by Kimia in the book. In one part of the book, Kimia’s brother secretly buys a horse and hides it in the family’s basement, something Honarvar’s own brother did when they were young. Most pressingly, there’s a picture of a young Honarvar in the back of the book, her hair cut short, with the caption “The author at age nine, trying to blend in as a boy in Iran, 1982.”
Still, Honarvar maintains that most of what makes up “A Girl Called Rumi” is fictional.
“Some of it is based on my own experiences, but most is an amalgam of experiences that friends and family shared, as well as things I’ve just imagined,” says Honarvar, who will host a book release event at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m.
And yet it’s hard not to look at the novel as something Honarvar was destined to write. From her own experiences in a repressive, war-torn country to her own American journey, “A Girl Called Rumi” not only serves a fantastical tale of finding hope among the ruins, but as a tribute to the places we have to leave behind in order to find ourselves.
“Joy is such a sustainable fuel, its sustainable energy that we tap into to help us with the challenges,” says Honarvar, who often hosts arts workshops for refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border. “Seeing how people build their own resilience in difficult situations has been a tremendous inspiration.”
A spellbinding, compelling, and multifaceted tale about an Iranian family haunted by war.
Deepak Chopra calls Ari’s debut novel, “A page-turner that goes deep into the nature of reality beyond perception.” Based on Ari’s childhood during the Iran-Iraq War, the book weaves an ancient Persian myth that takes spiritual seekers on a journey through the mystical Seven Valleys of Love. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book goes to MAP in support of the Mexico-based migrant shelters. More info:
Click on Shop Button Below