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March 6, 2023
NEWPORT, R.I.—Acclaimed author Azar Nafisi has been named the ninth recipient of the Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square. Awarded since 2013, the prize honors storytellers whose work has a meaningful, positive impact on public understanding.
Nafisi is perhaps best known for her bestselling “Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books.” At once an account of the tightening oppression of the Islamic Revolution in Nafisi’s native Iran, the book is also a celebration of the liberating potential of literature. With a storyteller’s flare, Nafisi recounts the experiences of a group of students she worked with as a professor of English at the University of Tehran. She was dismissed from that role in 1981 for refusing to cover her hair.
In 1997, Nafisi emigrated to the United States, where she has continued to teach and write. Her memoir and subsequent books weave together her love of literature and the link between the liberal arts, free thinking, and free societies.
“The first book I read from Azar was “Read Dangerously” (2022), a tour of great, banned books at a time when banning books was—tragically—gaining traction in the United States,” said Jim Ludes, Pell Center Executive Director. “In passages both inspiring and infuriating, she exposed the weakness of tyrants and the power of citizens whose minds are open and thinking critically.”
As news of the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died after being arrested by Iran’s Morality Police, swept across the world, women in Iran took to the streets and protested the young women’s killing by removing their head coverings.
“We couldn’t hear those stories and not think of Azar,” said Ludes. “We’re honoring her and anyone who stands up to tyranny—in all its forms.”
Nafisi will formally receive the Pell Center Prize at an event on the campus of Salve Regina University on Wednesday, April 12, 2023, at 7:00 PM. Those interested in attending should register in advance at this link.
Earlier that day, Nafisi will tape an episode of “Story in the Public Square” for broadcast nationally on public television and on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s POTUS Channel.
“Azar Nafisi is the ninth person to receive the Pell Center Prize,” said G. Wayne Miller, who co-hosts the weekly show. “Each has contributed meaningful understanding to both the challenges facing humanity as well as the beauty of the human experience. Individually and collectively, the works of the people we have honored have made the world richer, more harmonious, and even more just.”
In 2021, the Pell Center Prize went to Michael Paul Williams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Richmond Times Dispatch, whose reporting led to the removal of Confederate statues from public places in the former capital of the Confederacy. In 2019, the prize went to Elizabeth Kolbert in recognition of her reporting on humanity’s impact on all life on the planet, while the 2018 prize went to Pulitzer-winner and New York Times staff writer Dan Barry. Filmmaker Daphne Matziaraki, whose documentary “4.1 Miles” was nominated for an Oscar, was honored in 2017; Pulitzer-winning photographer Javier Manzano won in 2016; Lisa Genova, the best-selling author of “Still Alice,” was honored in 2015; Emmy-winning screenwriter and actor Danny Strong was the 2014 winner; while two-time Pulitzer-winner Dana Priest received the inaugural prize in 2013.
The prize was not awarded in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Story in the Public Square” is a project of the Pell Center at Salve Regina University. It is an initiative to celebrate, study and tell stories that matter. In addition to this annual award, the center produces the six-time Telly Award-winning show of the same name, “Story in the Public Square,” broadcast more than 500 times each week on public television stations across the country and heard multiple times every weekend on SiriusXM’s popular P.O.T.U.S. channel.