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Roya  Hakakian

Roya Hakakian

Iranian American Writer & Journalist

Roya Hakakian

Iranian American Writer & Journalist


"Roya Hakakian is the most eloquent interpreter of the immigrant experience today." -Lesley Stahl, CBS 60 Minutes

Roya Hakakian is an Iranian-American writer, journalist, and public speaker. Her opinion columns, essays and book reviews appear in leading English language publications including the New York Times, New York Review of Books and The Atlantic. A founding member of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, she has spoken on a variety of news outlets, from CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS to MSNBC, as well as in Washington D.C. for the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and the State Department with US Secretary Antony Blinken. Her latest book, A Beginner's Guide to America: For the Immigrant and the Curious has been called a contemporary Tocquevlllian account by The Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe. She is a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship among many other prizes and has been called one of "the most important activists, academics and journalists of her generation."

Hakakian is the author of two collections of poetry in Persian, and is listed among the leading new voices in Persian poetry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Her poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies around the world, including La Regle Du Jeu and Strange Times My Dear: The Pen Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature.

Deeply influenced by both the longstanding literary traditions of her birth country and its historical turmoils, Roya Hakakian often draws her inspirations from highly political subjects and treats them with lyricism. She takes on the most pressing and difficult contemporary sociopolitical issues — exile, persecution, censorship — and injects them with relevance and urgency through her deeply observant and poetic sensibility to make these subjects accessible to all readers.

In her most recent book, A Beginner's Guide to America for the Immigrant and the Curious, Hakakian, a naturalized citizen herself, gives a voice to the immigrant and walks the reader through the immigrants’ first arrival in the country to the final ceremony of hard-earned naturalization. She believes the immigrant needs to be reintroduced and recast for the native-born Americans so that we, as Americans, can continue to do what we have done for decades: be a destination and hope for those who need to take refuge in the U.S. Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan called the book "striking and beautiful," while Anthony Kronman, Yale law professor and author of The Assault on American Excellence, called the book, "a stirring, insightful, funny and uplifting book whose real predecessor is Alexis de Tocqueville."

Her book, Assassins of the Turquoise Place (Grove/Atlantic), about Tehran’s terror campaign against Iranian dissidents in Western Europe, was named a Notable Book of 2011 by the New York Times Book Review, made a Newsweek’s Top Ten Not-to-be-missed Books of 2011 and was among Kirkus Reviews’ Best Non-Fictions of 2011. It was also named the 2013 best non-fiction by the Asian American Writer’s Workshop. In 2014, the US Federal Bar Association created a prize for the first time in 100 years to honor the leading prosecutor she features in her book.

Her memoir of growing up a Jewish teenager in post-revolutionary Iran, Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran (Crown) was a Barnes and Noble's Pick of the Week, a Ms. Magazine’s Must Read of the Summer, a Publishers Weekly's Best Book of the Year, an Elle Magazine's Best Nonfiction Book of 2004, was named Best Memoir by the Connecticut Center for the Book in 2005 and has been a favorite of colleges as a “Freshman Experience” read. Hakakian is also a recipient of the 2008 Guggenheim fellowship in nonfiction.

An active thinker of foreign relations, Hakakian has served on the board of Refugees International. Born and raised in a Jewish family in Tehran, Hakakian came to the United States in May 1985 on political asylum. Talking to her readers is one of her great joys. She has addressed them at venues ranging from high schools on Native American reservations to the Democratic Caucus of the US Congress and the CIA.

Speaker Videos

Writer explains what signaled the ‘point of no return’ in Iran

A Beginner’s Guide to America | C-SPAN2

Reaching for Freedom

What's Next For The Women-Led Protests In Iran | The Mehdi Hasan Show

Viewing the U.S Through the Eyes of An Immigrant | CBS News

Assassins of the Turquoise Palace

Interview with Rabbi David Wolpe at the Hammer Museum

Book Talk on Assassins of the Turquoise Palace - Foreign Policy Research Institute

Speech Topics

Women, Life & Freedom: The Women’s Uprising in Iran & the Future of Global Feminism

In light of the women's uprising in Iran, Roya Hakakian offers insights into how the struggle of Iranian women for equal rights ought to be embraced as the new frontier in the cause of feminism around the globe. Drawing upon her experience as a young girl in revolutionary Iran, and now as a journalist and author who writes extensively on women's issues in Iran, Hakakian explores what today's current events in Iran mean for the future of democracy and how it can revive women's solidarity around the world.

Women: The Hope for the Middle East

Having written extensively about the plight of women in the Middle East with a particular focus on Iran, Roya Hakakian discusses Middle Eastern women’s fight to gain the simplest freedoms that we, in the West, take for granted. She speaks about her own experiences and observations growing up in Iran and witnessing the Iranian Revolution as a teenager, and the evolving political and social dynamics in the Middle East.

What Everybody Misunderstands About the Hijab

In Western democracies, having the choice to wear the hijab is seen as a significant freedom to express religious views. However, in autocracies, hijab turns into the government’s ultimate tool of oppressing women, taking away their right to live, think, speak, and even dress as they please. Roya Hakakian explains these nuances of the hijab discussions to help understand how we, in the West, need to make sense of this issue.

Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran

Revolutions are often remembered by those who had a stake in them –fallen royals and rulers, or newly-minted officialdom. In her talk about the historic 1979 revolution that transformed Iran, and subsequently the entire region, Roya Hakakian speaks from the rare perspective of a girl witness.

What Every American Needs to Know About Immigrants & Refugees But is Afraid to Ask

Especially after the 2016 presidential elections, America has witnessed a rise in the anti-immigrant rhetoric and discussions on who should be or should not be allowed in the country. This, however, was not and will not be the first time that the American immigration cycle has gone through a bad moment. A naturalized citizen herself, Roya Hakakian explains the unique position that America has held throughout the history as a country that offers hope and inspiration to immigrants and refugees from all around the world, and why America should strive to continue this vision of possibility that the founding fathers foresaw.

Global Anti-Semitism Rising: What About Iran?

The Anti-Defamation League’s most recent report, the Global 100 Study released recently, measured public attitudes and opinions toward Jews in over 100 countries. Contrary to the leadership’s vehement anti-Semitic rhetoric and global expectations, the findings about Iran contrasts vastly from the entire region of the Middle East and North Africa. Roya Hakakian explains why Iran is so unique and why the country, 36 years since the rise of its Islamic theocracy, continues to be home to a sizable community of Jews in the Middle East.

Murder in Berlin: How the Rule of Law Defeated Islamic Terrorism

13 years after the '79 Iranian revolution, four Iranian Kurdish exiled opposition leaders were assassinated in Berlin, Germany. One of the survivors and another victims’ widow began a crusade pitting them against not only Tehran but against some of the greatest powers in Germany. When an undeterred federal prosecutor, a real life Atticus Finch, took over the trial, a historic verdict followed which shook both Europe and Iran, and achieved something few could have predicted—justice.