Although poetry still holds an important place in the creative literature of contemporary Iran, it has in recent years come to be rivaled in popularity and importance by prose fiction—the novel, the novella, and especially the short story. The rise of these genres represents a considerable innovation in the nature of Persian literature; it refl ects and is directly related to broader changes in Iranian society and culture. Story-telling was certainly important in earlier periods but typically only in the context of formal verse or in orally-transmitted folktales (a very important mirror of traditional culture). Prose literature was produced mostly by and for a small educated elite and tended to be almost exclusively in the form of nonfiction and scholarly writing such as history, prosopography, geography, or philosophy. This began to change towards the end of the Qâjâr period as writers began to experiment with new genres of prose literature and to try to address broader, popular audiences. In the vanguard of this effort were writers such as Mirzâ Malkom Khân, Zayn-ol-‘Âbedin Marâghehi, and ‘Ali-Akbar Dehkhodâ. These trends intensifi ed during the Constitutional Era, as prose writing increasingly imitated Western genres, made use of a journalistic style, sought to write in a clear and accessible manner, avoided the use of words of Arabic origin but incorporated new Western words for which there were no equivalents readily available in Persian (e.g., polemic, class, parliament, cabinet, etc.). This touched off a lively debate between the modernists and the defenders of the traditional style of writing, especially during the period 1921–41. Taqi Raf‘at, Mohammad-Taqi Bahâr (1886–1951), Nimâ Yushij, Mohammad-Ali Jamâlzâdeh (b. ca. 1895; d. 1997) Sâdeq Hedâyat (1903–51), Sa‘id Nafi si (1895–1976), Mohammad Hejâzi (1900–1973), Rashid Yâsami, and Yahyâ Reyhân were some of the authors involved in this debate. Two other developments during that period are noteworthy: the emergence of modern romantic writings and satire. The most noted author of the first genre was H. M. Hamidi, pennamed Hosaynqoli Most‘ân. The second genre is credited to two works, Charand Parand (“Nonsense”) by Dehkhodâ and Yaki bud yaki na-bud (“Once Upon a Time”) by Jamâlzâdeh. One of the most important consequences of these trends was the emergence of prose fiction as a major form of Persian literature. This was partly the result of Iranian writers becoming familiar with and infl uenced by the types of literature popular in Europe—initially spurred, appropriately enough, by a Persian translation of the famous picaresque novel by James Morier entitled The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Isfahan (first published in 1824). At the same time, some Iranian intellectuals were attracted to fiction as they realized it could be a relatively safe outlet for veiled or not-so-veiled sociopolitical commentary that might lead to censorship or repression if expressed in other forms of writing. The two writers who were the most infl uential in establishing prose fiction as a legitimate literary genre and shaping the course of its development were Jamâlzâdeh and Hedâyat. Jamâlzâdeh’s father was one of the most popular preachers and orators in Iran during the Constitutional Era and was eventually imprisoned and murdered for his outspoken pro-Constitutionalist views. Jamâlzâdeh himself had been sent to study at a Catholic school in Beirut in 1908 and, except for occasional visits back to his homeland, spent the rest of his long life outside Iran. Despite, or perhaps because, of his physical separation from Iran, Jamâlzâdeh developed an intense interest in Persian language and culture and came to express his affection for them through fiction. In 1921, he published a collection of short stories under the title of Yaki bud yaki na-bud (“Once Upon a Time”); probably no other work has done so much both to revolutionize the character of Persian literature and to make prose fiction one of its key genres. The most important of its stories is undoubtedly “Fârsi shekar ast” (“Persian is Sugar”), a very humorous account of the enforced encounter in jail of a religious cleric, a Europeanized modernist, and an ordinary Iranian from the countryside. The comedy derives from the situation, from the satirical presentation of the characters, and above all from the bewilderment caused by the different types of language used by the protagonists—as opposed to the simple and clear Persian of the bumpkin, the cleric’s speech is peppered with Arabisms and the modernist’s with borrowings from French. In theory, they are all compatriots speaking the same language, and yet they border on mutual unintelligibility to the point of seeming to come from different worlds. Behind the farce, however, there is the serious issue of what actually constitutes an authentic Iranian or Persian identity in modern times. In that sense, the story also symbolized, in ways Jamalzâdeh may not have fully anticipated, the central dilemma of contemporary Iranian history as the nation’s people have been pulled between the attractions of two periods of their past (pre-Islamic and Islamic) and two styles of culture (the glamour of the West and the comfort of the traditional). In any case, Jamâlzâdeh’s plea for the use of a Persian style in closer conformity to actual speech, his satirical technique, and his biting political commentary all resonated with many subsequent writers. Hedâyat also came from a distinguished family, in his case one that had produced a considerable number of writers and bureaucrats during the Qâjâr period. In a sense, he carried on the intellectual tradition of the family, but in the style of the eccentric bohemian artist for which he had apparently cultivated a taste during his student days in Paris—a habitue of cafes with a misanthropic disdain for “the happy and the stupid,” a fanatic vegetarian and champion of animal rights, a vehement nationalist critic of Arabic and Islamic elements in Iranian culture who admired India and Buddhism. He also had a morbid and enduring fascination with death and the occult that resulted in at least two attempts at suicide, one unsuccessfully when he jumped from a bridge into the Marne River (around 1928) and one successfully, again in France in 1951, when he opened the gas tap to his kitchen stove. His writings span the range from polemical essays to vitriolic satires to historical drama and short stories, but looming over them all is his novella Buf-e kur (“The Blind Owl”). This enigmatic, controversial, and highly infl uential work really cannot be described in brief; the plot, setting, and characters are all as ambiguous as they are detailed. Essentially it has two parts, both written as first person narrative. The first part seems to be the tale of a tortured recluse, an artist who decorates pen-cases by drawing the same picture (of a beautiful woman offering fl owers to an old man) on them over and over. He glimpses this “ethereal woman” through a hole in his wall and searches for her but cannot fi nd her; when she mysteriously appears in his bed, he murders and dismembers her. In the grave dug for her, he fi nds a jug bearing her image, the prototype for his own obsessive drawings. He is somewhat comforted by the thought that in the past there was someone just like him. He smokes opium, falls into a coma, and emerges as the narrator of the second part, a man who is also completely alienated from the rest of mankind (the rajjâleh-hâ, who are described as “the imbeciles” who lead normal lives) and lives in fear of arrest by “drunken policemen.” He had a wife with whom he is infatuated and yet impotent (she is supposed to look just like his mother); he encouraged her to be promiscuous, only to murder her “accidentally” after he succeeded in making love to her in the disguise of “a grotesque old hunchback” who was the most signifi cant of her paramours. He returns home and, looking in the mirror, realizes that he is the old hunchback; the shock of this awakens him. This is not so much storytelling as it is the capturing of a dream or drug-induced hallucination in which the countless parallels and highly symbolic images make it is impossible to say what is real and what is illusion. It has also given rise to many divergent interpretations of how it should be read. Just as Jamâlzâdeh’s work contributed to new conceptions of how the Persian language could be used, Hedâyat’s work in Buf-e kur demonstrated the possibilities of what could be done in Persian fiction, and few subsequent novelists of any signifi cance escaped its infl uence. In particular, its emphasis on the alienated intellectual, its exploration of psychological character, and its surrealistic atmosphere would be repeated in many other works. Finally, it should be mentioned that Hedâyat was a politically conscious writer concerned about his country’s domestic and international status. He was critical of the cultural and religious environment in which he lived and was a harsh critic of both the political and clerical establishment. Hâji Âqâ, a novel published in 1945, was a direct attack on religious superstition and despotic rule. To Hedâyat, the underdevelopment of Iranian society was due to the dominance of Islamic culture. For Iran to move forward, it had to eradicate the legacies of the Arab domination and go back to its pre-Islamic roots. Hedâyat joined a group of intellectuals who worked for cleansing the Persian language of Arabic words. A third period in the history of Persian prose fiction began in the early 1940s and continues to the present time. Features of the fiction of this period include: the use of more scenery and images, avoidance of foreign words either Arabic or European, representation of rural sub-culture, and resistance against political oppression. It has given rise to many different types of novels: realist versus surrealist, purely artistic versus committed art, nihilistic, romanticist, and even crime fiction. Although the models of style, humor, satire, and surrealism set by Jamâlzâdeh and Hedâyat continued to be emulated by many Persian writers, as the Pahlavi regime became more politically repressive, and as the infl uence of socialist ideas increased among the intelligentsia, social criticism became the dominant theme of prose literature. This might be from the point of view of the alienated intellectual or the oppressed masses, especially those of rural society and the urban poor; the critique was sometimes open but often veiled in order to avoid censorship or political persecution. The most important writers of this type were probably Gholâm Hosayn Sâ‘edi (1935–1985) and Jalâl Âl-e Ahmad (1923–69). Sâ‘edi is best-known for his plays and short stories. Âl-e Ahmad became popular for a nonfiction work, Gharbzadegi (“Affl icted by the West”), which fi ercely denounced Western cultural infl uences in Iran, and his novel Modir-e madraseh (“School Principal”), a devastating critique of the educational system in Iran (something he knew first-hand having worked as a teacher himself). Among the many other authors who mixed politics and social criticism with fiction were writers like Sa‘id Nafi si (d. 1966), Moshfeq Kâzemi, Mohammad Mas‘ud (1861–1947), Bozorg ‘Alavi (1907–97), Mahmud E‘temâdzâdeh (pen-named Behâzin), Samad Behrangi (1939–68), Sâdeq Chubak (1916–95), and Taqi Modarresi (1932–97). One result of this emphasis on social criticism was the reaction of government in the form of censorship and harsh treatment of writers. Since the establishment of a ministry in charge of cultural issues in Iran, there have always been officials assigned to screen fiction and nonfiction works prior to their publications. This has resulted in suppression of many artistic works, which often found their way into an underground market with greater public interest in them. For instance, Bozorg Alavi’s book, Chashm-hâyash (“Her Eyes”) was banned in Iran, and if it was found in anyone’s library, it would result in the incarceration of its owner. The same was true of one of Samad Behrangi’s books, Mâhi siâh-e kuchulu (“The Little Black Fish”). Prose writing during the Pahlavi era produced important novels, each appearing at different times and capturing the imagination of the public. ‘Alavi’s works attracted broad audiences in the 1950s. In the 1960s, ‘Ali- Mohammad Afghâni’s voluminous novel, Showhar-e Ahu Khânom (“Mrs. Ahu’s Husband”), became popular and increased public interest in reading novels. In the 1970s, Dowlatâbâdi’s Kelidar and novels by other writers like Simin Dâneshvar (1921–), Bahrâm Sâdeghi (1936–1986), Jamâl Mir Sâdeghi (1933– ), Iraj Pezeshkzâd (1927–), and Ahmad Mahmoud (1931–2002) continued to enrich Iranian literature. Simin Dâneshvar’s masterpiece novel, Savushun (“Mourning”), published in 1969, was the first novel written by an Iranian woman and from a woman’s perspective. Savushun is set in Shiraz under British occupation during World War II and examines issues arising from both foreign domination and a patriarchal society. It has been reprinted more than 16 times and continues to be read by the young Iranian generation. In 1964, Dâ‘i jân Nâpoli‘un (Uncle Napoleon) by Iraj Pezeshkzâd captured public attention and became the basis for one of the most successful serials in the history of Iranian television. This comic novel focuses on the paranoia Iranians have developed over what they think is British control of all affairs in their society. Another author of signifi cance in this period was Hushang Golshiri (d. 2000), whose novel Shâzdeh Ehtejâb (“Prince Ehtejab”) greatly infl uenced the direction of Iranian literature. Golshiri’s infl uence on modern Iranian literature was two-fold: the impact of his own novels and his legacy of producing writers in his workshop for novelists. Golshiri is known for his use of complex structure, vivid language, and subtle manipulations of narrative time in his novels. If Hedâyat provided Iranian writers with a model for surrealism and Âl-e Ahmad, ‘Alavi, and Dowlatâbâdi with a model of realism infl uenced by socialist ideas, Hushang Golshiri, Bahrâm Sâdeqi, and Ebrâhim Golestân, Bahman Forsi, and Rezâ Barâhani are novelists who set an independent approach to the novel: structuralism. For these writers, a novel has to have its own structure, congruent with its language, theme, and internal dynamic. The efforts by these writers refl ected not only the socio-cultural concerns of the Pahlavi era, they also dealt with issues of Iranian identity as it experienced modernity and Westernization. The Islamic Revolution of 1979–80 produced new challenges and new opportunities for the development of Persian literature. Authors using secular images insensitive to religious norms found it diffi cult to produce works. The new Ministry of Culture and Guidance issued instructions banning protagonists’ names containing the word shâh, such as Jahânshâh, Shâhvali, and so forth. Anything giving credence to signs and symbols of the Pahlavi era in particular and monarchy in general was banned. Not knowing what the exact rules were and how far they could push the boundaries, many authors either left the country or simply put their pens down for a while. Those who dared to produce and publish their works underground were subject to arrest and imprisonment. Several authors were killed during the 1980s for their political and cultural defi ance of government policies. As the dust of the revolution settled and the rules became clearer, old and new writers began to publish their works, albeit within new limits. The rules insisted on the moral function of the artistic work and warned against glorifi cation of norms antithetical to Islamic values. New novels were to promote native cultural values, emphasize the glory of homeland, depict the negative aspects of Western culture and society, and promote moral values based on Islam. The Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s contributed to the emergence of a new genre of works variously called “martyrdom literature” (adabiyât-e shehâdat), “revolutionary literature” (adabiyât-e enqelâb), and “war literature” (adabiyât-e jang). These works were moralistic fictions promoting heroism, nationalism, Islamic ideology, and religious devotion. Later in the decade, secular writers began to work again. Their silence was broken with the publication of Samfoni-ye mordegân (“Symphony of the Dead”) by ‘Abbâs Ma‘rufi in 1988. Ma‘rufi portrayed the life of a family with four children in provincial Ardabil. His sophisticated narration of the confl ict between two brothers and his frequent symphonic-like changes of voices, views, places, and levels of discourse represented a fresh style in an environment dominated by repetitive styles. Ma‘rufi was the publisher of a literary magazine called Gardun. In 1996, his critical commentaries caused his journal to be shut down and resulted in a sentence of six months in jail and twenty lashes with a whip. His works were banned in Iran, and Ma‘rufi escaped the country and now lives in Berlin. With the Iran-Iraq War behind it, the Islamic Republic began the 1990s with a determination to open up to the world, normalize its relations with its neighbors and European countries, reconstruct the war-torn country, and liberalize the cultural atmosphere in the country. Cultural activities picked up pace, new magazines and newspapers appeared on the scene, and authors began to push limits further. Increase in literacy and population size laid the ground for the emergence of young novelists, poets, and play writers. Translation of Persian literature into Western languages brought further attention to modern Iranian writers, encouraging further developments at home. It is still early to try to assess fiction writing during this contemporary period, but perhaps the most striking change has been in the willingness of writers (and filmmakers as well) to explore the ethnic and linguistic diversity of Iran and experiment with what Iranian authors call “multivoices” (chand sedâi). Linguistic diversity was strongly discouraged during the Pahlavi period in the interest of promoting a Persian-based Iranian nationalism (some of the best writers, for example, were actually Azeri Turks who were effectively blocked from writing and publishing in their native language and had to write instead in Persian). Recent fiction, however, often emphasizes provincial settings, regional dialects, and the interaction of Persians and non-Persians in an Islamic Iran. This is quite noticeable in the work of Mohsen Makhmalbâf, a novelist as well as a film director, who pays much attention to ethnic minorities; Moniru Ravânipur, one of Iran’s best women writers, who uses language and settings drawn from the southern coastal area; or Mahmud Dowlatâbâdi whose epic, 10-volume novel Kelidar about life and society in the northeastern province of Khorâsân may be one of the greatest works in all of modern Persian fiction. A multi-voice novel, in the tradition of Russian author Leo Tolstoy, it focuses on more than one protagonist and develops multiple characters with diverse voices and views. The same applies to situations, themes, and forms. Ahmad Mahmud’s works are also good examples of this style. After the revolution, works of a new generation of authors, especially female novelists, have received attention from both critics and the public. These writers include Fattâneh Hâjj Sayyed Javâdi, ‘Ali-Ashraf Darvishiân, Amir Hasan Cheheltan, Farkhondeh Âqâi, ‘Adnân Gharifi , Goli Taraqqi, Javâd Mojâbi, Ebrâhim Yunesi, Shams Langarudi, Nâder Ebrâhimi, Banafsheh Hejâzi, Nâtâshâ Amiri, Mortezâ Kâkhi, Mohammad Bahârlu, Mohammad Qâ’ed, Esmâ‘il Fasih, Bijan Najdi, Shahriâr Mandanipur, Amin Faqiri, Sayyed-‘Ali Sâlehi, and ‘Emrân Sâlehi. Another interesting recent development in the literary culture has been the infl uence of a new genre of works produced by Iranian writers living abroad. Though offi cially banned from distribution within the country by the government, their works are still read widely in Iran. These authors and poets include Esmâ‘il Khoi, ‘Abbâs Ma‘rufi , Rezâ Barâhani, Nasim Khâksâr, Mirzâ Âqâ ‘Asgari, Shahrnush Parsipur, Ebrâhim Nabavi, Hâdi Khorsandi, ‘Abbâs Safari, and Majid Nafi si.