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Hamed Esmaeilion

Hamed Esmaeilion

The life of an Iranian-Canadian writer and activist in exile

Isolated for years by strict censorship laws, community infighting, and language barriers, the writer Amir Ahmadi Arian often turned to Hamed Esmaeilion’s work for solace. In addition to authoring short stories and two novels, Esmaeilion chronicled mundane moments with his family on a blog that resonated deeply with Arian, someone of the same generation also working and living in the Iranian diaspora. Following the tragic death of Esmaeilion’s wife and daughter in the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in 2020, Arian witnessed his friend publicly mourn his family and transform his fury into action. Arian sat down with Christopher Beha, the editor of Harper’s Magazine, to discuss Esmaeilion’s journey into activism and the responsibility of Iranian diasporic artists.

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  • “Waiting for the Lights,” Amir Ahmadi Arian’s report in the September issue of Harper’s

  • Arian’s English-language debut novel, Then the Fish Swallowed Him  

  • Esmaeilion on his memoir, It Snows in This House 

  • Canada’s response to the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 tragedy 

  • 7:24: “Before thinking about how to develop your characters, or how you structure the story, or the themes you want to focus on, the first thing you had to consider was: Will the book I am writing survive the censorship office” 

  • 9:01: “I think it’s kind of a miracle we still have a literary culture, given the circumstances.” 

  • 13:00: “The whole process is made to intimidate you, to show you that they know more about you than you would think and actually use it against you.” 

  • 13:29: “He was being interrogated when his father-in-law passed away.” 

  • 26:52: “So you go through all this difficulty, all this trouble, to just have an ordinary life.” 

  • 28:31: “It’s not so much a decision that he made to pursue justice, it’s just an inevitable turn of events. There’s nothing else left to do.” 

  • 33:12: “There was this hunger for any figure outside of Iran that could bring people together.”

  • 37:52: “All walks of life, all stripes, they were there, they were together shouting the same thing.” 

  • 40:05: “The thing about the government in Iran is they have mastered the art, if you can call it the art, of containing any kind of revolutionary mass protest.” 

  • 44:43: “The way out of Iran has been pretty much a one-way road.” 

  • 47:17: “I have the freedom to tell what I want to tell, to tell the stories that I think are untold and unknown, while carrying the life that I had in my chest.”

Harper’s Magazine
The Harper’s Podcast
Since 1850, Harper’s Magazine has provided its readers with a unique perspective on the issues that drive our national conversation, featuring writing from some of the most promising to most distinguished names in literature–from Barbara Ehrenreich to Rachel Kushner. Every week, host Violet Lucca joins her colleagues and contributing writers to provide listeners with a deep dive into these topics and the craft of long-form narrative journalism.
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