Born to Iranian parents in North Carolina, Ramin Bahrani is an internationally celebrated writer and film director. Hailed as the new great American director and director of the decade (2000) by late film critic Roger Ebert, Ramin teaches film and divides his time between the classroom, scriptwriting and directing. His latest film “99 Homes” (2015) featured Hollywood stars Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield and Laura Dern. Ramin received his B.A. in film studies from Columbia University in New York where he made his first short film “Backgammon” in 1998, telling the tale of a young Iranian American girl who desperately wants to play backgammon with her stubborn grandfather who has recently arrived from Iran. A committed environmentalist, he co-wrote his celebrated short film "Plastic Bag" (2009), featuring the voice of legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog, with the late Jenni Jenkins.
Born in Tehran, Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet spent the first part of her life in Iran, then lived in France for a year before moving to the United States. She is the Robert I. Williams Term Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania where she has directed the Middle East Center since 2006. Dr. Kashani-Sabet is one of the very first Iranian women to become a full professor at an Ivy League university. As a 17-year-old, Kashani-Sabet wrote in her diary, “I will one day write a book of history or fiction.” A historian by trade and writer by heart, she has done both. Her first book, “Frontier Fictions: Shaping the Iranian Nation, 1804-1946,” a canonical text in Iranian Studies was published in 1999 and her first novel, “Martyrdom Street,” was published in 2010.
Born in Tehran, Iran Melody Safavi moved to Sweden with her family when she was 12. After completing her bachelor’s degree in Social Work at Mid-Sweden University, Melody worked in juvenile halls and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers in both Sweden and the United States. In 2005 Melody and her sister Safoura Safavi founded ABJEEZ (slang for ‘sisters’ in Persian) in order to challenge musical barriers in Persian language and mainstream Iranian culture. Melody began writing lyrics in Persian and Safoura wrote the music. In Stockholm, they found a diverse group of backing musicians from Sweden, Norway, Scotland and Chile. “The way Melody writes, it’s very easy to understand and it uses a lot of humor,” Melody’s sister Safoura says. “We like to enlighten people to difficult issues in our culture with humor.” Melody and her multilingual and bi-cultural band Abjeez blend Iranian soul rhythms with reggae, rock, ska, and flamenco, singing in their native Persian, plus English, Spanish and Swedish. Their lyrics, at once humorous and rebellious, speak of love and politics. Traveling and living in colorful and varied landscapes such as in India, Norway, UK, Spain, and North America, Melody is considered the resident gypsy of the band. Melody has called the US home for many years now and when she’s not touring with Abjeez, she works as a TV producer in New York City.
Born in Tehran, Maz Jobrani moved to the San Francisco bay area with his family when he was six. He is a renowned comedian, prolific actor, and founding member of the critically acclaimed the Axis of Evil comedy tour, which aired on Comedy Central. Maze has written, directed, and starred in a series of beloved sketches and shows such as “I Come in Peace” and “Brown and Friendly. Hailed as “devilishly funny” and “extraordinary” by La Weekly, Maz starred as the title character in the award-winning indie comedy, Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero, a film which he co-wrote and produced. In the summer of 2015 he played the role of Jafar from Aladdin in the Disney movie, The Descendants. With over 50 guest star appearances, Maz can regularly be seen on television’s most popular shows. Guest stars include Grey’s Anatomy, Curb Your Enthusiasm, True Blood, and Shameless. He is a regular panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me and has given two Ted talks. His LA Times best selling book, I’m not a terrorist but I’ve played one on TV, was published by Simon & Schuster, and hit shelves in February 2015.
Samah Selim was born in Egypt and has lived in the UK, Libya, France and Germany. She received her B.A. in English Literature from Barnard College in 1986 and her Ph.D. from the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University in 1997. She is an Associate Professor of Arabic Literature at Rutgers. Her book, The Novel and the Rural Imaginary in Egypt, explores the relationship between the rise of the novel genre, the politics of nationalist representation and the peasant question over the course of the 20th century in Egypt. Dr. Selim, who is also a practicing literary translator, is currently at work on a book about translation, modernity and popular fiction in early 20th century Egypt.
Born in Cairo, Egypt, Professor Noha Radwan received her MA from the Department of Arabic Studies at the American University of Cairo and her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Her widely anticipated book Egyptian Colloquial Poetry and the Modern Arabic Canon (Palgrave MacMillan) was published in 2012. Professor Radwan’s interests include modern Middle Eastern literature in Arabic and Hebrew and post-colonial literature in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. She has a particular interest in modern Arabic poetry. Professor Radwan left New York City where she was teaching at Columbia University for sunny California with her family and is now an Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative literature at the University of California, Davis. She is a mother of two.
Social justice has always been integral to Karim's life, perhaps because of his family's background in political activism in Iran. Karim was born in Tehran, Iran and moved to Sweden when he was young. After years of studies combined with student activism, he began working for various NGOs where he became particularly involved with the plight of refugees in Sweden. He has been the Head of Research and Development at the Swedish Red Cross since 2007. Karim is a father of two.
Born in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Zohra Saed came to the United States with her family when she was very young. She is a teaching fellow and doctoral candidate at The City University of New York Graduate Center. A celebrated poet, Zohra received her M.F.A. from Brooklyn College. Her poetry and essays on Central Asian and Middle Eastern American literature, film and video art have been published in numerous anthologies and journals. In 2010, Zohra’s co-edited volume with Sahar Muradi “One Story, Thirty Stories: An Anthology of Contemporary Afghan American Literature” was published by the University of Arkansas Press. She visits colleges and cultural centers regularly to give lectures about Central Asian American experiences.
Born in Pennsylvania to Lebanese immigrants, the late Dr. Jack G. Shaheen (1935 – 2017) described himself as a Pittsburgh child of the steel mills who grew up loving to go to the movies. Dr. Shaheen dedicated his career to identifying and contesting damaging stereotypes of people of Middle Eastern background and Muslims in American media. It was after his children were born that he began to see the gross misrepresentation of Arabs and Muslims in U.S. media. “My children were watching cartoons,” he said and “they began shouting ‘daddy, daddy, they’ve got bad Arabs on television.’ They were watching Porky Pig and Popeye . I was in my 30s and decided to write about it.” Dr. Shaheen’s groundbreaking book Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People was turned into an award-winning documentary film by the same title in 2007. He and his wife Bernice Shaheen donated his extensive research collection to NYU, which created the Jack G. Shaheen Archive. Dr. Shaheen was on the National Advisory Board of The Arab American National Museum (AANM) and recipient of many prestigious awards including the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of “his lifelong commitment to bring a better understanding towards peace for all mankind.”