SIAMAK VOSSOUGHI: Iranian American author finds balance in Seattle rain, S.F. sun
For Siamak Vossoughi, whose debut collection Better Than War won a 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for short fiction and was published this week, writing is an opportunity for growth.
“I tried to think,” he said by phone, “about the essential ideas and things that I feel make me as a person and as a writer, that inevitably led me towards the basic roots of my own life in terms of family and upbringing, and discoveries of America and what it meant to live here.
“I wanted to write something that reflected my experience as an Iranian American and that also went beyond any limitations that I might put on myself. I try not to dwell on the limitations, but it’s a constant effort to try to figure it out because you want to stay true to yourself, and you also want to show people that you might be more than what they may think.”
Born in Tehran in 1972, Vossoughi moved to Seattle at age 12 and graduated from the University of Washington in 1993.
“When I discovered William Saroyan a little after college, that was the person who really did it for me because I felt like he could do everything that great writers could, but he could do it with a kind of song, as well, and with a sense of humor. That’s what really appealed to me, that that was possible too. And he was part of the reason I came to San Francisco, because of the way it was described in his books.”
San Francisco has had a profound impact on Vossoughi.
“Growing up in a rainy place shapes you in a certain way,” he said. “The way it shaped me was when I came to San Francisco and it would be sunny for like three days in a row I would almost feel guilty; I would feel, like, come on — this isn’t even fair, to have it be this good.
“I had to really adjust myself to the idea that there’s as much depth in sunniness as there is in grayness,” he said. “You start to feel like you know the real truth of the world because you know the grayness of it, and coming to San Francisco it took me a few years, but I finally realized there’s a balance, that it’s OK to have three days in a row of sun, and it’s OK to tell stories that are as happy as some of them are sad.”
The other main inspiration behind Vossoughi’s writing is the part-time job he landed as an elementary school playground monitor, then basketball coach and substitute teacher. “No matter how consumed I might get about the struggle to be an adult,” he says, “I should never forget that being a child is just as much a part of being a person as being an adult is. And to try to figure out how to incorporate that into writing is a great challenge.”
Vossoughi reads with two other award-winning debut authors, both poets: local Tracey Knapp and Alicia Jo Rabins of Portland, Ore.
IF YOU GO
First Books, Triple Threat: 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17. Free. Alley Cat Books, 3036 24th St., S.F. (415) 824-1761.
Other book events this weekend
The Center for the Art of Translation presents Indonesian novelist Eka Kurniawan, discussing “Beauty Is a Wound” and “Man Tiger” — both published on the same day this month — with translator Annie Tucker and Olivia Sears (7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17. Free. Green Apple Books on the Park, 1231 9th Ave. S.F.)
Zyzzyva begins its fall issue with readings by contributors Mauro Javier Cardenas, Molly Spencer, Joseph Di Prisco andCaille Millner, with special guest Kathleen Alcott (7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18. Free. Diesel, a Bookstore, 5433 College Ave., Oakland).
Tony Hoagland is in town from Houston to read from his fifth collection of poetry, “Application for Release From the Dream” (7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18. Free. Books Inc., 1760 Fourth St., Berkeley).
Kepler’s Books and Magazines celebrates its 60th anniversary with an all-ages block party featuring food, live music, a photo booth, games and bookmaking (2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19. Free. 1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park).
Moscow artist and activist Evgeny Avilov discusses his life and work within the context of the arts protest movement, with a presentation by Lissa Tyler Renaud and readings by Siamak Vossoughi, Simon Rogghe, William Taylor Jr. and Zarina Zabrisky (5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19. Free. Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia St., S.F.).
Small Press Traffic hosts a reading and conversation with poets Hugo García Manríquez and Dolores Dorantes (5:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20. $6-$10. Artists Television Access, 992 Valencia St., S.F.).
This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.