Long Ago and Far Away

By Diana Childress, TFCB author

image Call me an escapist. I love travel. And when I can’t go to distant places, I love delving into books about faraway people and places and imagining myself there. There’s a big bonus to such “armchair travel”: when you go by book instead of airplane, you can journey through time as well as space.

For most of my writing life, I indulged my curiosity about everything long ago and far away: Stone Age monuments, ancient Maya farming, medieval Icelandic law codes, Harlem Renaissance musicians. Did ancient Egyptians invent the boomerang? Who built Stonehenge and why?

image Did Marco Polo really go to China? [cover of my TFCB title Marco Polo’s Journey to China at left] How did Johannes Gutenberg come up with the printing press? [cover of my TFCB title Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press below] I had to find out.image Perhaps I would have remained in distant times had my editors at TFCB not pulled me into some of the burning issues of the twenty-first century.

image First came Sudan. How could I turn my back on the devastating conflict in Darfur? And how could anyone understand the issues without examining the troubled history of that corner of Africa? The lure of applying my love of the past to illuminate important modern issues for tomorrow’s leaders transformed my writing life. [cover of my TFCB title Omar Al-Bashir’s Sudan above]

The women’s movement in Iran [cover at top of Equal Rights Is Our Minimum Demand in TFCB’s Civil Rights Struggles around the World series] also appealed to this new urge to tackle complex, unresolved topics that people talk about today. Of course, my earlier books and articles did relate to modern life. But the women’s movement—both in the United States and abroad—is not just “relevant”; it is modern life. In fact, my life, as someone who grew up with the women’s movement in the United States.

I had many obstacles to overcome. I could not travel to Iran. I do not speak or read Persian. And I knew little about the history of women in Iran before I started the project.

Curiosity and eagerness, however, paved the way.
Luckily I had access to excellent libraries and scholars, to many organizations dedicated to informing the world about women’s rights in Iran, and to Iranians now living in the United States who were glad to answer my questions. I read wonderful memoirs and scholarly studies, visualized life in Iran through brilliant films, and armchair traveled with experienced journalists who have covered Iran for the last forty years. Along the way, I came to know and admire some of the most courageous women I have ever encountered. What a trip!

image As an added bonus, all my research prepared me for meeting and talking to Iranians in the United States, who added many details about life in present day Iran. Perhaps the biggest thrill was hearing Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi (above) talk about human rights, just a few blocks away from my desk at the New York Public Library.

So I guess you could say I am still an escapist. Because for the past year, as I have been researching and writing in New York City, my spirit’s been in Iran. All thanks to the intrepid Lerner editors who sent me there on assignment.

[Check in with TFCB in two weeks for the next TFCB entry. I’ll be on vacation the week of January 10.]