Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

Parisa Akhbari's Just Another Epic Love Poem an ode to feminine connection

Share this Post:

Parisa Akhbari — Photo by Muqu Javad  

Books were Parisa Akhbari's first love, yet the feelings were unrequited. As a Queer, Iranian-American woman, her experiences weren't on the pages of Judy Blume novels.

"I was a voracious reader, but I didn't see myself reflected in the books I was reading," she said. "It wasn't until I started reading my first Queer Iranian young adult novel, which was by Sara Farizan, that I realized that, like Toni Morrison says, 'If there's a book out there that you want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you have to be the one to write it.' So I thought, 'There's a way I can use my voice and narrative to help open a door for other young people who don't see themselves reflected.'"

Akhbari kept Morrison's words tacked to the board in her writing room to inspire her as she completed the draft of her first novel. In 2018, she began querying agents about a story that reflected her experiences.

"The feedback we got was that the writing was lovely but that the plot, or the story itself, was a little too niche and not marketable in a commercial market," Ahkbari recalled. "I think that's something that marginalized creators can run into a lot, the perspective that the stories we have to tell might not translate to a broader audience, a white audience, or a straight audience. So, I decided to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to tell a story from my intersectional experience that's also a bit bigger in concept."

Dial Books  

From there, she came up with her debut novel, Just Another Epic Love Poem. The book takes a multimedia approach to female friendship in the form of a continuous conversation between two best friends as they navigate Catholic school and Queer identities. The story combines poetry, prose, and modern forms of communication, such as text messages.

Bonds of connection
The love poem also follows a set of rules Akhbari came up with for her characters. "Each girl will end on a certain word, and the next girl will pick that word up and start with it," Akhbari said. "Those were the challenges for me — how to tell their never-ending-poem story without any terminal punctuation..., and then how to make their poems flow in that way with the call-and-response of that word echoing. I like to create problems for myself and then figure out how to get out of them."

The constant flow of communication was inspired by Akhbari's adolescent friendships. "We would talk all the time, but we would also text, we'd talk on the phone, we'd write letters to each other, we'd write notes in class that we'd pass back and forth, we would, you know, slip little messages into each other's lockers," she said. "It was never like the conversation ended. Every time we would part ways, it would feel like there was a comma at the end of our conversation, and then in the next format, we would pick it up again."

While the book is a love story between two girls, it also feels like one written about the bonds of feminine connection. The ongoing poem includes odes to inside jokes, mannerisms, and idiosyncrasies common in adolescent conversation.

"If you listen to a group of high school or middle school friends talk, you're going to hear them echoing these inside jokes or little reverberations of each other, and so I thought that would be a fun way to capture that in poetry," Akhbari added.

Writing her debut novel and depicting intersectional Queer Iranian-American characters put a lot of weight on Akhbari's shoulders. "I feel the pressure to get things right," she admitted. "I've witnessed some marginalized authors and creators having extra scrutiny and being put on a pedestal to represent their whole group, so I feel that pressure, and I want to do justice by the Queer community and by the Iranian American community, but at the same time I am trying to give myself the freedom to say this is just one story and one voice, and I hope that there will be lots of many different ones, and that this doesn't have to be the example for everybody about what it means to be Queer and Iranian American — it's just one person's experience."

Just Another Epic Love Poem will hit shelves on March 12. Parisa Akhbari will celebrate the release of the novel at Third Place Books in Ravenna on March 15 at 7 pm with a special reading and book signing event.