Zara Houshmand is an Iranian-American writer, translator, and theatre artist whose work focuses on opening the borders between different cultures. Born in San Francisco, she was raised in the Philippines and attended Wellesley College and London University, where she received her BA in English.
Living in Iran for several years before the revolution, Zara worked on multimedia programs for cultural organizations. She returned to the U.S. in 1980, working as a writer and information designer in high-tech industries, where she was involved in the earliest development of interactive media. Noteworthy projects include Brothers (1992), an interactive video for the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, which won five awards. As Executive Producer for Worlds, Inc. (1994-1997), she managed the creative development of virtual reality and social media technologies for the Internet (including what would eventually become Second Life) for clients such as MGM and Disney Online.
This experience led her, in collaboration with Tamiko Thiel, to create a virtual reality art installation, Beyond Manzanar, which explores parallels between the Japanese-American internment during World War II and more recent experiences of Iranian-Americans. The installation has been widely exhibited in Europe, Japan, and the US, is the subject of much writing in new media critical theory, and was acquired for the permanent collection of the San Jose Museum of Art. More information is available at http://www.mission-base.com/manzanar .
Zara had a parallel career in theatre, beginning in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, where she worked with the celebrated Iranian director and playwright, Bijan Mofid. Her translations of Mofid’s plays were awarded the first commissioning grant from the National Theatre Translation Fund. She directed a bilingual Farsi/English production of Bijan Mofid’s The Butterfly for Darvag Theatre, which played in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Davis.
She honed her dramaturgical skills as literary manager at Theatre of NOTE in Los Angeles, and later read for the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Her first original play, The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be, was produced at the Burbage Theatre in Los Angeles in 1986. She returned to the Burbage to direct Stephen Lowe’s Tibetan Inroads with an all-Asian cast, which began her research in Tibetan theatre. She helped to establish Chaksam-Pa, a Tibetan performing arts company, and served as executive director for three years. In 1991, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco commissioned a nationally touring production of the Tibetan opera Sukyi Nima, for which she wrote the English voice-over. Her interest in traditional Asian theatre included several years’ study of Balinese shadow puppetry and led to the writing, with Larry Reed, of In Xanadu, a modern shadow play presented at the Henson International Festival of Puppetry at the Public Theatre in New York (1994) and the Spoleto Festival (1997).
She also translated and designed a production of Bahram Beyzaii’s Eighth Voyage of Sindbad for Darvag Theatre, directed Torange Yeghiazarian’s Abaga for Golden Thread Productions, and lectured on bilingual theatre at the 2002 Kyoto Biennale.
Most recently, she was commissioned by San Francisco’s Shadowlight Theater to write the script for Drupadi, an adaptation from the Mahabharata for a coproduction with Gamelan Sekar Jaya, scheduled to open April 2020 and suspended due to the pandemic.
In addition to her translations of Bijan Mofid’s plays, Zara has translated contemporary Iranian poetry and short stories published in the anthologies Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature (Arcade, 2005), Literature from the Axis of Evil (The New Press, 2006), Contemporary Voices of the Eastern World (W.W. Norton, 2007), and Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers (Anchor, 2007). She was a contributing editor for Words Without Borders, the online journal of literature in translation, from its inception in 2003. Her translations of Rumi’s rubaiyat first appeared daily online in Iranian.com in 2000, and were published as Moon and Sun (Amrevan Books, 2020).
Zara’s poetry has been published in the anthologies A World Between (George Braziller, 1999), Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora (University of Arkansas Press, 2006), The Forbidden: Poems from Iran and its Exiles, (Michigan State University Press, 2012), Essential Voices: Poetry of Iran and Its Diaspora (Green Linden Press, 2022), and in the journals Atlanta Review, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, caesura, Persian Book Review, Split This Rock, Three Quarks Daily, Texas Observer, and West Coast Line.
Her poetry has been the subject of critical analysis by David Ian Hannauer in “Multicultural Moments in Poetry: The Importance of the Unique” (Canadian Modern Language Review, 60:1, Sept. 2003).
Collaborative Writing and Editing
For over two decades, Zara served as Publications Director and editor for the Mind and Life Institute, which hosted a continuing dialogue between the Dalai Lama, Buddhist scholars, and leading Western scientists. She was responsible for the development of nine academic and trade books representing the conferences, covering topics from Buddhist philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, quantum physics, economics, and biology. Authors included Daniel Goleman, Francisco Varela, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Richard Davidson. A complete list of titles is available at https://www.mindandlife.org/books/.
Applying her experience in dramatic writing and deep collaboration, Zara developed a uniquely empathetic and creative approach to collaborative memoir. Examples include A Mirror Garden, with Iranian artist Monir Farmanfarmaian (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007) and Running Toward Mystery, with the Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi (Random House, 2020). More information is available on request.
Representation: Tina Bennett, email@example.com