The CMES community is deeply saddened to hear about the passing of former CMES member and Professor of Persian, Heshmat Moayyad. Heshmat has been a professor of Persian literature at the University of Chicago since 1966; he also taught at Harvard University, the University of Naples, and the University of Frankfurt. He studied first at the University of Teheran (1949, Persian and Arabic) and later received his Ph.D. from the University of Frankfurt in 1958. His thesis explored the writings of Ahmad-e Jām (1049-1141).
Heshmat dedicated his academic career to the study of Persian literature, both pre-modern and modern. He was an “old school” scholar in the best sense of the word: a scholar who strongly believed in power of poets and writers to shape society and culture; an intellectual who believed in great works, golden ages, and canons, and admired the works of poetry and prose he taught; a student of culture who felt that language and literature expressed communal identities, and that language and literature were intertwined with aesthetics, ethics, and culture; and a teacher who made his students memorize the poems of the great bards, but also handed out cassettes, recorded in his own voice, so that students could hear the rhyme and the meter of the poetry. Heshmat, then, saw his role, as a philologist, editor and translator, in exploring the connections between culture, literature, and language itself.
Together with Wilferd Madelung, C.M. Naim, John Perry and John Woods, who directed CMES for many years, Heshmat helped cementing Chicago’s position as a leading academic center in which Persian language and literature were studied and revered. His edited Short Stories from Iran, A Chicago Anthology, 1921-1991 (1991) celebrated this achievement. The anthology introduces Heshmat’s reflections on “The Persian Short Story”, discussing the relationships between prose, poetry and modern culture in Iran, and features translations of Iran’s best prose writers, like Sadeq Hedayat, Simin Daneshvar, and Jalal Al-E Ahmad. The translators are also important; they include Heshmat, John Perry, and also a great number of University of Chicago’s graduate students, who were trained by Heshmat, and who would become leading scholars in the coming decade: Franklin Lewis, Camron Amin, Judith Wilks, Ernest Tucker and Marion Katz, Paul Losensky to name a few. Heshmat also taught in a university where Persian language and culture were studied far beyond the boundaries of Iran. Professors like Marshall Hodgson, Cornell Fleischer, John Woods, and Muzaffar Alam were highly interested in the interplay between Persian and other imperial languages, and in its role as courtly language, an elite language, and a lingua franca connecting writers, intellectuals and bureaucrats across the Muslim world. In this capacity,Heshmat played a crucial role in the training of scholars of the Ottoman Empire, India, and many other places in which Persian culture formed imperial and local cultures and identities. His direct advisees -- Franklin Lewis, Michael Hillmann, Paul Losensky, Sunil Sharma, and Alyssa Gabbay, and students with whom he worked, like Austin O’Malley, Sholeh Quinn, Cam Cross, Ferenc Csirkes, Fatma Sinem Eryilmaz, Ertugrul Okten, Sooyong Kim, Judith Wilks, Ernie Tucker, Marion Katz, Anne Betteridge, and Said Arjomand, are now leading voices in the study of Middle Eastern and Islamic communities.
Heshmat’s memory was incredible. He was, as the cliché goes, a walking encyclopedia of literature and culture. Tragically, in his last years this memory betrayed him. But perhaps equally tragic are the agonizing memories he carried of his own religious community in Iran, whom he refused to forget. Heshmat was a Baha'i, and a scholar keenly interested in the history, literature, and culture of his faith. Some of us remember how he would break down while talking about Iranian peers and his friends whom he could no longer see. 1979 imposed an excruciating divorce between Heshmat and the land whose culture he venerated, and yet he continued admiring its culture from afar, training new generations of students, including those coming from the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The last Middle Eastern History and Theory workshop Heshmat attended before his retirement (2010) celebrated his academic career. Before the conference started, he delivered a lecture on Ferdowsi, as the genius poet of Persian culture. His students then organized a panel in his honor, which featured Austin O’Malley (now a professor of Persian literature at the University of Arizona) as a discussant and his former students. The former students-turned-professors spoke about a variety of themes: Paul Losensky reflected on bodies, books, and variations on the image of the master’s slap in Sā’eb; Alyssa Gabbay explored the paradox of the obedient daughter in pre-Islamic Iran; Judith Wilks examined the Persian sources of Sheyḫ Ghalib’s Hüsn ü Aşk; and Franklin Lewis spoke on the semiotics of dawn in the ghazals of Hafiz. Lewis, now a professor of Persian literature and culture at the University of Chicago himself, studied in his lecture depictions of love and separation. It was a wonderful tribute to a fine scholar.
Heshmat Moayyad will be missed by many of his friends and colleagues at CMES. We send our love to his wife, Ruth, his daughters Shirin and Leyli, and his grandson Fabian.
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