From prison to playwright for activist

Nearly 30 years removed from captivity within the torturous depths of an Iranian prison, Marina Nemat embodies the definition of survivor.

On January 15, 1982, a then 16-year-old Nemat was arrested following the Islamic Revolution after she allegedly denounced the then-presiding government in Iran, led by Ayatollah Khomeini. For over two years, Nemat was tortured and beaten at the Evin prison and went through several surreal events that forever changed her life before eventually gaining freedom and the ability to emigrate to Canada in 1990.

In 2007, Nemat documented her traumatic experiences in her best-selling memoir, Prisoner of Tehran, and has now turned the book into a play, which just concluded its run at the Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto.

On April 18, the author visited Centennial College’s East York campus to talk about her experiences, from Tehran to Toronto, as well as the transformation of her life story into a play. For Nemat, doing a play on her life revealed the true emotions of what she went through at Evin.

“We wanted the play to be like a tornado; to suck you in, it spits you out on the other side and you have to sit down and think about it,” she said. “It will give you that feeling of being swept up into something that you have no control over and doesn’t give you all the answers because it’s not supposed to.”

After witnessing death and facing the prospect of execution, Nemat wrote the book and subsequent play to gain closure following bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder while recalling her episodes in Evin. However, she believes that her literary work has only helped her begin the road to normalcy.

“I realized that my work didn’t end with writing that book, my work started. So I just decided to continue down that path (to normalcy) but allow it to guide me,” she said.

Since the book, Nemat has also involved herself in several human rights causes and written articles as well as publishing a book detailing her life in Canada titled, After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed.

Additionally, Nemat teaches a creative writing course in Farsi, Iran’s main language, at the University of Toronto, where she previously enrolled as a School of Continuing Studies creative writing student. The course is aimed toward engaging Farsi-speaking Middle Eastern students.

Having been afraid to share her experiences in Evin with family and friends, Nemat says that telling her story in such innovative ways has given her a sense of freedom she struggled long to achieve, gaining strength as a result.

“I’m free, I’m not that girl. I’m free because I have accepted the experience, I have faced and I am using it, even though it’s a bad experience and turn it into something good.”