Solace in poetry: Yuba Lit hosts evening with Zara Houshmand sharing her translations of Rumi’s poetry
Special to Prospector
While writing is viewed by many as a singular, even isolating venture, once written, the work is meant to be shared – such is the mission of Yuba Lit.
Founded in 2015 by Rachel Howard, Yuba Lit has hosted over a dozen authors who shared their work and met with other writers as well as community members who simply appreciate the written word.
On Tuesday, Sept. 29, Yuba Lit will present an online reading of Rumi’s poetry as translated by author Zara Houshmand in her book “Moon and Sun.”
Founder Rachel Howard who is a teacher of creative writing and an author said she has gotten to know Houshmand through meetings at Yuba Lit and having friends in common.
“We are so blessed to have so many amazing authors living in our town and she is one of them, for sure.”
While Howard planned to feature Houshmand at a Yuba Lit event earlier this year, COVID-19 hit and put everything on pause.
Initially meeting at what was then The Open Book (now Brown Banana Books on Joerschke Drive), the group had become a bit nomadic, meeting at The National, The Stonehouse and other venues. Due to COVID-19, the Tuesday gathering will be on Zoom.
“I wasn’t sure what to do with Yuba Lit for a while,” said Howard. “People were overwhelmed and I was overwhelmed, but I felt like it was okay because the community is really strong and when it could come back the people would be there.”
Howard moved to Nevada County from the Bay Area in 2014 to be closer to family and to raise her child. She said she always enjoyed attending live readings and five years ago decided to form a group that would combine the work of local voices along with authors from Sacramento, the Bay Area and other parts of California.
The first meeting brought about 50 people together. Rachel said after that the group began meeting every other month and offered the opportunity to mingle and share. “I always have a long intermission so people can talk about the readings, meet the writers, talk to one another and have community.”
An average of 60 to 90 attendees included writers, members of book clubs, people interested in writing and those who simply enjoyed the company.
When Howard was able to regroup, she decided to give the online meeting format a try. She said the first virtual meeting was a discussion about social injustice. It worked well and Howard decided to move forward with the group, using technology to keep participants safe.
As it turns out, the timing is working well as people are continuing to figure out how to find their balance. She said Houshmand’s work, “Moon and Sun,” is a “really beautiful collection” and is something needed in this time of unrest. Howard added, “This gives people a way to gather in something contemplative, restorative. It’s actually quite perfect because Rumi’s poetry is all about love for humankind. I don’t think there is anything more unifying than Rumi’s poetry. Zara has done these wonderfully sensitive translations that I think people will find a little space for their heart and I thought that is a good offering right now and for that night.”
Houshmand lived in San Francisco for 20 years before spending a decade in Austin, Texas, but housesitting for a friend introduced her to Nevada County. When it was time to relocate, her love of the mountains and its proximity to San Francisco inspired her to move here in 2013.
As a professional writer and an Iranian American who speaks Persian, Houshmand felt other translations of the great Sufi Mystic lacked the cultural context and challenged herself to translate one poem a day, which lead to the publication of her latest offering.
Of “Moon and Sun” Houshmand said, “Persian was not my first language, English was, but I grew up immersed in Persian culture. Something seemed to be missing in the poetry, so I decided to go back to the original and study it.” Houshmand lived in Iran with her family as a teenager. “I had some experience diving into old languages, so I set myself a task of translating a short poem each day as a way of getting into the poetry,” Houshmand said. An editor of an early online publication heard about her work and began assigning her poems so he could publish them. And the community reaction exploded.
She said she learned quite a lot and with long persistence, and the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, she was able to publish some of that work in the United States. Houshmand said her translation has the benefit of the subtle understanding of the original language and the cultural context. “Rumi at his foundation was a Muslim foundation teacher and he makes lots of references for that and other people might choose not to go there and also will take pieces out of context.”
Houshmand has attended earlier Yuba Lit events and said it was such a wonderful community thing. She is looking forward to taking part and keeping Yuba Lit alive.
Howard uses her contacts in the writing world to find authors with new books coming out and others interested in sharing their work. Yuba Lit incorporates an opportunity for attendees to read as well. Howard said, “When we met live, I would give a raffle ticket to attendees and I would choose five people randomly to read one page or one poem at the beginning of the reading. It was so fun because we got this crazy mélange of different kinds of work.” That mélange varied from erotic poetry to pure comedy to serious pieces. She plans to keep that going during the Zoom experience.
The Tuesday evening event will also feature Rough and Ready native Stephanie Sauer who will interview Houshmand after the reading. Sauer is also an acclaimed writer who now lives in Brazil and can take part because of the technology.
Howard concluded, “We are all so weary, it is sort of survival strategy to become more spiritual at this moment, so I am really hoping that people find that and find solace in the poetry Zara has to share.”
People must RSVP to email@example.com to receive a link to the free event.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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