Between the Lines: Zoe means “life” in Greek

| September 6, 2012 | 0 Comments

Zoe Ghahremani is an author, artist and gardener.

“Only in America,” is one of the first things Zoe Ghahremani says to me about the success of her first novel, “Sky of Red Poppies,” when we meet at Bread & Cie. Later she qualifies it to “Only in San Diego,” praising the local writing community that encouraged and promoted her efforts. Through a series of serendipitous meetings and occurrences, the independently-published “Sky of Red Poppies” became one of this year’s three selections for “One Book, One San Diego,” catapulting Zoe into prominence.

Born in Iran and named Zohreh—Persian for Venus, the morning star—she adopted the simplified “Zoe” when she came to this country. “I was a writer before I could write,” she says, recalling that as a child she would tell stories that others would inscribe for her, but her family discouraged her interest in literature and pushed her toward science. She became a pediatric dentist, and had a successful practice in Evanston, Illinois while also teaching at Northwestern University Dental School for twenty-five years. In 2000 she declared that it was time to pursue two of her biggest dreams: she moved to San Diego and devoted herself to writing.

“Sky of Red Poppies” is about two girls, Roya and Shireen, who meet at school during the political hotbed of 1960’s Iran. They share a love for the poppies on a greenhouse roof—“the frame for a magic garden”—that volunteer up after the spring rains and are visible from a stairwell at their school, and for a Persian poem with the line, “I scatter on your path one sky of red poppies.” Zoe acknowledges that Roya’s story is partly her own and that the character of Shireen is real.

Zoe recently completed her second novel, “The Moon Daughter,” a story told from the point of view of a woman in Iran, giving birth to her third daughter, and then that of the daughter, an adult living in the U.S. The book came into being during “NaNoWriMo,” National November Writing Month, sponsored locally by San Diego Writers, Ink, a program that encourages writers to draft a 50,000-word novel in one month. The finished work of 350,000 words now awaits publication. Her third novel, “The Basement,” is a sequel to “Sky of Red Poppies.” And there’s more where those came from. “I have so many stories to tell,” Zoe says.

In addition to her full-time writing, Zoe is a visual artist; the cover of “Sky of Red Poppies” is a detail from one of her paintings. She’s a gardener too, a fact which was evident to me on reading her book. All Iranians are gardeners and poets, she tells me. Yes, she writes poetry too, mostly in Persian.

“One Book, One San Diego” is a partnership between KPBS and the San Diego Public Library, now in its sixth year. Its mission is to bring San Diegans together through enriching and relevant literary experience. As a literary ambassador, Zoe speaks frequently at libraries and book clubs, and at schools, where she teaches children to paint poppies and then to write about them.

Zoe’s energy and driving force appear both joyous and boundless. She’s eager to give back to the community as a way of acknowledging what the community has given her. “Life is like a wave,” she says; “a wave that comes in needs to go back out so that more waves can come in.” And it all fits, because as she likes to point out, Zoe means “life” in Greek.

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