Meet Porochista Khakpour, The Iranian-American Author Who Talks About About Living With Chronic Illness

Porochista Khakpour
PHOTO: POROCHISTA KHAKPOUR

In June 2018, Iranian-American author Porochista Khakpour is coming out with her first memoir, Sick, in which she details her struggles with “chronic illness, misdiagnosis, addiction, and the myth of full recovery,” according to her website. Khakpour has previously written two novels, The Last Illusion (2014) and Sons and Other Flammable Objects (2007). On social media, she is open about her struggles with late-stage Lyme disease and the ways it affects her daily life.

Image: Amazon

Khakpour was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up in Pasadena, California, and has contributed regularly to a number of publications, including the New York Times, writing on her experiences as an Iranian-American. She’s an important voice in the literary world, and if you haven’t heard of her, you should definitely check out some of her work.

What’s most striking about her recent work is her openness and willingness to speak out about life with chronic illness. According to Khakpour’s website, she has been sick for as long as she can remember, and “most of that time, she didn’t know why.” She lived much of her life undiagnosed and unsure of the causes behind her trips to the ER and her major hospitalizations. She discusses addiction, mental illness and "her ever-deteriorating physical health.”

On her Twitter, too, Khakpour is not shy about discussing her illness. In a recent Twitter thread she writes, “If you’re new to me, I go in and out Lyme remission and relapse. My disability can vary at times. Sometimes my illness is invisible at other times it’s not. Nothing is quite harder than my life living alone with this illness so being in the world for now is helpful for me. But I can’t participate as I used to. I can’t drink etc. Sometimes my neuropathy is so bad I can’t hug…” Khakpour posts selfies at hospitals and reaches out to others via social media when she needs help. Through doing this, she is able to spread awareness about disability and chronic illness. In this way, she can create change. 

For instance, speaking of a writing conference she is attending, Khakpour writes, “I’ve been going to AWP since 2003 and have been pleased to see in recent years some things have been better. They still have a way to go. It’s only been a few years where I’ve had significant disability. I’m still learning to navigate that & what/how to ask.” Because of her large social media following, tweets like this can go a long way to improve conditions for people with illness or disability.

In addition to speaking out on these issues, Khakpour is open about her political beliefs and her experiences as a person of color and refugee in America. In an article for CNN, she writes, “It took September 11 to teach me that many would find my identity an impossibility, that my Iranian and American sides represented incompatibility at best.” She adds, “But it took 9/11 to make me realize I was culturally Muslim and proud, and that in spite of no practice, I would forever be part of the story of Islamophobia.” 

She writes of her fears after Trump was elected and her worries that naturalized citizens like herself might be targeted. She was teaching at Columbia University when news of Trump’s “Muslim ban” broke, and she writes, “I dreaded the end of class, when I’d have to look at my phone again — wondering which part of my identity would clash with what fresh news update: partially-disabled, chronically ill, Iranian, American, artist, academic, journalist, woman.” Khakpour, out of a sense of need, uses writing as a form of action to create change. In a 2011 interview for Full Stop she says, “And for many, feeling powerless leads to the urge to do something, however small. Writing is one way and it happens to be an important way — a potent, nonviolent, easily accessible, communication method.”

Khakpour, too, often promotes the work of women and people of color via social media and other outlets. For instance, during her recent book launch, author Morgan Jerkins described her life starting out as a writer in Harlem and discovering that Khakpour was also living in Harlem. As an admirer of Khakpour's work, Jerkins reached out to her, and the two met up one day. From there, Khakpour has supported Jerkins in a number of ways as Jerkins’s career began to take off. Khakpour is always open to helping emerging writers and promoting their work in any way that she can.

It’s clear that Porochista Khakpour is an important writer in our time, as she discusses a number of pertinent issues. If you haven’t read any of her work, definitely do so, and be sure to check out her upcoming memoir, Sick, out on June 5. You can even pre-order through the links on her website!

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DEENA ELGENAIDI

Deena ElGenaidi is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @deenaelg 

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