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Acclaimed author Azar Nafisi has been named the ninth recipient of the Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square. Awarded since 2013, the prize honors storytellers whose work has a meaningful, positive impact on public understanding.

Nafisi is perhaps best known for her bestselling “Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books.” At once an account of the tightening oppression of the Islamic Revolution in Nafisi’s native Iran, the book is also a celebration of the liberating potential of literature. With a story-teller’s flare, Nafisi recounts the experiences of a group of students she worked with as a professor of English at the University of Tehran. She was dismissed from that role in 1981 for refusing to cover her hair. In 1997, Nafisi emigrated to the United States, where she has continued to teach and write. Her memoir and subsequent books weave together her love of literature and the link between the liberal arts, free thinking, and free societies.

In 2021, the Pell Center Prize went to Michael Paul Williams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Richmond Times Dispatch, whose reporting led to the removal of Confederate statues from public places in the former capital of the Confederacy. In 2019, the prize went to Elizabeth Kolbert in recognition of her reporting on humanity’s impact on all life on the planet, while the 2018 prize went to Pulitzer-winner and New York Times staff writer Dan Barry. Filmmaker Daphne Matziaraki, whose documentary “4.1 Miles” was nominated for an Oscar, was honored in 2017; Pulitzer-winning photographer Javier Manzano won in 2016; Lisa Genova, the best-selling author of “Still Alice,” was honored in 2015; Emmy-winning screenwriter and actor Danny Strong was the 2014 winner; while two-time Pulitzer-winner Dana Priest received the inaugural prize in 2013.

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