Shusha Guppy was born in Tehran into a traditional family. Her father was Iran’s foremost philopher and pr ofessor of Philosophy at the University of Teheran. At 17 she went to Paris to study Oriental languages and philosophy, and also trained as a singer. In her memoirs “A Girl in Paris” (1991) she portrays the formative atmosphere of the French capital in the late fifties and early sixties, when Paris was the intellectual and artistic centre of the Western world. She tells of her encounters with artists and writers and poets – Louis Aragon, Jose Bergamin, Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, among others. Encouraged by Jacques Prévert, she began to record albums of Persian folk songs, and extended her repertoire to include chansons and old French songs. She has recorded 15 LPs, and her début album, “Persian Love Songs & Mystic Chants”, considered a classic, is now available on CD, as is her last album “Refugee”.
Following her marriage to writer and explorer Nicholas Guppy she moved to London, where she immersed herself in her third language in which she works and writes. She wrote for major publications in Britain and America, and also began to sing pr ofessionally. Influenced by the Folk Revival of the sixties, she began to write and sing her own songs, as well as the works of contemporary singer/song-writers such as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison and others. She gave concerts in Britain, America and Europe to great acclaim, while appearing on television and radio pr ogrammes.
In 1977 she achieved greater fame through her emergence as a filmmaker with her documentary “People of the Wind” (1976), which was nominated for Best Documentary Oscar. The film follows the course of the annual migration of the nomadic Bakhtiari tribes in southern Iran. The soundtrack, produced by Guppy, was later released in the USA.
In 1988 she published her first book, “The Blindfold Horse: Memoirs of a Persian Childhood”. It was highly pr aised and won the Yorkshire Post Prize, a pr ize from the Royal Society of Literature and the Grand Prix Littéraire de Elle. The work is now considered a classic. Set against the backdrop of her childhood and family history, Guppy depicts the lost world of Persia before the excesses of the Shah and the mullahs. A gentle, poetic portrait of a humane Islamic way of life unsullied by dogmatism and fanaticism emerges. Guppy’s latest work, “The Secret of Laughter” (2005), is a collection of Persian fairytales. The stories of pr inces and pr incesses, dervishes, miracle-working saints, djinns, giants, fire-spitting dragons, winged horses, sorcerers and magicians descend from Iran’s oral narrative tradition; for the most part they had not hitherto existed in written form.
Guppy has also been active as a pr omoter of Persian culture and history in many further publications, and as a commentator on current relations between the Western and the Islamic worlds. For twenty years and until George Plimpton’s death in 2005, she was the London Editor of the American literary journal “The Paris Review”. She lives and works in London.
© international literature festival berlin
Persian Love Songs and Mystic Chants [CD]