Personal Essays

Two Lessons in Prejudice

The New York Times
August 26, 2017

"What I know of rural white America mostly begins and ends with the three times I went at the age of 8 to visit a friend’s farm in Butler County, Pa., about an hour north of Pittsburgh, where I grew up. I recall vast farmland, ample sunshine and no black people—or Hispanics or Jews, or for that matter, half-Iranian, half-Jewish people like me..."

 

The Ultimate Protest Vote

The New York Times
October 28, 2016

"On Nov. 8 I will be going to the polls and voting, without hesitation or disinclination, for Hillary Clinton. But what a treacherous and unforgivable act this will be for my father, who will no doubt be supporting the only presidential candidate he believes has any chance of saving the United States from almost certain ruin: Alyson Kennedy..."

 

How to Write About Trauma

The New York Times
August 13, 2016

"One summer afternoon, when I was 4 or 5 years old, I was raped by a next-door neighbor. If the act itself was gruesome, the aftermath was surprisingly uneventful, beginning with the fact that my mother, despite knowing what had transpired, did nothing. As for me, I did what everyone tries to do under similar circumstances: move on and be normal..."

 

What Iranian Identity Means to an Outsider

Time Magazine
July 27, 2015

"What is a pariah supposed to suddenly make of compromise and reconciliation? Until this week’s nuclear agreement, there’s hardly been any precedent for me. My primary emotion regarding Iran, at least since 1979, has been embarrassment—followed closely by shame…"

 

The Reunion

The New York Times Magazine
April 26, 2015

"The longest walk I ever took in New York City was on a winter’s afternoon in December, five miles along Ocean Parkway with my father. This was 30 years ago, and we were, I suppose, trying to jump-start something, namely, a relationship…"

 

The Name on My Coffee Cup

The New Yorker
March 20, 2015

"Starbucks announced earlier this week that, in the hope of sparking impromptu and much needed discussion concerning race relations in the United States, it will begin encouraging baristas to write the phrase "race together" on its coffee cups.…"

 

My Mother's Psychotherapy—and Mine

The New York times
October 26, 2014

"The books I have written have each been dedicated to the same two people: my wife and my psychotherapist. My psychotherapist preceded my wife. He also preceded my writing…"

 

Blood on the Tracts

Bookforum
june 2014

"The books that line the shelves in my mother’s home, and that, when I was growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s and ’80s, helped to shape my worldview, were almost entirely about war and written almost entirely by communists…"

 

Remembering My Mother's Obsession

The New York Times
February 2, 2014

"Of all the troubling events from my childhood, one of the most enduring remains the afternoon I visited a prisoner serving a life sentence for murder…"

 

Howard Stern, My Literary Idol

The New York Times
october 6, 2013

"When asked to name the influences on my fiction and nonfiction, it’s become fairly customary, and perhaps a little pretentious, for me to cite the literary gods Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett and George Orwell…"

 

The Relatable Fury of the Incredible Hulk

new york magazine
july 8, 2013

"Everyone dreams of power. No one dreams of power more than children. No child dreams of power more than one who has been sexually abused…"

 

Notes from a Bystander

mcsweeney's
issue 40, 2012

"Zuccotti Park is located about a mile and a half from my house—three stops on the subway—but four weeks after Occupy Wall Street began, I had yet to even pass by. This was due in part to the fact that there was a very good chance I might run into my father there…"

 

A Commie-Pinko in Cancún

the new york times magazine
january 30, 2011

"My wife has always tried to persuade me to spend a winter vacation on a tropical island. I’d never been to a tropical island because I never wanted to go. I never wanted to go because the prospect of lounging around on a beach while being waited on by foreign poor people with dark skin made me feel uncomfortably rich and white—and American…"

 

Two Wheels, No Waiting

O magazine
july 2009

"My bicycle prefers the errand. Indeed, it has no interest in tranquil rides through the park, around the pond, on to nowhere... It would die of boredom…"

 

 

Favorite Signatures: from Ginsberg to Sedaris

Los angeles times
august 26, 2008

"My favorite autographed book is the one that so perfectly encapsulates my bizarre and tumultuous childhood. "The Crowned Cannibals: Writings on Repression in Iran," by Reza Baraheni, Iranian poet, dissident and, in 1973, imprisoned by the shah for 102 days…"

 
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When Skateboards Will Be Free

Granta
fall 2005

"My father believes that the United States is destined one day to be engulfed in a socialist revolution. All revolutions are bloody, he says, but this one will be the bloodiest of them all. The working class—which includes me—will at some point in the not-so-distant future decide to put down the tools of our trade, pour into the streets, beat the police into submission, take over the means of production, and usher in a new epoch–the final epoch—of peace and equality…"

 

My Mother and the Stranger

THEY'RE AT IT AGAIN: AN OPEN CITY READER
GROVE PRESS, 2011

"My mother’s name is Martha Harris, while my name, on the other hand, as you already know from the byline, is Saïd Sayrafiezadeh. If we lived in a matriarchal society, my last name would also be Harris…"

 

Runaway Train

LOVE IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD: TRUE STORIES OF BREAKUPS, BAD RELATIONSHIPS, AND BROKEN HEARTS
PLUME, 2009

"I met Amy at a moment of desperation in my life. I was twenty-four years old and fully convinced that I would one day be a famous actor if I could only make it out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania…"

 

Dark Man at the Airport

FLIGHT PATTERNS: A CENTURY OF STORIES ABOUT FLYING
OPEN CITY BOOKS, 2009

"It was my great misfortune to be traveling from New York City to Paris just two months after 9/11. For while my passport is American and clearly states that I was born in New York, there is no getting around the fact that the name printed beside the photo of a dark- haired, dark-eyed, and slightly unshaven young man, is “Sayrafiezadeh, Saeed.” Saeed being the variant spelling that my Iranian father and American mother chose for my birth certificate…"

 

War and Duane Reade

LOST AND FOUND: STORIES FROM NEW YORK
MISTER BELLER'S NEIGHBORHOOD, 2009

"It was 9 PM and I was out of Breathe Right strips. If I don't have Breathe Right strips I can't sleep soundly because I have a deviated septum. So I put on my brown coat and my orange button that has a photograph of a very sweet little Iraqi girl and the words, "Stop the War on Iraq," and I rode my bicycle to Duane Reade…"

 

South Dakota

STATE BY STATE: A PANORAMIC PORTRAIT OF AMERICA
ECCO PRESS, 2008

"The idea of traveling to South Dakota for vacation had been all mine. I hit upon it one night in my apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I was casually flipping through a glossy travel magazine with my wife, Karen, when I spotted a photograph of a bighorn sheep standing in the middle of the Badlands and gazing seductively at the camera…"

 

Iran

THE THINKING FAN'S GUIDE TO THE WORLD CUP
HARPER PERENNIAL, 2006

"In the summer of 1998, as Iran and the U.S. were preparing to play each other in the first round of the World Cup, I decided to examine my own Iranian roots a little more closely. This was not a simple matter. For starters, my father was Iranian and my mother was Jewish American, leaving me somewhere in between, in a kind of ethnic no man’s land…"