Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays from Tokyo

Konichiwa and Happy Holidays from Tokyo! I must admit that I was surprised to learn that Christmas seems as celebrated in Japan as in the United States. I heard Christmas songs as I walked the streets, sat in cafes or browsed in stores. Yet, this is what I love so much about traveling, it often shatters my preconceived notions of a place or people.

Check back in the coming weeks for my impressions about food, fashion, literature, and meditation with zen masters.

May the New Year bring you much peace, good health and success.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New Video!

At the bottom of this blog page you will find links to two YouTube videos which I have just uploaded. I would love to read your comments!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Going to Tokyo

I leave for Tokyo this week to visit my son Gaelen, who is studying in Japan. I've never been to Japan so I am thrilled to explore a new culture. While there I will be meeting with local writers and will introduce you to them and talk a bit about their books when I return.

Happy Holidays!

Photo by Gaelen Sayres

Friday, December 3, 2010

Book Give Away

One of the things I enjoy when traveling is finding unique works of art, sometimes these items are made for everyday use. The first person to guess the function of this item will win a copy of Anahita’s Woven Riddle. Email me at with your answer.  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reinventing America's Engagement With The Muslim World

I recently attended a lecture sponsored by the Middle East Outreach Center at the University of Utah. Speakers included Bahman Baktiari, Director of the Mid East Center, U of U; Frank Amderson, President Mid East Policy Council; and Emile Nakhleh, Author of Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America's Relations With the Muslim World.

Nakhleh helped President Obama write his Cairo speech. The first point Nakhleh stressed was that the Muslim World is made up of many cultures and beliefs. He talked about the lack of knowledge among Americans about Middle Eastern cultures, which sadly has lent itself to prejudice. In a recent poll, 85 percent of those in the Republican Party held "unfavorable views" towards Muslims and when asked if they would like to learn more about Muslim cultures, they responded, no. Democrats responded more favorably. Nakhleh spoke to the importance of exchanges between citizens that go beyond those of governments.

While traveling to Muslim cultures or visiting your local mosque might be the best way to connect, literature is also a good way to begin to understand others. Stories can help build cross-cultural bridges. Familiarity lessens fear. But unfortunately, many of the books published about the Middle East in the commercial or trade market, tend to be those that focus on current or past conflict. Many reinforce stereotypes and the often sensational or black and white reporting generated by much of the mainstream media.

The Middle East Outreach Council, which is affiliated with the Middle Eastern Studies Association, creates a list of noteworthy books each year and a half. Consider their website the next time you are wondering what book you might read.

Check back soon for a review of Emile Nakhleh's book.

Related reading, Obama's Cairo speech:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Turkish Translation!

I am excited to announce that the Turkish Publisher Yakamoz Yayinlari will be publishing a Turkish translation of Anahita's Woven Riddle in 2011. The deal was made through Anatolia Lit in Istanbul.

Read about a conversation on book translation that I had in a bookstore cafe in Istanbul with Amy Spangler, founder of Anatolia Lit, on the Translation pages of my website:

For more information about this publisher and agency check out the links below:

Last week a lovely essay on translation by Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours, was featured on the NY Times online. He says, "Language in fiction is made up of equal parts meaning and music. You could probably say that meaning is the force we employ, and music is the seduction. It is the translator’s job to reproduce the force as well as the music."

To read the whole article visit:

Retro Review

It's a delight for authors to know that books they've published a few years ago are still being read and enjoyed. Here i share a retro review from the blog Reading Extensively about my novel Anahita's Woven Riddle.

"The novel is filled with interesting facts about Persia and the nomadic life, as well as beautiful Sufi poetry. The imagery, from descriptions of elaborate carpets to Anahita’s favorite scarf, shows the love that the author has for textiles. A glossary in the back includes helpful definitions and pronunciations of Persian words and the appendix provides more information about weaving and Persian history. There is a fairy tale quality to the story which I also enjoyed. Anahita’s Woven Riddle will appeal to those interested in other cultures."

Thank you, Christina for the retro review! Check out her other reviews at:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ten Ten Ten Climate Party

About a week ago,, an organization working on solutions for our climate crisis
called for a World Climate Party. On their website they wrote:

Dear World,

It’s been a tough year: in North America, oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico; in Asia some of the highest temperatures ever recorded; in the Arctic, the fastest melting of sea ice ever seen; in Latin America, record rainfalls washing away whole mountainsides.

So we’re having a party.

Circle 10/10/10 on your calendar. That’s the date. The place is wherever you live. And the point is to do something that will help deal with global warming in your city or community.

Their party was a grand success. 7,347 people from 188 countries participated, even the President of the Moldives, who erected a solar panel on the roof of his home.

For more details check out:

On 10/10/10 I happened to be in Utah, enjoying the desert. I had a private party of one on a boulder alongside a canyon stream. I hiked to this pristine spot and honored the day by reading. No carbon expended on the trail, no juice required to turn the pages of my traditional book. In that quiet moment I reflected on how much resources I normally use in a day between driving to and fro on errands and working on my computer.

Check out the previous post for praise of this book that I read on October 10, No god, But God, by Reza Aslan. How fitting the desert setting was for reading about the inception of Islam in Arabia. Sand, quite literally, swept through the pages as well as Aslan's eloquent prose.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Reza Aslan at the University of Utah

Pictured in the post above is a book by Reza Aslan No god, But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam. I cannot say enough good things about this work. The book explains the history of Islam in light of current events. It is informative, thorough, and best of all, it reads much like a novel.

Aslan says, "Storytelling is the key to building bridges and fostering mutual understanding. If we can tap into the narratives of other people, it gives us a better window into their religion, their politics, and their social and economic circumstances than any policy briefing could."

I recommend this book for readers who know little or a lot about Islam as Reza is sure to overturn several stones where even the most learned have not tread.

Reza Aslan will be giving a lecture at the University of Utah Middle Eastern Studies Center on Monday, Oct 25th at 7pm in the library auditorium. For more information about this event visit:

To read an interview with Reza Aslan on Religion Gone Global visit: This is the source of the quote by Reza cited above.

To learn more about Reza Aslan visit his website at:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Head Scarf Tour Goes to Moab, Utah

On Wednesday evening, Oct 6th, I spent the evening with a lively crowd from Moab, Utah, at the the Grand County Library, discussing Iran. This was the first of a dozen public speaking events that I have planned for the next 12 months as a participant in Authors Building Bridges With Muslim Cultures, a campaign I have launched with other writers.

I encourage teachers and librarians to contact me for speaking engagements. If I plan to be visiting your town, I will gladly speak at your school or library. Myself and other authors with books that celebrate the richness of Middle Eastern cultures and the beauty of Islam have agreed to step up our appearances this school year to help educate Americans about the Muslim cultures in the U.S. and abroad. Some of us authors have agreed to reduce our speaking rates or speak in exchange for the purchase of 12 books. Our aim is to enlist 12 authors, in 12 cities across the country to participate. I will interview each participating author on this blog as they join our tour, and will provide their contact information.

I'd like to thank Adrea Lund at the Grand County library for organizing this event and offering a gorgeous venue to launch the tour. Please help me and the participating authors make this a successful campaign!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Join me in Moab, Utah!

I am looking forward to traveling to Utah, next month for some hiking. While in Moab I will speak about Iran and my novel Anahita's Woven Riddle at the Grand County Library. Wed. Oct 6th at 7pm. If you are in town, please join us.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Iran's World Peace Carpet

April 2009 I traveled to Iran as the first American to weave on their World Peace Carpet, a project sponosored by UNESCO. Please see my Weaving in Iran webpages for photos and details about my experience in Tehran for this event. Last week I received news that the carpet has been completed. It will travel to 30 countries on 5 continents before arriving at its destination at the UN.

I believe the image in the center of the carpet is a representation of the clay tablet upon which Cyrus the Great, ruler of ancient Persia, had written one of the world's first human rights declarations. I am thrilled and honored to have been invited to weave on this carpet. I hope that each of our knots increased the light in the world.

Look closely, perhaps you can see threads of my sheep's wool, which the head weaver Mr. Jafar Shahabi promised to weave into it :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rockin' at the Prophet's Birthday Party

When traveling in Syria my friend Janet and I visited the town of Ma'loula, a village cut into rock about an hour from Damascas known for its preservation of the Aramaic language, the language Christ spoke. The place has a long history, which includes the refuge of Thecla, a woman who led people to Chrisitanity as a follower of St. Paul. A larger-than-life statue of The Virgin Mary overlooks the valley and a monastery on the mountaintop celebrates Mass every morning in Aramaic. Please see my website for a video of the local priest reciting the Lord's Prayer in this ancient language.

The day we arrived in Ma'loula, the townspeople were busy setting up chairs, shade tarps and mega speakers. Soon, rocked-up versions of Sufi music echoed off the bluffs. As we passed by the crowd, men waved to us to join them, handing us small cups of hot tea and bags of roasted nuts. They directed Janet and I to the women's side of the space. Women covered in veils and others wearing black chadors stood up to greet us, kissing us on both cheeks, and others reached out to squeeze our hands. We could hardly hear their greetings over the music. We soon learned that we were in the midst of a birthday celebration for The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him. "We're celebrating about a month late," someone with English told us. "because of the weather."

The mix of religions coexisting in this town felt mirrored in Damascas and every other town we visited in Syria. As if everyone is equally appreciative and proud of a shared rich cultural heritage.

For more information visit:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Shrines of Damascas, An Interfaith Experience

When traveling in Iran, Turkey and Syria I have witnessed the convivial atmosphere of people of different faiths living together. In Damascas, my friend Janet and I came upon this shrine in the old Jewish Quarter for Say'yeda Roqayya, The Prophet Muhammad's granddaughter. It would be one of many Muslim, Christian or Jewish shrines we would visit during our travels in Syria, including those of St. Paul, Saint Thecla (a convert of Paul), John the Baptist, Ibn Arabi, among others. I was told that the neighborhood of Roqayya's shrine is home to many Shiite Muslims from Iran.

After borrowing proper robes and head covering, my friend and I were welcomed into the mosque and the women's sanctuary beside Roqayya's tomb. Here pilgrims chatted and wept together as they paid homage to this revered saint. The women were delighted that we took the time to visit with them. Many hugged us, kissed us on both of our cheeks and asked to take photos with us. The video below will give you a feel for the mood of this moment.

Walking in the footsteps of these holy people was a treat for me as I have written characters based on some of them in a collection of stories Daughters of the Desert: Tales Of Remarkable Women From the Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions.
For more information and images about the interfaith aspects of my trip, please visit the pages on my website for this book as well as the Middle East section.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Storyteller of Damascas

It has been a long while since I have posted and I apologize. I spent January and February finishing a novel and then set out to do research in Turkey and Syria during March, April and May. I will post more from this trip in the coming weeks on this blog as well as on the Middle Eastern pages on my website. Highlights included meeting with writers, editors, translators and publishers at Bogazici University in Istanbul; interviewing a search and rescue specialist who worked for The Turkish Red Crescent for a novel-in-progress; learning to felt hats worn by the whirling dervishes; visiting with friends and traveling in Syria.

While in Damascas I met Abu Shadi, a storyteller who has been carrying on the tradition in the Coffee Shop Ainfora beside the Ummayid Mosque. (Among other things, this mosque houses a shrine for John the Baptist.) Since time immemorial Arab men gathered in tea houses to drink tea, smoke waterpipes and talk. Even under Ottoman rule they continued to maintain this aspect of their culture though the cafes were subject to scrutiny by their new rulers. Men whose wives were giving birth waited in the tea house among friends who would congratulate or console them, should the baby or mother die. Storytellers, like series writers today, always ended their tales with a cliff hanger, so people would return to the coffee house the next night. Check out the Middle Eastern pages on my website in the coming weeks for more photos of this most expressive and conversant storyteller as well as to view a video of Abu Shadi telling his story.