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Afghan-American author to speak at Reed Commencement


Tamim Ansary '70, is choice of senior class to be thirteenth consecutive alumnus to address graduates


Afghan-American intellectual Tamim Ansary will address Reed College's 92nd annual Commencement, Monday, May 15. Ansary, an author, editor, and public speaker who is a Reed graduate from the Class of 1970, is the thirteenth consecutive prominent alumnus of the college to address a Reed commencement.

Ansary, who was invited at the request of Reed's Class of 2006, gained wide attention days after the 9/11 attacks, when he sent a spontaneous, heartfelt email to a small circle of friends, denouncing Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime, but also those Americans then urging the U.S. to retaliate by destroying his homeland, which Ansary portrayed as Bin Laden's first and worst victim.

The message was passed on and on and on – and in a matter of days had been read online by millions. A bi-cultural memoir, West of Kabul, East of New York, followed, and in the ensuing years Ansary has emerged as a major voice of and about Islam and the West. His most recent book, The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky, was a collaboration with a courageous young émigré, Farah Ahmedi.

Ansary grew up in Kabul, where his father taught science and literature at Kabul University, and his American mother taught English at the first girls' school in Afghanistan. In 1964, he won a scholarship to attend high school in Colorado. Six years later he graduated from Reed. He wrote for an alternative weekly, The Portland Scribe, lived in communes, worked in restaurants, and wrote experimental fiction. In 1980, he traveled to North Africa and Turkey to explore Islam, and, as he says in his biography, "found Islamism instead." He did not return to the region until after 9/11, when he visited Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and made a journey to Kabul.

Ansary is a columnist for Microsoft's learning site, Encarta.com, and also heads the San Francisco Writers Workshop. He has written nonfiction books for children, jokes for a mathematics program ("edutainment" software), a literary memoir, several novels, and a series of educational comic books entitled Adventures Plus. His commentary has been heard on the Bill Moyers Show, the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, the Oprah Winfrey Show, Hardball, and National Public Radio.