Commencement Speaker Inhabits Multiple Cultures
Afghan-American author, editor, and lecturer Tamim Ansary ’70 has accepted President Diver’s invitation on behalf of the Class of 2006 to be the guest speaker at Reed’s 92nd annual commencement on Monday, May 15. He will be the 13th consecutive Reed graduate to deliver the address.
Ansary was the overwhelming choice of members of the senior class, who expressed a preference from among a number of candidates vetted by a student-faculty committee chaired by Director of Public Affairs Edward Hershey. Ansary gained wide attention days after the 9/11 attacks, when he emailed to a small circle of friends a spontaneous, heartfelt (and somewhat prescient) plea denouncing Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime, but also those Americans then urging the U.S. to retaliate by destroying his homeland, which he 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 found Islamism instead,” and, according to his biography, it took him “14 years of working as a textbook editor for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich to recover from the shock.” After 9/11, Ansary visited Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and made a journey to Kabul.
A columnist for Microsoft’s learning site, Encarta.com, who also heads the San Francisco Writers Workshop, Ansary 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, 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.