Sunday, March 7, 2010

Teaching Persepolis

I am convinced that Marjane Satrapi intended to reach the entire world with her childhood story, Persepolis. At the age of 10, she lived through the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. After being sent by her parents to Vienna, Satrapi undoubtedly practiced her cartooning for years before embarking on a publishing career. Her graphic novel offers a rich tapestry of storytelling talent as well as a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching testimony to her turbulent time as a child. When I teach Persepolis, I want my students to fully engage in the snapshot history and the rich artistry Satrapi offers.

For many reasons, Persepolis is a modern story not to be missed. As an instructor, I focus student attention on two aspects: 1) How is the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran impacting the world today? and 2) To what extent does the graphic novel medium warrant sophisticated study? Persepolis examines a particular time in history with sequential frames that communicate much information quickly. Readers learn about Satrapi's life in the context of war while also developing images-with-text reading skills. Some of her interpretive images speak volumes, and some of her short text captures tremendous scope and depth. Furthermore, the images and text work together, frame by frame, offering an awesome reading experience for those willing to take time and appreciate the deliberate nature in which Satrapi drew her story. From a purely stylistic standpoint, I ask my students, "When are images more effective than text, and when is text more effective than images? How do images-with-text communicate differently than either medium alone?" Beyond that, I supplement Persepolis with historical accounts and current news stories that echo the time of the graphic novel. This year, I read from my Blackberry in the classroom about the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. I sincerely hope that the whole world will learn from Persepolis.

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