Karim Emami


EMAMI, KARIM (Karim Emāmi, b. Calcutta, 1930; d. Tehran, 9 July 2005), noted translator, editor, publisher, critic, journalist, and lexicographer (FIGURE 1).

Emami was two when his parents, who had a trading business with India, moved back to their hometown of Shiraz, where Emami received his elementary and secondary school education. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Tehran University in 1952, and a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1955, both in English language and literature (Emami, 1993, pp. 173-79). He married Golroḵ Adib-Moḥammadi (Goli Emāmi), a noted translator and journalist, in 1966. They had two daughters: Hedyeh (1969), and Hasti (1972).

Emami took an early interest in contemporary Persian art and literature. In 1959, before starting his career as a journalist and translator, he worked as a photographer and filmmaker at the film studio of Ebrāhim Golestān (b. 1922), modernist writer and director (Emami, 1993, pp. 217-19). In 1962 he joined the Tehran-based English language daily, Kayhan International. During his years at Kayhan (Kayhān, 1962-1968) he translated the works of contemporary Persian poets and short story writers into English. These were also published in several other periodicals besides Keyhan. His numerous commentaries on novels, poems, films, and works of art soon earned him prominence as a discerning and avant-garde critic (Golestān, p. 365). His articles on “Saqqā-ḵāna Paintings,” a term he coined to describe a particular genre of painting and sculpture, which combined religious imagery and traditional decorative elements with modern painting techniques, played a significant role in drawing the attention of the media and art connoisseurs to the genre (Bakhash, p. 409; Yazdāni Ḵorram, p. 421).

In 1968 Emami began working as an English language editor and cultural director at Franklin Publishing House (Moʾassasa-ye entešārāt-e Ferānklin; see FRANKLIN BOOK PROGRAM). He was later promoted to the position of chief editor, and played an instrumental role in the publication of quality books, training a younger generation of writers and editors, and setting high editorial standards (Bakhash, 2005b).

In 1974 Franklin Publishing House went out of business and Emami joined the National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRTV), where he established the Soruš Press, and also developed several editing and book publishing training programs (Emami, 2004, pp. 353-55). While at Soruš, Emami invited a European research organization to conduct a study of the print and publishing industry in Iran. The study led to the introduction of linotron image-setters and significantly increased the technical and print capacities of Soruš Press.

During the 1970s, he was also associated with the literary journal Ketāb-e emruz, although his name has not been recorded as its managing editor. The journal, of which only eight issues were published, served as an important forum for literary debates and analyses, and emerged as a model for a number of literary journals in subsequent years (Mirzāʾi, p. 26).

In 1978, at the outset of the Iranian revolution and during the first wave of institutional purges, Emami was dismissed from his position at the behest of Ṣādeq Qoṭbzāda (1937-1982), the revolutionary activist and the then president of the National Iranian Radio and Television, who was executed in 1982 (Emami, 1993, p. 229). In 1979, together with Goli Emami and several other professionals, Emami founded Zamina Publishing House in the north of Tehran (Maʿṣumi Hamadāni, pp. 371-2). Zamina’s criteria for the selection, preparation, printing, and publication of books were inseparably linked to Emami’s name; policies that formed what was later known to many as the “Emami School” (Āzarang, 2006, p. 9). Noted among Zamina’s publications, although few in number, are Moṣaddeq va masāʾel-e ḥoquq o siāsat, a collection of nine essays on legal and political issues by Moḥammad Moṣaddeq (ed., Iraj Afšār, 1979); Mavāneʿ-e tāriḵi-e rošd-e sarmāyadāri dar Irān: dowra-ye Qājāriya (Historical obstacles to the development of capitalism in Iran: the Qajar period, Aḥmad Ašraf, 1979); Ruzhā-ye ḵun, ruzhā-ye ātaš (Days of blood, days of fireed. Karim Emami, 1979), an account of the 1979 Revolution in pictures, photographed by Bahman Jalāli; and ʿAkkāsi-e siāh o sefid (Black and white photography, ed. Karim Emami, 1981).

The tense political atmosphere of those days, however, made it increasingly impossible for Zamina to survive. Before long, the publishing house was transformed into a bookstore. Located in a tree-lined street in the north of Tehran, Zamina Bookstore soon became a lively meeting place for writers, intellectuals, and the interested public (Bakhash, p. 409). It introduced a new chapter in operating small neighborhood bookstores in Iran (Azarang, 2006, pp. 12-13). As a guide to readers, Emami and his wife published Fehrest-e zamina (Zamina list), a monthly descriptive list of newly published books, which often contained amusing and witty remarks. It soon emerged as a valuable bibliographic source, and played a significant role in introducing new books to the public in the 1980s (Maʿṣumi Hamadāni, p. 372).

Emami’s familiarity with English language and literature, and his challenge to convey, as much as possible, the author’s original narrative style in a clear and flowing language soon earned him critical acclaim (Bakhash, p. 407; Ḵazāʾifar, p. 404). However, his translation of Look Back in Anger (1956), by the English playwright and screenwriter John Osborne (1929-1994), entitled Bā ḵašm be yād ār (Tehran, 1963) was published at his own expense (Emami, 1993, pp. 217-19). In subsequent years he translated Scott Fitzgerald’s (1896-1940) The Great Gatsby (1925), as Gastby-e bozorg (Tehran, 1965); The Persians Amongst the English (1985), by Sir Denis Wright (1911-2005), as Irāniāndar miān-e Inglisihā (Tehran, 1987); and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891-2), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), as Mājarāhā-ye Sherlock Holmes (Tehran, 1993-1998, 4 vols.). He also translated into English works of many cotemporary Persian poets and writers, including Foruḡ Farroḵzād (1935-1967), Jalāl Āl-e Aḥmad (1923-1969), Ebrāhim Golestān, and Ḡolām Ḥosayn Sāʿedi (1936-1986), among others (Emami, 1993, pp. 247-56). Work over the years on the poetry and painting of Sohrāb Sepehri (1928-1980) resulted in the publication of Payāmi dar rāh: Naẓari be šeʿr va naqqāši-e Sepehri, a volume of essays on Sepehri’s poetry and painting, which also features a comprehensive bibliography of his poetry (Tehran, 1980), and ʿĀšeq hamiša tanhāst (The Lover Is Always Alone, Tehran, 2003), a bilingual edition in which the Persian and English versions of the poems appeared in facing pages. An account of Emami’s friendship with Sepehri appears in his introduction to the book.

Emami’s English translation of 72 of Omar Khayyam’s (1048–1123) quatrains, the first by a Persian translator, was published in TheWine of Nishapur: A Photographer’s Promenade in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, (1988, Paris), which also included the Persian calligraphic transcriptions, and the French translation of poems, as well as Šāhroḵ Golestān’s (b. 1930) photographs in front of each poem. The translation, as commented by a critic, is more marked by Emami’s studied effort to stay loyal to the Persian original of the quatrains than to render Khayyam’s impressively flowing language into English (Āšuri, p. 163).

The first volume of the collection of his articles on the craft of translation, written in a simple and engaging language, was published in 1993, entitled Az past o boland-e tarjoma (The ins and outs of translation). The book also includes a comprehensive list of Emami’s translations from and into English (pp. 250-55). His translation of Khayyam’s poems is also reprinted in the book with an introductory note (pp. 134-70). A kind of handbook for students and other practitioners of the craft, it has been reprinted several times. The second volume of the book was published posthumously in 2006 (Sepehr, p. 3). The collection of Emami’s articles on publishing, editing, and copyright, written during a period of more than 30 years, is published as Dar gir o dār-e ketāb o našr (Caught in the mêlée of books and publications, Tehran, 2006). Emami’s contributions to the Encyclopaedia Iranica include: “ART IN IRAN xi. POST-QAJAR,” “COPYRIGHT,” “EDITING,” and “TRANSLATION OF ENGLISH LITERATURE INTO PERSIAN” He has also written the chapter “Modern Persian Artists,” in Iran Faces the Seventies (ed., Ehsan Yarshater, New York, 1977, pp. 349–64).

Emami’s interest in language, usage and meaning of words is also evident through his lifetime engagement with Persian lexicography. Other than editing the Haim Persian-English Dictionary (see ḤAIM, SOLAYMĀN), Emami compiled Farhang-e moʿāṣer-e kimiā: Farhang-e Fārsi-Ingelisi (Tehran, 2006), a Persian-English dictionary that took into account the substantial expansion of the Persian language and the incorporation of neologisms to reflect new ideas and concepts (Ḵazāʾifar, p. 405).

Throughout his career Emami also taught various courses in English language, as well as the history and development of publishing, editing, and translation industries at the Tehran College of Decorative Arts (Honarkada-ye honarhā-ye tazʾini), as well as the Soruš Press, the University Publishing Center, the Islamic Revolution Publishing and Educational Center, and the Publishers’ Guild.

Emami participated in numerous international and national conferences and lectured on a multitude of subjects, including Persian contemporary literature and publishing industry in Iran. In 2000, he delivered the keynote speech on the state of book publishing in Iran at the Third Biennial Conference of the International Society for Iranian Studies. He was also known as a skilled chess player (Raḥim Ḵāni, p. 428).

His loss received wide coverage both in Iran and abroad. He was remembered as “one of Iran’s leading men of letters” (Newsletter, p. 11), a “prominent translator and editor who for more than 50 years devoted his life to Persian literature and art,” (The New York Times, p. 16), and as a “pioneering figure in the development of editing industry in Iran,” (Afšār, p. 130; Dowlatābādi, p. 24; for more information on his life and work, see “Yād-nāma-ye Karim Emāmi,” Bukhara 43, Summer 2005, pp. 356-434).


Selected Works.

1. Books in Persian:

Payāmi dar rāh: Naẓari be šeʿr va naqqāši-e Sepehri, (A message on the way: A collection of three essays by Dāriuš Āšuri, Ḥosayn Maʿṣoumi Hamedani and Karim Emami), ed. Karim Emami, Tehran, 1980.

ʿAkkāsi-e siāh o sefid (Black and white photography), Karim Emami et al., Tehran, 1981.

Panj negāh be ḵāk (Five ways of looking at the earth), a collection of 63 pictures by five Iranian photographers: Mehdi Ḵᵛānsāri, Bahman Jalāli, Yaḥyā Dehqānpur, Mahšid Farahmand, and Karim Emami), ed., Karim Emami, Tehran, 1982.

Čeguna film-e ʿarusaki besāzim (How to make animated movies), Karim Emami et al., Tehran, 2000.

2. Translations into Persian:

Arthur Charles Clarke, Man and Space (1968), as Ensān o fażā, Tehran, 1970.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as Mājarāhā-ye Sherlock Holmes (1993-1998), 4 vols.

Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925), as Gatsbi-e bozorg (Ṭalā va ḵākestar)Tehran, 1965.

Alex La Guma, Apartheid, ed., Tehran, 1981.

David Lodge, Graham Greene (1966), Tehran, 1974.

John Osborne, Look Back in Anger (1956), as Bā ḵašm be yād ār, Tehran, 1963.

Herbert Read, A Concise History of Modern Painting (1956-74), as Tāriḵča-ye naqqāši-e novin, forthcoming.

Sir Denis Wright, The Persians Amongst the English (1985), as Irāniān dar miān-e Engelisihā, Tehran, 1987.

3. Translations into English:

Jalal Al-e Ahmad, “Crisis in Education: The School Principal,” Michael Hillmann, ed. Iranian Society: An Anthology of Writings by Jalal Al-e Ahmad, Kentucky, 1988, pp. 80-88.

Forugh Farrokhzad, “Another Birth,” Michael Hillmann, ed. A Lonely Woman: Forugh Farrokhzad and Her Poetry, Washington D. C., 1987, pp. 111-13.

Omar Khayyam (72 quatrains), TheWine of Nishapur: A Photographer’s Promenade in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Paris, 1988.

Sohrab Sepehri, “Water’s Footsteps,” Iranian Studies, 15/1-4, 1982, pp. 97-116. Idem, The Lover is Always Alone, Tehran, 2003.

Emami compiled several exhibition catalogues, including Art in Iran (Iran-America Society, Tehran, 1965); A Collection of Saqqā-ḵāna Paintings (Iran-America Society, Tehran, 1967); and Modern Iranian Art: A Retrospective Exhibition (Iran-America Society, Tehran, 1976). He published numerous articles on literature, cinema, art and archeology in Keyhan International, including: “Crucial Test for Iranian Cinema,” (August 12, 1964, p. 6), “Contemporary Iranian Literature in the Mirror,” (May 21, 1965, p. 5), “An Eyeful of Art in Goethe’s Garden,” (June 6, 1968, p. 6), and “Contemporary Iranian Literature in the Mirror,” (May 21, 1965, p. 5).

Sources. Iraj Afšār, “Tāzahā va pārahā-ye Irānšenāsi,” Bukhara, 53, Summer 2006, pp. 130-67. Sirus ʿAlinežād, “Meṯl-e Aḵavān, meṯl-e Foruḡ, meṯl-e Emāmi,’ available online (accessed 20 July 2009).

Dāriuš Āšuri, “Šarāb-e Neišābur,” Irannameh, 8/1,winter 1989.

ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Āzarang, “Pišgoftār,” in Karim Emami, Dar gir o dār ketāb o našr, Tehran, 2006.

“Idem, Jāygāh-e Karim Emāmi dar našr o virāyeš,”Bukhara, no. 53, Summer 2006, pp. 493-7.

Shaul Bakkash, “Yād-e doust,” Bukhara 42, 2005a, pp. 406-11.

Idem, “Karim Emami: 1930-2005,” 2005b, available online (accessed 20 July 2009).

Karim Emami, Az past o boland-e tarjoma (The ins and outs of translation), vol. I, Tehran, 1993; vol. II. ed.ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Āzarang and Možda Daqiqi, Tehran, 2006.

Idem, “Az Kayhan, Farnklin, va Soruš,” Tāriḵ-e šafāhi-e našr-e Iran (Oral History: Publishing Industry in Iran), ed. ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Āzarang, and ʿAli Dehbāši, Tehran, 2004.

Idem, Dar gir o dār-e ketāb o našr, Tehran, 2006.

Nazila Fathi, “ Karim Emami,” The New York Times, July 13, 2005.

Ebrāhim Golestān, “Pāyān-e in nemād-e niki-e bihamtā,” Bukhara 42, Summer 2005.

ʿAli Ḵazāʾifar, “Az šomār-e dow čašm yek tan kam,” Bukhara 42, Summer 2005, pp. 399-405.

Ḥosayn Maʿṣumi Hamadāni, “Bāḡbān-e ketāb,” Bukhara 42, Summer 2005, pp. 368-73.

ʿAli Mirzāʾi, “Karim Emāmi: ḵedmatgozār-e ketāb o ṣanʿat-e našr dargoḏašt,” Negāh nou, 2005, pp. 24-27.

Parviz Rahimḵāni, “Ostād Karim Emāmi-e šatranj-bāz,” Bukhara 42, Summer 2005, pp. 428-29.

Kāyvān Sepehr, “Marg-e čonin mard,” Ketāb-e hafta, 253, 2005, p. 3.

Mehdi Yazdāni-Ḵorram, “Gastby-e bozorg dargoḏšt,” Bukhara 42, Summer 2005, pp. 420-22.

July 20, 2009

(ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Āzarang and EIr)

Originally Published: July 20, 2009

Last Updated: July 20, 2009

  • Birthday: 1930
  • Death: 09 July 2005
  • Birthplace: Calcutta, West Bengal, India

Translator, Editor, Publisher, Critic, Journalist, and Lexicographer

Abbas Eghbal Ashtiani

Fereydoon Moshiri

Sadeq Kia


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