Mahmud Kianush obituary

Negeen Zohari
·2-min read

Mahmud Kianush, who has died aged 86, was an Iranian poet, writer and translator who had lived and worked in London since 1974. He played an important role in introducing English literature to Iranians and also translated many modern Iranian poems into English. He was a close friend of my family and translator of my late father’s poetry into English.

Mahmud was born in Mashad, in western Iran. His family moved to Tehran when he was 12, and he started writing and publishing poetry and short stories in his early teens. His father, a small businessman, was illiterate but was an eloquent storyteller – Mahmud always said that in this respect he was unable to compete with him.

His father wanted Mahmud to become a religious scholar, but, with the help of his mother, Mahmud persuaded his father to allow him to leave religious school for a state school after one year. He studied English at Tehran University, which introduced him to the world of English literature and sparked his career as a translator. In 1959, he married Pari Mansouri, a fellow student who also became a writer and translator.

His knowledge and mastery of both English and Persian language and literature put him in a unique position to translate many works from English. His first translation was a novel by John Steinbeck, To a God Unknown. This was followed by works by DH Lawrence, Eugene O’Neill, Samuel Beckett, Athol Fugard, Richard Wright, Ariel Dorfman and many more. He also translated poetry.

A prolific writer, he published more than 20 volumes of poetry, novels and short stories. He was very active on the literary scene in the 1960s and 70s and edited a number of prestigious magazines. Another aspect of his unique contribution to Persian literature was his involvement with the children’s books council (he was a founder) and publication of a number of books of poetry and prose for children. These poems found their way into school curriculums and were made into popular songs by famous artists.

He was also an art critic and published many books on the subject.

In London from the mid-1970s, Mahmud worked for the Persian section of the BBC World Service as a freelance producer of literary, cultural and sociological as well as bilingual English teaching programmes. He presented a humorous slot, Letter from London, in which he discussed his observations of life and people in Britain.

In 1996 he published Modern Persian Poetry. He also wrote and published many poems in English. The most recent collection, The Journey and Other Poems, came out in October.

Pari died of Covid-19 last year. He is survived by his two children, Kaveh and Katayoon.