Ithaca College introduced a new literary medium, the graphic novel, to the incoming freshman class for its First-Year Reading Initiative. “Persepolis,” by Marjane Satrapi, conveys the complexities of the Iranian Revolution in comic-book form.
Satrapi first published her book in France, where it received nationwide acclaim. She writes about her life from ages 6 to 14 and relates Iran’s history and war with Iraq to her childhood. The title of the book is a reference to the historic Iranian town of Persepolis.
The reading initiative, a part of the First-Year Experience, is targeted toward incoming freshmen in order to begin intellectual and creative development as they start their first year in college, and to create a common experience for incoming students.
Last year’s novel was “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” by Dai Sijie, which centered on the power of one.
Tanya Saunders, assistant provost and dean of the division of interdisciplinary and international studies, said she thought “Persepolis” fit well with the aims of many of the college’s schools and opened up opportunities for discussion and debate between students and faculty.
“The graphic novel is one of those new media forms and so we can ask ourselves if that form does justice to the subject,” she said.
Freshman Alyssa Figuero said she liked that the book was presented in a different manner.
“Instead of dragging out the story in paragraphs, the book got right to the point,” she said. “All the meanings just hit you.”
Roger Richardson, associate vice president for student affairs and campus life, and the dean of the First-Year Experience, said the book works well with the program’s focus on the theme of character and personal development.
“We decided to focus on character because, especially as new students to a new community, a part of their growth and development will surely be about character,” he said.
Richardson said students can connect with the author’s 13-year-old self because she is dealing with her personal development, similar to the audience of the novel.
“There are many ways that facilitators can infuse our theme of character in the discussion with first-year students,” Richardson said.
Nearly 1,000 first-year students, according to an Ithacan tally, filed into Ben Light Gymnasium in Hill Center Tuesday morning to hear faculty introduce the graphic novel. More than 700 students attended the same session last year.
Katharine Kittredge, associate professor of English, discussed the history of the graphic novel, while Naeem Inayatullah, associate professor of politics, focused on the Iranian Revolution and the messages Satrapi tries to convey in the book.
Following Kittredge’s and Inayatullah’s lectures, more than 800 students separated into small group discussions around campus.
Terry Martinez, director of the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural
Affairs, said she was thrilled with the turnout to Tuesday’s events.
“It was very exciting to see the room filled,” she said. “There was a lot of energy in there.”
Students also attended a screening of the movie “Persepolis” in the evening. The movie offered a chance to get the rest of the story, since students read only the first volume of the two-book series.
The second book chronicles Satrapi’s return to Iran as an adult.
Saunders said she believes “Persepolis” captivates the culture of Iran and presents it to readers, especially because it is increasingly the topic of international discussion.
“It lets us know that Iranians are human beings and that they have some of the same concerns that we have as children, as families and as the people who want to be free of a particular government,” she said.
Freshman Jessica Polizzi said she enjoyed the cultural aspect of the novel.
“You got to learn about a society you normally wouldn’t have learned about,”
Student Government Association President and senior Cornell Woodson said he believes the First-Year Reading Initiative is an important part of a freshman’s experience and helps students start off their year and create new friendships.
“It gives the students a common experience,” he said. “You have 1,500 kids who are coming into the college, who don’t know each other and who probably don’t have a lot in common.”
Saunders said she hopes the discussion will reach beyond a classroom setting and across campus.
“Hopefully it will also prompt some interest in knowing more about Iran, the revolution and modern Iran,” Saunders said.