KH: I learned it in the States when we moved here in the fall of 1980. We arrived in September, about two weeks before the start of the school year -- I was just starting high school -- and I knew only a handful of words. But they put me right into the regular freshman English classes. Actually, when I entered high school there were three levels of freshman English: there was 1A, 1B, 1C. 1A was for the really bright kids. 1B was for your average kids. And 1C was where you had your troublemakers and kids who had behavioral problems, I guess, or who were not particularly motivated -- and I started with them.
The most difficult thing, and in some ways the most embarrassing for me, was not knowing the language and not being able to communicate, and it made the high school experience for me . . . well, let's just say it's not an experience I look back on very fondly. I felt disengaged from much of high school culture, and at least during the first year it really had to do with language -- my just not understanding English. But eventually I picked it up. I've always had a fairly easy time learning languages, and by the start of my sophomore year, in September of '81, I was pretty fluent in English.
JM: You've said that, beginning at a very early age, you saw yourself as a writer. In light of the seismic language shift you've just described, I'd like to ask when the storytelling voice you carried inside your head changed from Farsi to English.
KH: It had already kind of switched from Farsi to French, because I had lived in France for a handful of years before that, and I was becoming really comfortable writing my short stories in French. Then, when I came to the States, obviously it took me some time to learn English, and I really didn't write much -- at least in English. I was still writing in French, and a little in Farsi, the first few years, just for myself. At some point before I graduated high school, I began to write in English. By the time I was a junior in high school, I was in the 3A class -- I was up there with the best students. We were reading John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway, and we were reading and Upton Sinclair. It was a pretty good selection. By then, I felt at ease with English, and I had begun to find in my head a voice that spoke to me in English that I felt I could wield.