Poets are a big deal in Iran, and Forugh Farrokhzad was one of the biggest. In the 1960s, her modern, highly personal work won wide acclaim and brought her the poetry equivalent of rock stardom — she cut records, made films, and even today is known popularly by her first name.

When Farrokhzad was killed in a car crash in 1967, thousands of fans thronged to her funeral. But after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, her work vanished, banned for a decade, and since then heavily censored by the government.

Bijan Khalili knows plenty about Farrokhzad and Iranian censorship. Banned books are a specialty of his. For 36 years he has owned Ketab Corporation, a Persion bookstore in Los Angeles. It started as a simple service to exiles who had fled Iran's revolution, leaving their books behind. But as post-revolutionary censorship took hold in Iran, selling books untouched by Iran's censors became a daily act of defiance.

“Reading books is a human right,” he says.

No book, song or film gets legally published in Iran without permission from Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Government censors have the power to demand changes or major cuts — or to ban works outright.

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