I am haunted by what my life would have been had I not had the courage in my early twenties to leave Pittsburgh for New York City and really commit to being a writer. Pittsburgh is both post-industrial and provincial, and the opportunities there are limited. It would have been quite easy to simply drift through life.
I have to expend an awful lot of energy actively undoing the impact of my name. Understandably, people assume that I have at least some connection to Iran. The truth is that I don't. I have very little knowledge about the culture, the language, the history. I've never been to Iran. I've never even been inside a mosque.
The daily quota I've set for myself is 500 words or approximately a page and a half double-spaced. Which isn't much, except that I'm extremely slow, extremely meticulous. 'Le mot juste' haunts me. On a good day, I will finally secrete the 500th word at about 5 o'clock, and I'll reward myself by going to Housing Works Bookstore to read.
My sister married an American and took his name, and my brother has shortened Sayrafiezadeh to Sayraf. So now he's Jacob Sayraf, or sometimes Jake Sayraf. He made the change when he was a teenager, prior to the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis. So I don't think it was motivated by any anti-Iranian sentiment in the United States.
Other families who are poor do what they can to get out of it. My mother did not. She did not utilise her resources. She had a degree. There was something she could have done, but she actively, purposely refused that so we could have this absolutely authentic experience of the worst of capitalism: 'See? Look how bad capitalism is.'