'Beyond the Bookshelf' event explores the journey of belonging

Published April 7, 2022
Updated April 21, 2022

On the afternoon of March 31, the ASU Library launched a new series of programs, “Beyond the Bookshelf” bringing ASU authors and librarians in conversation together. Pardis Mahdavi was the first author featured with Social Sciences librarian Mimmo Bonanni around her book “Hyphen.” Mahdavi is incoming Provost and Executive Vice President at the University of Montana. She is currently a professor and Dean of Social Sciences at ASU. 

“Hyphen” is part of a series of books called “Object Lessons” that help connect academic research to larger audiences. Mahdavi talked about how the idea for the book came about in several ways. “I see myself as a living bridge and the hyphen as a bridge. But I wanted to bridge out, and start writing for wider audiences. I have been doing that as a journalist on and off for over 20 years. I wanted to write a book that was a bridge to more accessibility, “said Mahdavi.

“I've talked a lot about this concept of belonging and how I felt like I was neither here nor there and really living inside the hyphen,” said Mahdavi. “And I said, if I were ever to do you know, an ‘Object Lessons’ book, the object I'd write about as the hyphen, and then that led me down this path.”

What does a hyphen mean?

The hyphen is a simple punctuation mark used to connect words or parts of words, and is derived from an ancient Greek word meaning “to tie together”. A hyphen joins words but also creates identities. 

These ideas are explored by Mahdavi in her book which follows the story of the hyphen from antiquity. The hyphen has evolved from joining two ideas, to signaling divided identities and finally creating a new identity all together. 

Mahdavi is herself a hyphenated Iranian-American, and expressed how much power the hyphen has and discussed how one could harness that power to heal and find belonging. But it’s not the same for everyone. “As an Iranian-American, we are hyphenated, many of us are hyphenated. But then, my partner who is Chinese American, and many of my close friends who are Japanese American, there's no hyphen there and I wanted to understand that. I wanted to get a deeper understanding.”

After reading the book, it's impossible to not see hyphens everywhere and think about words differently. Whether in last names to words like ex-husband, the power of the hypehn remains.  

Browse the ‘Hyphen’ featured collection at Hayden Library

Shelves and book display featuring materials related to "Hyphen" by Pardia Mahdavi
"Hyphen" featured collection on the second floor of Hayden Library

Rachel Leket-Mor, Open Stack Collections Curator at the ASU Library, led the creation of a new featured collection on the second floor of Hayden Library that offers nearly 100 books for patrons to explore.

“Featured collections are arranged around specific topics and are co-curated with librarians and community members at ASU including faculty, students and staff,” said Leket-Mor, “The books in this collection open a window into the cultural diversity of hyphenated Americans spanning multiple dimensions of ethnic, linguistic, racial, ancestral, gender, religious and migrant identities, living in the in-between.”

Two of the titles include "Semicolon, The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark" by Cecilia Watson and "Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran" by Azadeh Moaveni.

Creating more conversations

At the heart of the book and conversation, Madhavi talked about the idea of belonging. "One of the things we're seeing are very much needed conversations around justice, equity, diversity, inclusion, and elevation of visibility around and belonging,” said Mahdavi. “There's a real call and a real hunger, to give weight to belonging as such an integral part of everyday life, whether it's in academia, in an institution, or in a business or in an industry or in a community. We are starting to have as a society have conversations about belonging, and I think they're very long overdue.”