How to Write a Tazkirah: The Example of the Khayr al-bayan


One of the major questions surrounding classical Persian anthologies of poets (tazkirahs), particularly from earlier periods, is how they were researched and written. The authors only occasionally mention their sources or their writing processes, and what statements we find tend to be vague. In this presentation, I will discuss an atypical case: a tazkirah titled Khayr al-bayan, written by Malik Shah Husayn Sistani (b. 978/1571) in multiple drafts between 1017/1608–9 and 1036/1627, mostly or entirely during stays in Harat. (The Khayr al-bayan has not yet been edited for publication; I rely on the earliest extant manuscript, held at the British Library.) Throughout this work, Shah Husayn includes bits of information about the process of authoring it. We know when and why he started to write his tazkirah; on what dates he completed some individual sections; where, and with whose help, he carried out a round of extensive revisions in 1035/1625–6; and more. I will attempt to piece together the story of the Khayr al-bayan’s composition. While we cannot assume that all tazkirahs were written in similar ways, looking at one unusually detailed example may at least serve to open a discussion.

Washington, DC

This will be part of a panel session, largely with colleagues from the University of Chicago, titled “Noticing the Details: Approaches to Close Reading of the Persian Tazkira Tradition.”