Sheida Dayani is the Preceptor in Persian at the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, and a PhD candidate at the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at NYU. Her dissertation, "Modern Iranian Theatre and the Emergence of Playwriting: Performance, Text, and Political Resistance,” examines the evolution of Iranian drama in nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries from performance-based Shiite rituals and non-religious popular comedy to European-style playwriting. Dayani studies the interactions between playwriting and indigenous drama alongside the exchanges within indigenous drama (e.g. between religious ta’ziyeh and non-religious taqlid). She has also worked on the relationship between the Persian language and the formation of “modern” and national identity in theatre that is committed to cultural critique and political declaration before and after the Constitutional Revolution. Another aspect of her research focuses on the role of textual and performative translations in tracing parallels between Iranian theatre, Commedia Dell’Arte, and the French farce.
Dayani's current courses at Harvard are Elementary Persian (taught with music), Intermediate Persian (taught with cinema), and Advanced Persian (survey of modern Persian literature from nineteenth century to present). Her approach to language pedagogy is through cultural history; music, poetry (classical and modern), and visual culture have strong presence in all her courses. Students watch feature films, documentaries, teleplays, sitcoms, and animation, and discuss cartoons for conversational exercise. Intermediate-level students produce film reviews in Persian, and are given opportunities for creative writing in Persian through optional practices of poetry and short-short story. Advanced students write critical and textual analyses in Persian after encountering colloquial literature, court literature, newspaper satire, literature of the Constitutional Revolution, modernist poetry, revolutionary literature, war literature, and literature of immigration, displacement, and diaspora. Since joining NELC in Fall 2015, each semester Dayani has won the Harvard Excellence of Teaching Award.
Prior to Harvard, Dayani taught Persian at NYU and the City University of New York since 2011. At NYU, she assistant-taught courses in early to medieval Islamic history, and early to contemporary Iranian cultural history. Her professional background includes legal research at the Brooklyn-based Federal Defenders of New York, and simultaneous translations for numerous Iranian filmmakers, including Asghar Farhadi at the Oscars and the late Abbas Kiarostami at MOMA.
Sheida Dayani's Persian poetry and translations have been published in literary journals in Iran, including Bukhara and Negāh-e Noe, and her lyrics have been set to music and performed (Waltz-e Chaman and Eastern Currents). Dayani's English poetry has appeared on Jadaliyya, and was featured by Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon on NPR Boston. Dayani's first degree, also from NYU, is in English and American literature with a focus on nineteenth-century poetry and translation.