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I, Mehdi Hejvani, officially named Mehran, was born in 1339 in a hospital in Movlavi intersection, Tehran. I was the last child of an aged family. At that time, like the experience of footballers, some mothers started with losing a couple of children to warm up and to learn how to bring up children. My mother was a great manager, however, and could learn the tips and tricks of the work by losing just one boy! Apart from that innocent boy, my three older brothers Mansour, Massoud and Parviz are respectively five, twelve and eighteen years older than me. My elder sister was twenty-one years older than me and my mother (Khanum) was thirty-nine years older than me. Finally, the highest record belongs to my late father, Hassan Aqa, who was half a century older than me, he was a true emblem of the Persian proverb that describes the older as the mightier! If I, the last-born child of this family, at the time of writing this, in June 2019, am fifty-nine, you will understand what an aged family I have. You can pick up a pen and paper to calculate the total sum of the age of the members to see that it is more than 442 years! I did not count the grandchildren and the next generations. Just to inform, my nephew, Mehrdad, the son of my elder sister, in one year younger than me. This is the family I brought up in, with its roots deep in oceans and its head in the clouds. It is a situation we Persians repeat the word ‘Mashala’ to repel sour eyes.
They say that before my birth, our father’s house was in Royal Garden Square, the location now known as Horr Square. But when I was born, our house was located in the southwest of Tehran on Qasr al-Dasht Street, Shafaee alley; the name of this locations has also changed to something new I cannot remember. That house is still there in Qasr al-Dasht street, in an alley right before Imam Khomeini (Sepah) Street. We lived in Qasr al-Dasht for four years and then lived in the Tehran-Nehru district for 20 years, and I studied at Shahr-Ara and Aria-Shahr schools. It was my grandmother who made me interested in literature as early as when I was about two or three years old. The first benefits of literature or rather children’s literature was through hearing her stories. Khanjan (Khanum Jan) was a highly original Marandi Turk and she hardly could speak a Persian word. She pronounced television as ‘pereo-yizirin’ and Pepsi as ‘pipis’. According to some linguists, we should not fear to borrow foreign words, we should rather adopt the foreign word in our language. Possibly, they mean the way Khanjan pronounced the foreign words: she pronounced the words in a way that it was not possible to recognize the original one. In such a situation, they use the term “deformed” for the imported words and in my opinion, these words should be called “defeated”.
However, Khanjan narrated a Turkish version of “The Wolf and the Three Young Goats” every night when I was going to sleep. Until today, after half a century and eight years, I have not discovered yet how it was possible for me to listen carefully and enjoy stories without knowing Turkish at all! And how did I want her every night to tell me the same story? As far as I remember, I did not hear any other story from her. Khanjan had no tooth, and when she spoke, her pale gums were rubbed together, and I always thought that she was eating raisins. She told the story only at nights, and for me, the black and dark atmosphere that stood out of her arms was the same wolf that came to the three kids house to cheat them. Her bosom had the same security and warmth for me as the hut for the three goats and their mother, and she was the same courageous mother for me who was always looking after me. In the alley, she defended me against other children and at home when my tired father, after a full day of hard work, moved to punish me for something, it was Khanjan who was always there to shelter me behind herself, shouting to him in Turkish: “Kopak Oghli Veyla!” which euphemistically can be translated as ‘leave the child alone’!
Father worked his entire life. He had lost his father when he was eighteen years old and had to looked after his mother until she was alive and brought up a brother and a sister in the harsh economic situation of World War II. He often told us how some Iranians warmed the horse’s blood and ate it when it was coagulated in the form of the liver. He described how they blended other stuff such as saw dust powder with bread flour to make more voluminous pieces of bread. My father was from Marand (the village of Hoojiqan that is often pronounced by the people of the region as Hejvan) and my mother was a Tabrizi Turk, but both spent most of their lives in Kermanshah and Tehran. When speaking together, they used Turkish but shifted to Persian when talking to us, these usual shifts made my regret for learning Turkish permanent!
I have always had a modest intelligence. During formal education, I was a very disappointing boy. After primary school, I started failing on courses. My interests were simply summed up in walking around the neighborhood, playing with dogs, collecting postal stamps, playing football, and supporting Taj team (later renamed to Esteghlal), collecting photos and signs of footballers, and saving money to buy Amjadiyeh Stadium tickets (now renamed to Shiroudi).
Later, at the age of fourteen, under the influence of the wave of pre-revolutionary Islamism and the overwhelming ‘Hojjatieh Association’, I became a religious activist. The meetings of the Association were organized in the easy streets of our neighborhood in Tehran-Villa (now, Sattar Khan), and I found a different way, contrary to the flow of society, neighborhood, family, and government. I started religious studies and activities. Religion was a commodity thrown in the closet; I restored and repaired it and adopted it as a friend to help and guide me through hundreds of risks. I am indebted to it. It was a religious outlook that made me think about the path of life as expressed in the famous Rumi poetry: “Where did I come from? / What I have come for? / Where am I heading to? Won’t you show me my land.” Under the influence of these ideas, I became a better student – a bit better – and started reading so as I managed to finish my high school with no failures and the average of 14 (a laborious task indeed!). As revolutionary ideas raised, I discovered a new face of religion as represented in the voice of Khomeini, Shariati, and Motahhari, and respectfully departed from Hojjatieh Association that was strongly against the interference of believers in politics. After the victory of the revolution, for the first time in my life, I took education seriously and started reading to enter a university. In the university entrance exams of 1980, among 95,000 students of humanities, I found the rank of 192. (Just think of how genius were those students who followed me!) Everyone suggested me to start at law or political sciences, but since we had a revolution to change the world, and for me changing the world was in the first instance through development and promotion of culture, especially through education, under the influence of the passionate feelings of young years, I chose to start at College of Education of the University of Tehran and at the same time I started religious studies in religious seminaries. Very soon I discovered my principal interest in art and literature. I changed the field and became a student at the University of Art (as a guest at the Faculty of Fine Arts).
In 1980, the Iran-Iraq war began. At the same year, the new government concluded that universities should become ‘Islamic’ and that they should be shut down for Islamization; creation of new Islamic texts especially in the field of humanities required enough time and space. So, the universities were closed down and it was an opportunity for me and my two friends, who were students, to go to Qom and start a seminary education. Among us, one stayed at Qom and continued his education and became an educated clerk and I and the other friend returned to Tehran to continue our academic education after reopening of the universities.
Those years I volunteered to work in a community of friends for seven years in Imam Sadegh mosque (Arya-Shahr). We did hundreds of different community works from running religious classes to performing plays, designing placards, guarding, and organizing demonstrations and public rallies.
At the age of 24, (1983), I married to my well-educated and kind wife, Zohreh and since then together with our two children, Ali and Fatimah, we have settled either as tenant or owner, in two basements and seven apartments and different cultural and geographic locations of Tehran. We have lived in different neighborhoods in both the farthest spot in the south-east and north-west of Tehran including such district as Dolat Abad, Ahang highway, Piroozi street, Tehran-Villa, Arya-Shahr, Saadat Abad, and now the Shahrak Gharb. However, a few years ago our children departed to multiply and to form their own family and together with Zohereh we continue our life as a Monsieur and a Mademoiselle and as “Two Love Birds”. Our son, Ali, and our daughter-in-law, Azadeh reside in Canada, and our daughter, Fatemeh, and son-in-law, Meqdad, have settled in Germany. They are away, but by the blessing of the new media, we see and hear them more often.
During the war, I attended the front as a volunteer, which was of course more for cultural work that military missions. A couple of military missions were also pleasing experiences. In general, it was a safe front! When I attended, they announced the end of an operation and when I returned, they launched and announced new operations! In two or three times I participated in the operations, I was in a very comfortable situation. In the first experience, they took us to the Qallajeh area on Ilam front and after we built our tents, it was reported that this was a false flag operation and another Mashhadi Division will strike from another front!
On the second experience, during the Fourth Karbala Operation, we were settled in an abandoned poultry farm in Bahman-Shir region with our weapons and pieces of equipment, waiting for our turn to attend the front. Suddenly an Iraqi warplane appeared on the sky and threw a few rockets, one of them hit the poultry wall, it made a strong whooshing sound but did not explode! Therefore, the operation was canceled and we returned.
On the third occasion, during the Fifth Karbala Operation in Shalamcheh region, besides those who stood like rocky mountains, my share of pain was just one little childish mortar shell piece to hit my back. At the same time, it was one of those liberating wounds, it made me fall on the ground but made my friends to evacuate me with boats and jeeps.
Now, a few words about my work: In the past thirty-seven years more than anything, I have always found myself focusing on two noble causes: “children” and “reading”. Indeed, as I had a difficult childhood, and in those years and it was books and culture that saved me from nihilism and absurdity, I found it a commitment to dedicate all my efforts to invite children to free reading. Free reading because I often found educational textbooks so discouraging for children to start an authentic reading. The list of my activities in the field of child literature includes: • Attendance in story writing and criticism classes; • Writing fiction, critical reading practice, and translation of the fictional works; • Studying in the field of dramatic literature and art research; • Teaching children’s literature, storytelling, creative performance, art in the children’s world, and designing spaces for children’s at Allameh Tabatabaee University, Azad University, and Center for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults; • Participation in national and international conferences; • Founding or participation in the founding, organization, and running of four specialized journals in the field of criticism and theory of children and adolescent literature, including the Journal of the Child and Adolescent Literature Research, and the Monthly Review of Books for Children and Adolescents. • Member of the editorial board of the journal of the Center for Studies into Children’s Literature at Shiraz University and reviewing for four other academic journals. • Thirty-two years of editorial or counseling practices in such major publication centers of children’s books as Amir Kabir, Ofogh, and Qadiani publications. • Contributing to the establishment of civil institutions such as the Association of Writers for Children and Adolescents, the Cultural Association of Book Illustrators, and the Flying Turtle (Organization for Assessment Children’s Books). • Seven periods of Membership as Board of Directors of the Association of Writers for Children and Adolescents. My entry into the field of children’s literature was not because of any interest; possibly nobody would believe my confession that even today I have no special interest in working for children’s literature! I think that as soon as we become conscious of what we are doing, it becomes the most important thing to do; gradually, the interests will appear. However, it is too late to declare this lack of interest and any adult expression I use, I hear somebody not taking me seriously. They even ask about my parents! Even when I use politically loaded expressions, they say these are not his own words, somebody is controlling him. Sometimes they use the Persian proverbs that call to listen to the truth from the child's mouth! I have surrendered long ago. The reason for my involvement and entrapment in the cause of children’s literature is in my desire for a certain form of heroism! Some sort of sacrifice and dedication that has its roots in the ideological and sentiments of the years before and after the revolution. As I said, I was fourteen years old when I became religious. At the time of the revolution, I was an 18-year-old boy and I belonged to a generation that came to sacrifice to overthrow the Shah regime and dreamed of changing the world. Although they could somehow affect the world, the world also had changed them. Therefore, to me, changing the world is to change through childhood, and I found the most creative and constructive approach to change childhood is to turn to literature and art. I have talked about my memories, my works, and initiatives in the field of literature for children and have them recorded in forty audio cassettes. I did this work in partnership with Mr. Mehdi Kamous, in a project to produce an oral history of children and adolescent literature. They will be published soon.
Although I have described my works and a full list of my projects and initiatives are provided in the resume, I would like to explain more about some of my activities, including the establishment, organization, and running of projects related to the promotion of reading for children: I have worked for the literature department of Howzeh Honary from 1985 to 1986. I participated in the establishment of an institution called "Postal Fiction Writing" which was dedicated to long-distance education of fiction writing with special emphasis on the children of deprived and poor cities. I compiled 15 fiction writing guidelines, some of them were later published as a book. The audiences read the pamphlets and submitted the assignments that were set at the end of the pamphlets and posted them to us for reviews by the experts. For example, if the pamphlet was about concepts and approaches to characterization in the story, we asked the students to give us character descriptions of the people in their living environment or their stories. In addition to this form of epistolary education for children all around the country, we organized story writing workshops in Tehran and different towns and festivals in Tehran for more direct contact with the students. In 1985 I realized my interest in art and literature is stronger than the interest in education. I concluded that we need more artistic methods than educational messages. This made me change my direction to the dramatic literature (the University of Art and as a guest at Tehran University). Meanwhile, another question was occupying my mind was about the necessity of addressing the childhood and children's literature through a powerful publication system and production of attractive books. I found software and hardware values as complementing each other. One of the most important shortcomings of Iranian publication originations was the lack of a professional editorial system. I knew that in other countries, any significant publication organization has a well-developed editorial system, while Iranian publishers had no such division or professionals.
Thus, from 1987 to 1990, when one of the most important Iranian publishing organizations, Amir Kabir, invited me for the editorial section of Banafsheh books division, which was for children and young adults, I found it a great opportunity to pursue my project of developing such an idea. During that period, children's book of Amir Kabir publications flourished and found its new way in society. However, after a few years, I concluded that state publications are too bureaucratic and conservative for such a task. This made me move to work with private publishing companies. In 1990, a great friend of mine, Reza Hashemi Nejad, started Ofogh (Horizon) publications and invited me for cooperation. We launched this publication company and the very first published book was a story for children that I wrote. 29 years have passed and I have been continuously acting as the editor in chief of the publications and more recently I am the advisor of Ofogh publication company. The focus of Ofogh is on quality books for children and adolescents, and I and Reza have achieved many of our dreams. I think Ofogh publication has provided an excellent model for other publishers to follow.
Nowadays, these models are have become commonplace in Iran, but they were not popular in those years. Acts and programs such as the use of two positions of editor in chief and art manager, the organization of international relations division and respect for copyright (despite the fact that Iran has not signed this convention), attendance in many international book exhibitions including Bologna (Italy), Frankfurt (Germany), Sharjah (UAE), Cairo (Egypt) and the Birmingham Publishing Exhibition (UK), communication with great publishers of the world, using new technologies of the day, contribution to the formation of the Cultural Society of Child Book Publishers which is active today, developing a distribution organization in the private sector, and respect for technical, literary and formal editing, publication and distribution of book catalogs, building multilingual websites, development of reading clubs for children and adolescents, sessions for reading and reviewing books, attractive and meaningful arrangement of books in bookstores, singing ceremonies for new books with the presence of the author, and in one word, development and presentation of a professional publication system are among the initiative we have developed during the 1980s and 1990 in Iranian publication system. And finally, the other piece that I recognized to complete the professional puzzle of reading, was an agency for reviewing and development of a theoretical basis for children's books and literature. Thus, Ofogh publications moved to support the publication of the specialized theoretical Journal of the Children’s and Adolescent Literature Research usually known in Iran as Research Journal.
I established this Research Journal in collaboration with the late Gholamreza Monfared in 1995 with the support of Ofogh. We published 51 issues with the assistance of such friends as Farhad Hassanzadeh and later, Ali Asghar Seidabadi. In the new issues, my colleagues have been Ali Asghar Seidabadi and Maryam MohammadKhani. The Research Journal is the most stable publication in the field of research and review on children’s literature in Iran. During the first period, 51 issues were published that lasted for thirteen years and in the second period that has lasted four years, issues 52 to 59 are published. In addition to Ofogh publications as the main sponsor, the Center for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults and Ghadiani publications have strongly supported the journal. Subsequently, due to the acute economic conditions and economic sanctions of Iran, the publication of the journal in print format was stopped and these days we are planning to publish them in electronic format and through the internet and social media.
At the same year of opening of Ofogh publications, Reza Hashemi Nejad insisted me to accept the responsibility of an advising position in the powerful and popular Ghadiani publications. Nader Qadiani, director of Qadiani publications, who was a friend of our neighborhood, said with honesty that he had no financial problems in his life and has decided to raise the standard of books for children by publishing quality books. He also had decided to primarily dedicate his publication office children and young people. From that year to the present day, I have cooperated with Qadiani publications as a senior consultant. Also during these years, I have provided advice to such publishers as the Charkh-o-Falak (Zahra Barghani) and Fatemi publications (Iraj Zargham).
The other piece of the puzzle for the professionalization of book industry, children's literature and reading promotion was the organization an institution, both non-governmental and inclusive enough to invite all writers, poets, critics, scholars, and journalists of the field to join. This made me build an organization together with a number of my friends including the late Amir Hossein Fardi, Hossein Fattahi, Susan Taghdis, Hooshang Moradi Kermani, and others. We held regular meetings in the Library of City Park but it was short-lived due to our lack of experience. In the next movement, together with friends like Fereydoon Amouzadeh Khalili, Mostafa Rahmandoost, Reza Rahgozar, the late Amir Hossein Fardi, Hossein Fattahi, Biok Maleki, Jafar Ebrahimi, we build “Children and Adolescence Arts & Literature Office”, but had to leave it very soon because of our lack of experience in collective works. Later, some form of difference in outlook completely separated us from each other. The main organ of the office was the professional Journal of Children’s Literary Field. Ten issues were published and I was the editor of issues 7 to 10.
In 1994 I was a deputy cultural director of Fereidoun Amoozadeh Khalili in Aftabgardan newspaper for the adolescents. The publication of the newspapers for teenagers is not so usual in the world. Aftabgardan, with both its professional approach to journalism and its joyful and happy settings for teenagers, could attract a considerable portion of the adolescent community and encourage them to read the books they are interested in. Also, in 1997, on the invitation of Ahmad Masjed Jamei and during the ministry of Ataollah Mohajerani, and then during the term of ministry of Ahmad Masjid Jamei himself, I was the editor in chief of a monthly magazine dedicated to reviewing children and adolescents’ books, Monthly Review of Books for Children and Adolescents. During those eight years, the Hossein Nowroozi and Gisoo Moradmand acted as directors and Seyed Ali Kashefi and Hossein Bokaee as editorial secretaries.
This was a period of flourishing of the best critics of children’s literature and they could further develop the field. For the first time, critics emerged whose main concerns, at least at one point in time, was the critique and development of books for children. The Monthly Review of Books for Children and Adolescent, following The Research Journal, had a constructive effect on the development of criticisms, they made the critical writings to develop from nervous compositions to a true dialogue between members a professional community of writers, poets, critics, and readers. The other initiative in Monthly Review was the organization of review sessions in four fields: criticism of fiction, criticism of poetry, criticism of scientific and theoretical works and audience criticism. The later, audience criticism was performed through the weekly distribution of a large number of books at schools and among the interested students, asking them to read the books in their free time and inviting them to discussion meetings where the writer was also present. They described their experience of reading and talked about the book together and with the writer or poet. In the end, the author signed the books for participants and they took group photos. Then a record of the conversations was transcribed and published in the magazine. The magazine published the full transcription of all four groups of meetings. My mission in the magazine started with the presidential term of Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, lasted for eight years (issues 1 to 96), and eventually ended with the rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With this man at the office, neither the new authorities at Book House welcomed us nor we wanted to continue the job with the new ideologies. (As a Persian proverb says, hearts are connected and feelings are mutual!) Then a group of colleagues from Monthly Review including Hossein Sheikholeslami, Ali Asghar Seidabadi, Hadith Gholami, Mehdi Yousefi, and Masoumeh Ansarian, set up a community called "The Circle of Wednesdays" to continue this experience and decided to obtain a license for a magazine called Flying Turtle. I was nominated and introduced as the editor in chief of the magazine and we applied for a license from the Ministry of Culture. It took seven years for us to receive such a license! The Research Journal in its new phase of activities and with the proposal of Ali Asghar Seidabadi and the participation of City Books (Mehdi Firouzan and Mojgan Amjad), built a cohesive atom for reviewing children's books. This is an organization to review and introduce the best books of the season and to publish a list of nominated books on an annual basis.
From the winter of 2015, the Turtle left its primary shell of "book review" and started reviewing broader cultural products in five groups of toys, digital products, music, movie, and animation. The results were published in a special journal by the same title. This project also stopped after five issues and now the Flying Turtle continues with the same old mission of book review. Ali Asghar Seidabadi and Maryam Mohammadkhani are directing the project and City of Books continue to support it. Since 1998 I have been active in the formation, establishment and running of the civil “Association of Writers for Children and Adolescents”. I acted as a founding member, board member, secretary or chairman of the board, along with friends like the late Hussein Ebrahimi (Alvand), Fereidoon Amouzadeh Khalili, Mostafa Rahmandoust, Ali Asghar Seidabadi, Mohammad Hadi Mohammadi, Farhad Hassanzadeh, Mohsen Hejri, Mahmoud Barabadi, Manaf Yahyapour, Susan Taghdis and many other writers for children. More recently I have been a board member again. Altogether, I have been a member of the Board of Directors for seven years. The Association of Writers for Children and Adolescents is the most comprehensive institution in the field of child literature, with educational, and legal, and professional activities through meetings, workshops, storytelling practices, review and criticism, public events, dispatching writers to cities and villages, and inviting foreign writers and activists, etc. At 2003 I have been nominated as a founding member of the Association of Illustrators of Books for Children. This Association later changed its title to the Cultural and Artistic Association of Illustrators and continues to work today.
In my university studies, I have received a bachelor of dramatic literature from the University of Art in 1989, a master’s degree in art research from the Faculty of Fine Arts of Tehran University in 1995, and a Ph.D. in Art Research from the Faculty of Art of Tarbiat Modares University in 2006. The title of the doctoral dissertation was the Aesthetics of the Children's Literature and I published it as a book. From 2008 to today, I am a faculty member of the Islamic Azad University of Islamshahr University in the field of research into art. Also, I am a visiting professor at the Allameh Tabatabaee University and lecture on such courses and subjects and child literature, storytelling, and creative performance, and design of children's cultural spaces. I have also taught at the Science and Research Unit of Azad University in Tehran.
Apart from conferences within the country, including conferences at the University of Shiraz and Sabzevar, I have attended the 2010 conference of UITM University, Malaysia. My second article was also accepted at the fourth conference of the same university (November 2012). My third article was accepted at the 2nd Austrian Writing Conference (November 2012). I have participated with my fourth major paper in the Turkish Symposium on Children’s and Youth Literature, November 2014. I have advised or supervised some masters and doctoral dissertations the dissertations. Some of them are as follows: UNISA University of South Africa, for the doctoral dissertation, Mrs. Nafiseh Abdul-Sadeq on the subject of children’s literature. I was an external referee with the help of my friend Seyyed Mehdi Yousefi. Also Lumiere University of Lyon, France has chosen me as a consultant professor for the doctoral dissertation of Mrs. Seville Zeinali. The dissertation is about cultural transference in the translation of the children’s literature. In 2015 I was the supervisor for the doctoral dissertation of Mohammad Roudgar at the University of Religious Studies at Qom, Iran. The title of his dissertation was “A Basic and Structural Comparison of Biographic Writings of Sufism and Magical Realism of the Works by Marquez”.
I have also been the referee of several festivals for choosing books and articles about children and adolescent literature. I have collaborated with many of professors in the field including Dr. Morteza Khasronejad, Dr. Kavous Hasanli, Dr. Farideh Pourgiv, Dr. Saeed Hesampour and others who have established a Center for Studies into Children’s Literature of Shiraz University. We have organized many public and professional events including conferences and seminars. The Center for Studies into Children’s Literature of Shiraz University also publishes the scholarly journal of Studies on Children’s Literature. To date, 15 issues have been published, and I am a member of the editorial board and referees of this journal. The Center for Studies into Children's Literature has also researched encyclopedia of subjects in children’s literature, I have acted as a supervisor to the project and several volumes of the works are going to be published soon. Apart from the Shiraz University journal, I have judged in three other research journals and I have published five academic papers in different academic journals.
The International Youth Library (IYL) of Munich has given me two periods of research scholarship to complete my doctoral dissertation at Tarbiat Modares University. I have also visited book exhibitions in Bologna (Italy), Frankfurt, London, and Sharjah. In 2015, I was a member of the scientific board of the eighth Jalal Al Ahmad Literary Festival.
So far, three ceremonies were organized for my appraisal. These were because of the works, books, reviews, and articles I have produced. Tarbiat Modarres University, the Children's Book Council, the National Library, the Book House, the House of Writers, Soroush magazine for Youth (when Gheisar Aminpour, Amoozadeh, and Maleki were there) ), The Press Festival of the Center for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, the Cultural Association of Children's Book Publishers, Literary Festival of Tomorrow, Cultural Organization of Tehran Municipality are among the organizations that have supported and organized these ceremonies.
A record of my written works is as follows: - Theoretical works: o Compilation of five theoretical books (two items in the publication process) o Translation of two theoretical books (one item is in the publication process) - Fiction Writing: o Writing six fiction books (three items in the publication process) o Translation of 60 fiction books (45 items in the publication process) - Recreation and re-writing: o Re-creation or re-writing of six fictional books (one book in the publication process) - Travel writing and memories: o Compilation of four books (three items in the publication process) - Articles, editorials, interviews, and press notes: over 180 items