Pembroke College's Shahnama Center Receives $2 Million Gift From Bita Darybari

Pembroke College in Cambridge, England, has announced a $2 million gift from Silicon Valley philanthropist Bita Darybari to establish an endowment for the Shahnama Project.

The gift will help fund continued research on and study of the epic poem the Shahnama, or "Book of Kings," by the tenth-century Persian poet Abu'l-Qasim Hasan Firdausi. At fifty thousand verses, the Shahnama is believed to be the longest poem ever composed by a single author. The endowment will help support the work and development of the Shahnama Project Web site, staffing of the Shahnama Center, travel for research and conferences, workshops and events, publications, and a reference library devoted to scholarship on Persian literary and artistic culture. The project was established at Pembroke's Shahnama Center by Charles Melville, a professor of Persian studies, and is directed by Firuza Abdullaeva.

In 2010, Darybari, an Iranian American, founded the Menlo Park-based Pars Equality Center, which provides social and legal services to Iranian emigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Darybari, who serves as the organization's executive director, also founded the Unique Zan Foundation, which supports the education of women and children in western Asia.

"This magnificent endowment is important for several reasons," said Melville. "Firstly, it ensures that the Shahnama Project, started in 1999, can continue to develop and extend its ambitious aims to provide a rich and accessible resource for all those interested in Persian miniature painting and the arts of the book, as particularly exemplified in the outstanding tradition of Shahnama manuscript production. For the foreseeable future, the sustainability and growth of this project is assured, with all its potential for educational purposes and fostering awareness of Iran's cultural heritage and its relevance today."