Medora’s Book Club  Opening at Casa del Herrero

By Joanne A Calitri   |   October 31, 2023
Morgan Sandler, Pardis Mahdavi, Heather Biles, and Mari McAlister (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

Medora Steedman Bass is the daughter of Carrie and George Steedman, owners of Casa del Herrero. Earlier this year, various papers and journals of hers were discovered at the house, which document her love of books and reading, and spawned the creation of a book club in her honor called The Medora Book Club. Medora lived at the Casa, and during the 1980s she held regular book club meetings there, which she called “great discussions.” Many of her books at the house are stamped with Montecito’s Upper Village bookstore, Tecolote Book Shop.

The first installation of the book club met on Wednesday, October 18, in the Casa living room with noted author and recently appointed President of the University of La Verne, Pardis Mahdavi, PhD. Her seventh published book, The Book of Queens: The True Story of the Middle Eastern Horsewomen Who Fought the War on Terror, is described by Mahdavi as: 

“The untold story of generations of Middle Eastern freedom fighters, horsewomen who safeguarded an ancient breed of Caspian horse and their efforts to defend their homelands from the Taliban and others seeking to destroy them.”

During the reception, I met Mahdavi for a quick interview. She shared: 

“I am honored to be here tonight. The Book of Queens is the true story of horsewomen warriors. I descend from a long line of them. The book dates back to the Persian Empire, the role of women in helping to build empires and helping each other out in the most difficult situations. I wrote this book to document the importance of ‘her-story.’ I come from Iran and grew up in America. As an Iranian-American, I tried to figure out which side of the hyphen do I fit in? I began to realize the hyphen is a bridge and I can bridge cultures through my writing. I grew up at a time when Iran was viewed as an enemy. I wanted to show Americans that we have a rich history and are a beautiful people. The power of literature for me is it starts to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. As President of the University of La Verne, a university education is formative to bridge cultures and people, a new way of knowing. My father said to me, ‘People can take everything from you, but the one thing they can’t take from you is your education.’ Books open pathways to social mobility that bring intergenerational transformation.”

The program started with Casa Board President Heather Biles. “Welcome to the first book club. In the journals and papers we found earlier this year, it was noted that reading was one of Medora Steedman’s greatest passions. She documented her wishes that Casa del Herrero to be used, among other things, as a place to educate and inspire others. And we created a book club in her honor.” 

In the Casa del Herrero living room with Sheraton Kalouria and Pardis Mahdavi (photo by Joanne A Calitri)

Biles introduced T.V. executive Sheraton Kalouria as a great friend of the Casa, and the reason Mahdavi was presenting her book. Kalouria explained that he and his partner Casa Board Treasurer Gary Bradhering met Mahdavi at a Human Trafficking Legal Center event where she was a speaker and talked about her Book of Queens

He presented a brief of her background: Prior to the University of La Verne, she was provost and executive vice president at the University of Montana, the Dean of the social sciences division in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, and a professor in ASU’s School of Social Transformation, author, and writer for noted publications.

Mahdavi shared: “As an Iranian-American woman growing up in the U.S., as well as my training as an anthropologist, I have focused my academic career on diversity, inclusion, human trafficking, migration, sexuality, human rights, feminism, and public health.”

She talked about her life, and how key events played into her having the personal strength to author this most deeply historical account based on decades of research, diaries, and exclusive military sources. The chapters are the stories of the women warriors, those who rode Caspian horses and fought the Taliban, her family history in saving these horses from extinction, her Iranian grandmother who guided survivors of domestic violence to independent mountain colonies in Afghanistan, and other female warriors who trained and bred horses used by U.S. Green Berets in 2001. She read a chapter from the book, and excerpts from her Author’s Notes. Mahdavi fielded questions from Kalouria and the attendees, concluding with a lovely Arabic quote, “The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.” She signed books for each attendee, took photo ops and spent time talking with each of them.

Attendees included Lucero Rojo, Director of Development, University of La Verne; Morgan Sandler, Associate Professor, Digital Film Production, University of La Verne; Mari McAlister, Casa del Herrero Board Secretary; Board Treasurer Gary Bradhering; and new to Montecito, Steve Markov and Jeff Meleski.

The Medora Book Club is scheduled to meet monthly to celebrate the literary accomplishments of others on the grounds of the estate. The meetings are open to the public and the ticket price includes a signed copy of the book.

The next book club meeting is November 28 with Danielle Dall’armi Hahn, founder and owner of the Rose Story Farmin Carpinteria and the author of The Color of Roses: A Curated Spectrum of 300 Blooms.



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