Founder of Untold Narratives newly published collection showcases the stories written by marginalized writers in Afghanistan
on Feb 22, 2022
Lucy Hannah, Founder of Untold Narratives decided to put together an anthology “My Pen Is The Wing Of A Bird” that consists of short stories written by Afghan women in 2019. It is a massive project and most of the authors involved never had the opportunity to work with an editor before. They all are very impressed by her initiative, one contributor submitted her story by taking photos of handwritten pages and sending them via WhatsApp. Another writer had previously published her work online but not in print. Hence, It is a random collection of short stories written by Afghan women.
“I have never come across a local publisher willing to publish a book without asking for money from the author,” one of the writers said. “And it’s impossible to find a foreign publisher who wants to read books about anything except the war.”
Then Covid-19 hit in 2020, followed by the Taliban’s return to power in 2021. “It was hard work,” admits Hannah, a former BBC employee who helped to set up the BBC Writersroom. The anthology, My Pen Is The Wing of a Bird, was published this week by MacLehose Press, but many of the team involved had never met in person. With the 18 writers based in Afghanistan (10 have since managed to leave), an editor in Sri Lanka, and translators in the UK, all communication had to be done remotely. The fact that the book has now been published is the result of a team effort that “relied on everybody trusting each other”, says Hannah.
The project was run by the organization Hannah set up to help shed the light on the work of marginalized writers, Untold Narratives. Most of the stories emphasize the writer’s experience of living in the midst of violence. Zainab Akhlaqi’s “Blossom”, for instance, draws on the real-life bombing of the Sayed-ul-Shuhada high school in Kabul. The story ends on a note of defiant hope: its young narrator, Nekbakht, decides she wants to “show some spirit in the face of our struggles”, and goes back to school. Akhlaqi found a similar sense of hope knowing that her work was going to reach a global audience. “In the worst days of my country’s history, [working with Untold] gave me the hope and spirit to write,” she says.
“These writers don’t have the support that those in the UK do when they’re starting out,” says Hannah, “so this is about encouraging the global gatekeepers to welcome in voices, in translation, who don’t necessarily have a local creative infrastructure to support them.”
Marie Bamyani, whose story The Black Crow of Winter is about a mother struggling to provide for her family, is passionate that the voices of Afghan women get heard. “My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird is the starting point of bringing Afghan writers together and sharing their voices and stories with the world,” she says. “The world must not let this light be turned off.”