For our project Write Afghanistan, our team of international editors and translators work with local women writers to develop their creative writing, connect them to one another, share their stories with readers in their own languages, and reach new global audiences in translation.
We believe a region’s upheaval cannot be understood without local, and particularly women’s, perspectives.
My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird: New Fiction by Afghan Women is the first collection of its kind, published by MacLehose Press on 17 February 2022.
New fiction by Afghan women
Stories by 18 writers from the Write Afghanistan project are published in My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird: New Fiction by Afghan Women (MacLehose Press).
My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird is a landmark collection: the first anthology of short fiction by Afghan women. These writers tell stories that are both unique and universal – stories of family, work, childhood, friendship, war, gender identity and cultural traditions.
With an Introduction by Lyse Doucet and an Afterword by Lucy Hannah.
Shortlisted for the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature 2022– winner to be announced in November 2022.
“This book is a precious collection of work, the first and maybe last of its kind. My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird is a huge accomplishment”
Monique Roffey, author of The Mermaid of Black Conch
“Powerful, profound and deeply moving, these stories will expand your mind and elevate your heart”
“As the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan grows, with millions at risk of starvation, it seems more important than ever to read the work of these courageous writers”
“This book is like a little light shining into the lives of women in Afghanistan… a beautiful read”
Untold's Diary Project
Since the Taliban re-took control in August 2021, the writers in the Write Afghanistan project have stayed connected via a secure messaging App. For the first year of Taliban rule they shared their stories in the form of diary style exchanges between each other. These short, poignant entries in Dari and Pashto are very real glimpses – from emerging literary voices –of daily life from the women’s perspective. The Financial Times and The Week published extracts from this diary to mark the one-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul in August 2022. Excerpts from the diary have also been published in literary journals in Germany, Sweden, and Belgium.
Untold is partnering with children’s book publishers, Scholastic, to publish a collection of stories and diary excerpts written by ‘Write Afghanistan’ writers over the past year.
Formatted as a diary and aimed at readers aged eight and over, the book will feature extracts from real-life diaries, giving an insight into the experiences of Afghan women during and immediately after the fall of Kabul. Each “entry” will help to provide readers with a better understanding of life under Taliban rule and as a refugee. Every chapter includes diary excerpts and fact boxes including information on different aspects of life in Afghanistan, both before and after the current regime took over the country in August 2021.
The children’s book will be published in June 2023.
Untold in Germany
Untold – Weiter Schreiben Afghanistan
Since 2020, Untold has partnered with, Weiter Schreiben, a literary platform based in Berlin, for authors from war and crisis zones. This collaboration offers writers from Untold’s Write Afghanistan project an opportunity to be commissioned and published in translation across Germany.
Weiter Schreiben has re-published several stories from the anthology My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird on its platform in German.
Six of Untold’s writers have also taken part in Weiter Schreiben’s letter exchange programme where an Afghan woman writer is paired with an established German author for an exchange of “letters” /emails and mentorship. These “exchanges” are then published in German.
The Untold-Weiter Schreiben partnership is supported by KfW Stiftung.
Weiter Schreiben Magazine
Untold and Weiter Schreiben continue to work together to promote and develop Afghan women writers. In October 2022, Weiter Schreiben released the fourth edition of their annual magazine, which showcases work from Untold’s Write Afghanistan programme and includes interviews with its writers. The magazine celebrates the voices of Afghan women authors who tell stories of oppression, violence, and exile but also of sisterhood, silver high heels and the power of words.
To celebrate its publication, Untold’s writers and director Lucy Hannah joined Weiter Schreiben for a live event, hosted by supporter, KfW Stiftung in Villa 102, Frankfurt on 17th October. The event was delivered in in English and German, with simultaneous translation in Dari.
Helen Wolff Grants
In September 2022, nineteen of Untold’s writers were awarded Helen Wolff grants to support their work. The Helen Wolff Grants were set up by descendants of Helen & Kurt Wolff to support politically persecuted women writers. These grants were administered by Weiter Schreiben and Untold’s writers are the first to receive them.
The grants will help these women to buy laptops, or the equivalent, to enable and encourage them to continue their writing.
Project Team - Write Afghanistan
Lucy Hannah – Project Director
Will Forrester – Project Manager
Will is Translation and International Manager at English PEN, where he manages PEN Translates, a flagship translation grants programme, and is Editor of PEN Transmissions, a magazine of international and translated literature. He is also Assistant Editor of the literary Review 31, and has a Masters in World Literatures (University of Oxford). At Commonwealth Writers he facilitated the translation component for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and managed a symposium on the politics of translation in Malaysia.
Zarghuna Kargar – Project Advisor and Translator
Zarghuna is an award-winning journalist for BBC World News, based in London. She produced and presented the BBC Afghan Woman`s hour and is the author of Dear Zari, The Secret Lives of Women in Afghanistan (2012), a book that reveals the secret lives of women across Afghanistan and allows them to tell their stories in their own words. She has dedicated most of her journalistic career to working for and with Afghan women, reporting and writing their stories. She also wrote Amina’s story, in 2013’s Girl Rising documentary. Zarghuna speaks Pashto, Dari, English and Urdu.
Sunila Galappatti – Editor
Sunila has worked with other people to tell their stories, as a dramaturg, theatre director, editor and writer. She has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Live Theatre, Kali Theatre and Raking Leaves. Most recently, Sunila has worked as a fiction and non-fiction editor with Commonwealth Writers and as a Consulting Editor at Himal Southasian. She was Director of the Galle Literary Festival (2009 & 2010) and is the author of A Long Watch, which retells the story of a prisoner of war in the Sri Lankan conflict.
Jacob Ross – Editor
Jacob Ross is a novelist, short story writer, editor and creative writing tutor. His crime fiction novel, The Bone Readers won the inaugural Jhalak Prize in 2017. His literary novel Pynter Bender was published to much critical literary acclaim and was shortlisted for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Regional Prize and chosen as one of the British Authors Club’s top three Best First Novels. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has been a judge of the V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize, the Olive Cook, Scott Moncrieff and Tom-Gallon Literary Awards. Jacob is Associate Fiction Editor at Peepal Tree Press, and the editor of Closure, Contemporary Black British short stories.
Dr Zubair Popalzai – Translator
Zubair is a Pashto, Dari and English language translation and interpretation professional with more than 20 years’ experience. He is a consultant translator for BBC Monitoring and has worked as an interpreter for United Nations special envoys in politically and militarily sensitive environments in South Asia. He also works as a legal interpreter at solicitors’ offices, tribunals, immigration detention centres and police contexts in the UK.
Negeen Kargar – Project Coordinator and Interpreter
Negeen is a translator, writer, and research scientist. She has translated and interpreted for the Guardian, Channel 4 and BBC Radio, and is an Associate Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Pashtana Durrani – Interpreter
Pashtana received the Malala Fund Education champion award and a development fellowship on sexual and reproductive healthcare from Aspens Institute. She is an international members youth representative for Amnesty International. She is a Board member of the UNDP GEF steering committee. She contributes to national newspapers including Afghanistan Times, AUAF Daily, and Kabul Times. Pashtana is leading the Malala Fund’s digital content project for children in Pashto and Dari through LEARN Afghanistan.
Parwana Fayyaz – Translator
Born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1990, Parwana was raised in Quetta, Pakistan. She earned both her B.A. in 2015, with a major in Comparative Literature (with Honors) and a minor in Creative Writing (Poetry) under the supervision of late Eavan Boland, and her M.A. in Religious Studies in 2016 from Stanford University. She then moved to Cambridge University to pursue a PhD in Persian Studies at Trinity College in September of 2016 and completed a thesis titled, ‘Poetry and Poetics: the Sufi Eye and the Neoplatonic Vision in Jāmī’s Salāmān va Absāl’, in 2020. She took up a Junior Research Fellowship as the Carmen Blacker Fellow at Peterhouse, Cambridge University in October 2020.
Patrick Spaven – Monitoring and Evaluation
Patrick is Technical Lead at Global MEL Contract, Conflict Stability and Security Fund. He is also an independent consultant and practitioner in monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) and Theory of Change (ToC), and Visiting Fellow at Manchester University. He works mainly in international development and in building MEL systems in governments, organisations, grant funds and programmes.
Margo Munro-Kerr – Translator
Margo is Iran Consultant on the Writers at Risk Team at PEN International. She studied Persian and Turkish at Oxford University, including a year abroad at the University of Tehran from 2015-16, and wrote her dissertation on Persian poetry written by Afghans living in diaspora. She worked with the Unofficial Women and Children’s Centre in Calais and the Dunkirk Refugee Women’s Centre in 2016 and 2017, primarily supporting Afghan families, as an interpreter and support worker, and is a volunteer researcher on the Afghanistan/Pakistan team at Asylos.