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21Feb

My Pen Is the Wing of a Bird: new short-story book celebrates the work of Afghan women

Untold Narratives founder Lucy Hannah’s just-published collection showcases the fiction of marginalised writers in Afghanistan

When Lucy Hannah decided to put together an anthology of short stories by Afghan women in 2019, it already seemed like a hugely ambitious project. Most of the authors involved had never had the opportunity to work with an editor before. One contributor submitted her story by taking photos of handwritten pages and sending them via WhatsApp. Another had previously published her work online, but not in print. “I have never come across a local publisher willing to publish a book without asking for money from the author,” she 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 have never met. 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.

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