Literature is resilience, says Lyse Doucet in her introduction to this important story collection.

What compels people to write, even during times of war and extreme hardship? Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent, gives an insight in her introduction to My Pen is the Wing of a Bird: New Fiction by Afghan Women: “For most of these writers, even finding the space and peace of mind to write is a daily struggle. Literature is resilience, a release.”

The short stories were collected in Afghanistan over several years by Untold Narratives, a development programme for writers marginalised by conflict.

Some had never before revealed their writing. Untold’s director Lucy Hannah tells of one writer whose work was submitted by her older sister. “She had never shared her writing, had never edited, or rewritten a story.”

Another of the stories in this collection was written by hand, photographed, and sent through a chain of people via WhatsApp messages. In all, 200 writers in 20 provinces submitted their work from internet cafes, home computers and mobile phones. All wrote in their native language. Eighteen were selected for this collection which was completed after the sudden fall of Kabul in August 2021. A handful of the writers escaped that trauma and are now forging new lives in different countries. The rest remain.

So what is the collection like to read? Extraordinary, compelling. Many of the stories feel more like a slice of reality than fiction. Many undoubtedly reflect the writers’ own stories, and deal with domestic violence, educational oppression, and forced marriage. But the tales are also about love and fierce pride in family, about finding peace and reflection in snatched moments watching a dog nursing her puppies, about treading the line between life and death every day on the way to work in a school or a broadcasting studio.

Why would anyone carry on writing at a time like this, someone once asked Lucy Hannah. “The answer is that, if you are a writer, that is what you do. Stories help us make sense of our world, particularly in the face of uncertainty and fear. As one of the writers said: ‘All we can do is give each other moral support. Sharing our writing is one way of doing that. War won’t take our creativity away.’”

Find out more and join the discussion at ChipLitFest

Lucy Hannah and writer and editor Zarghuna Kargar will join us at ChipLitFest on Saturday 23 April (6-7pm). Lyse Doucet has continued to say she very much hopes to join us in person. We continue to admire her and wish her well as she reports from Ukraine.

About Untold Narratives

Untold Narratives believes that a region’s upheaval cannot be understood without local, and particularly women’s, perspectives. Its team of editors and translators works with local women writers to develop their creative writing, connect them to one another, share their stories and reach new global audiences.

My Pen is the Wing of a Bird 6pm Sat 23 April, Parish Rooms