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Over the weekend, I attended the Blue Ridge Book Fest in nearby Flat Rock, NC. It was a small event, but I recognized the names of local(ish) authors Robert Morgan, Ann B. Ross, and Joshilyn Jackson, so I decided to head on out. I knew I’d have the opportunity to meet some authors whose work I had read and liked, and I just might meet some new favorites.
Well, I’ve probably got at least three blog posts to write about this small event, but I’m going to start with an author whose name I did not recognize although one of her books was already on my gigantic to-read list.
Masha was a journalist who spent years reporting from the Middle East and Soviet Union. You know she has stories to tell! Now that she’s based in New York, she’s turned her attention to novels and world literacy. She has written 31 Hours, Staircase of a Thousand Steps, The Distance Between Us, and The Camel Bookmobile. They all sound interesting. But it is really her world literacy efforts that I want to tell you about. I was so impressed.
According to her website, Masha reported from Afghanistan in 2004 and went back in 2008. While there, she was interested in the women’s stories. Among the obvious loss of freedoms we consider basic rights, they seem to have even lost their voices and their stories. Who among us can imagine living like that? She wanted to give them their voices back. She started The Afghan Women’s Writing Project. She said it began as her own commitment to spend 10 weeks at home tutoring a small group of Afghan women who had access to the internet. She quickly saw that their needs were outstripping her availability, and she reached out to her network of contacts, who responded overwhelmingly. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project was born.
Women who are able to find a way to access the internet in Afghanistan write stories from their lives and the Project volunteers work with them to edit them and get them ready for online publication. They are of course always looking for donations, especially for a women-only internet cafe they want to build, since women are forbidden to use the ones where men are present. But there’s another way that we book bloggers can give.
Go to their site. http://www.awwproject.org/ Read the women’s stories and comment. That is what we do–read and comment. It would mean so much to these women. Can you imagine working up the nerve to write a story about your life in Afghanistan, possibly putting your life in danger to get it out there, and then not hearing any feedback from readers? If you have a few minutes here or there, check out the site, read a story or two, and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say, “I’m here and I hear what you’re saying.”
Masha has also helped with The Camel Bookmobile in Kenya. It’s exactly what it sounds like. I’m not clear on whether or not they’re still accepting donations, but you can check out the website. She wrote a book about it after her daughter mentioned it in passing one day. She visited the Bookmobile after she finished the novel, came home and asked authors to donate books for the project. Just a little “Donate five books and I’ll put your book up on my website” kind of thing. She thought she might get 25 authors. 235 authors donated books! Word started spreading and book clubs started sending books! One book club even asked, “Why don’t we publish small books in Swahili there in Kenya with their traditional stories?”
Don’t you love this worldwide community of readers and writers? Don’t people like Masha Hamilton inspire you?
A few things I’d love to hear about in your comments.
Can you recommend any books that give Middle Eastern women a voice? I’ll confess that I’ve only read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. These were all excellent reads and I highly recommend them.
Do you know of any projects, either at home or abroad, that you feel book bloggers should know about? Leave a link and I’ll compile a list, or even better, write a post giving us the details.