Creative writing from Belfast to Kabul

Belfast’s creative writers are highlighting the work of Afghan women.

They include former Poet Laureate Sinéad Morrissey, who this week is taking part in a three-day workshop at Queen’s University Belfast, aiming to teach poetry to 20 aspiring Afghan women writers in Kabul via Skype.

The pioneering project, entitled Afghan Women Spread the Word, is the brainchild of Julia Paul, a broadcast lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast and is supported by British Council Kabul and British Council Northern Ireland.

The initiative began back in 2013 and aims to create an online archive of Afghan women’s experiences, incorporating audio interviews, shorts stories and poems.

Speaking about the project, Julia said: “This is the third and perhaps, final stage of the project. Initially I went out to Kabul to established connections between women from different ethnic groups and trained them to use handheld recorders to collect oral histories from women in their area.

“The second and now third stage, involves working with these same women via Skype, concentrating on using the initial interviews as the catalyst to write a creative piece, a poem or story, ultimately leading to some kind of online archive for future generations.

“The whole project has been fascinating; Afghan women have a huge tradition of knowing poems by heart, and have such a passion and hunger for writing. They see people like Sinead, an influential woman, and are excited that she is interested in what they have to say.

“I think we can all learn a lot from each other, and how to heal through reconciliation. I love the idea that writing about trauma can be a therapeutic tool and help a society move forward. These women act as a glimmer of hope for others — perhaps they weren’t previously visible in society, but are now gaining skills, confidence and jobs — it’s been an amazing project to be part of.”

The director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University, Professor Fran Brearton, said: “We are delighted to be a part of this project. In linking up with the women writers in Kabul, we are helping to promote a tradition of women’s poetry and creative writing in Afghanistan that goes back centuries.”

Also speaking about the project was David Alderice, Director of British Council Northern Ireland. He said:

“Our British Council offices in Belfast and Kabul are very proud to be part of this project. Creative and critical examination is fundamental to progress and I’m sure both countries will benefit from this wonderful initiative.”

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