One lecture, 30 stories of Afghan-Americans

The experiences of Afghan Americans came to life in the lecture, “One Story, Thirty Stories — A Discussion of Afghan American Literature.” The event was held in the Library Auditorium on Monday, Nov. 7.

Author Zohra Saed talked about her early life as an Afghan immigrant born in Jalalabad, Afghanistan and raised in the United States. Saed explained that she grew up in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn but was constantly moving to different places.

Zohra Saed talks about the ‘sisterhood’ of Afghan-American writers. (Tom O’Dell / Photo Editor)

During her time in Brooklyn, Saed covered her bedroom walls with maps and photographs of the region in order to learn more about her Middle Eastern roots.

“Photographs are a big part of the culture … few refugees have come with photographs, and I came to realize how precious they were,” she said.

These early experiences became pivotal in forming “One Story, Thirty Stories: An Anthology of Contemporary Afghan American Literature.” In total, 35 writers collaborated with Saed to form the anthology, she said.

“How do you collect this loss of family or nation? You do it through writing. Writing became a way of bringing this all together,” Saed said.

The anthology featured stories from different time periods within the late 20th century, including the childhoods of several writers from the 1980s to the present, “as well as some things preceding 9/11,” she said.

Throughout the lecture, Saed read several excerpts from the anthology, including one of her own poems, titled “Neptune Avenue.” Saed explained that the poem discussed “pressures faced by Afghan-American children at school versus childhood desires for fun.”

Another piece, “Astagfurillah (God Forbid!)” by Khalida Sethi, focused on the boundaries faced by Afghan women.

“It is perhaps the most feminist piece in the anthology,” Saed said.

Saed also explained that there exists a separation between Afghan Americans based on which regions in Afghanistan the people come from, but noted that the writers were able to join together in spite of this.

“The writers brought together a diverse collection because they did not face the same cultural barriers as their parents,” she said.

The anthology has receieved a great response from Afghan-Americans, Saed said. The collaborators of the anthology even started an Afghan-American writers association blog.

“We hope to create a community of a new, collective experience. (It’s) a sisterhood of artists and writers with different styles,” she said.

In response to the question of whether Saed will work on a follow-up book, the author explained that she would not be releasing another anthology.

“This has been a really hard project with a lot of personalities,” she said. “I would probably do something more academic or historical.”

“It was really refreshing to see a representation of Afghan people as modern,” said junior international studies and history double major Mary Jane Dempsey. “I found it inspiring that these people were able to effectively reflect the stories of Afghan-Americans through their literary work.”