QUEENS — Queens literature lovers will get a rare chance to meet a group of Afghan women writers — who are forced to take extraordinary measures to write and conceal their identities — and listen to their work during a reading at Richmond Hill Library later this month.
The women — participants in the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, a nonprofit that teaches Afghan women to write poetry and novels — will read a selection of their essays and stories on Jan. 13. Their works will also be read by members of the audience, AWWP staff and volunteers.
The participants who will be in Queens now live in the U.S. Organizers said taking part in the project could put their lives in danger if they returned to Afghanistan.
Author and AWWP founder Masha Hamilton started the project in 2009 after watching a video of Zarmeena, a mother of seven who was publicly executed by the Taliban in 1999 for allegedly killing her husband.
Hamilton wrote on the project’s website that seeing the video "was beyond disturbing." She wanted to help Afghan women, whose “stories were silenced,” and talk about their experience.
“Our mission is to support the voices of women with the belief that to tell one’s story is a human right,” Hamilton wrote.
The AWWP provides its participants with secure online workshops. Women educators and authors help Afghan women writers craft their stories, which are shared on the project’s online magazine where women are identified only by their first names.
The project, according to its website, “recruits only through word-of-mouth and deletes any content that might be used to identify our writers.” It also collects oral stories from Afghan women who are illiterate.
Hamilton, who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan until October 2013, will participate in the event and read from her latest novel "What Changes Everything," which discusses the effects of the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
Deborah Emin, a Kew Gardens resident and the vice president of the Friends of Richmond Hill Library, said she hopes the event will engage local residents in the literature and women's issues in Afghanistan.
“These women risk their lives to work on learning to express their thoughts and feelings in a country where what women want for themselves can be severely regimented,” said Emin, who also started the REZ reading series held at Odradeks Coffee House in Kew Gardens.
“I can't think of a more significant way to share with our community the power of the written word,” Emin added.
The event will take place at Richmond Hill Library (118-14 Hillside Ave.)
on Monday, Jan. 13, at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.