Anne K. Yoder interviewed Adam Klein about his story collection, The Gifts of the State: An Anthology of New Afghan Writing, which he developed while teaching writing workshops in Kabul:
Q: You write in your introduction: “Stories keep silence and amnesia from rising like dust and obliterating life as we know it.” Reading this anthology made me realize anew how we as a nation can remain so ignorant of another culture’s narratives despite its constant presence in our newsfeed and our military presence on their soil. Given this desire to carry these voices across cultures, what was the impulse to tell fictional stories as opposed to memoir or personal accounts? Is there a greater freedom that fiction allows?
AK: Well, of course we’ve lost our own narrative, or greatly perverted it. I find American amnesia a dangerous tragedy. Guantanamo, Vietnam, our own history of slavery and systemic racism and inequality, our relationship to immigrants, to the Islamic world, and to our own aggression — these often-dishonest military interventions disappoint me. I don’t mean this as a purely liberal critique of American injustice. … I’m deeply concerned by the loss of authentic voices, investigatory voices in our leadership. …
I don’t think Afghanistan is the only country that must use fiction to reconstruct both memory and future.
Every country has a responsibility to counter the extremes of its ideological spectrum. So why did I collect fiction? It allows for the speculative, it encourages empathy, and it doesn’t limit a writer exclusively to what they believe they know. I love memoir and creative nonfiction, but in a country that has been riven by war, the narratives might not just need to be recalled, but recast, and re-imagined. I have tremendous faith in fiction and significantly less faith in memory.
Principally at stake in I Am the Beggar is the understanding that, in a corner of the world far from the western imagination, poetry may stand for something vibrant, illicit, honest, and subversive. I Am the Beggar collects landays because they are reportorial artifacts, documenting the voices that remain silenced and sequestered in Afghanistan today. Importantly, it presents landays as a monument of feminism, enacting the “cloak-and-dagger dance around honor” that governs Afghan women’s lives.
Don’t shout, my love, my father isn’t giving me to you.
Don’t shame me in the busy street by crying out, “I’ll die for you.”
My darling, you are just like America!
You are guilty; I apologize.
I Am the Beggar groups landays by theme, crosscut with Griswold’s commentaries and Murphy’s photographs. The poems run the gamut: here are young lovers, bawdy jokesters, sexual challengers, and proud sisters. Some speak of nationalism, grief, or anger at the unfairness of the world. In total, the landays invoke a full community of female experience. And, as the poems are essentially author-less, each one carries within it the voices of hundreds of Pashtun women.
A recent series of landays was featured on the Dish here.