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A Responsibility to Remember
|The Numbers Behind
the Amy Awards
|Number of years
the award has
been offered: 16
past winners: 31
|Number of poems
of applicants: 30
|Number of countries
whose residents are
eligible to apply: 23
In 2007 Iranian American poet Shabnam Piryaei won the Amy Award, an annual prize sponsored by Poets & Writers, given to women poets under thirty who live in the New York metropolitan area. We asked Piryaei, whose debut poetry collection, Ode to Fragile, was published in 2010 by Plain View Press, to explain what the support of Poets & Writers means to her.
About eight years ago I met Ms. Khavari, an Afghan woman in her midthirties living in Iran. She was running, illegally, a school for undocumented Afghan children. (In Iran, illegal Afghan refugee children are not allowed to attend school.) Ms. Khavari began teaching just a few students in her own home, but very quickly the number of children multiplied, and so she turned to a local mosque to house the classes. When news spread that the space was being used to teach classes to Afghan children, Ms. Khavari and the students were kicked out.
At the time I met her, the school building Ms. Khavari was using consisted of three bare rooms with no electricity, no phones, no running water, and broken windows thanks to stones that neighboring children had thrown at the building. Because of the extreme financial hardship of the families, the majority of the young students worked for most of the hours that they were not in school; one boy, perhaps six or seven years old, struggled to stay awake, his fingers blackened by the walnuts he had spent hours gathering.
Ms. Khavari, her family, the young teachers she employed, and all the students at the school were working against tremendous forces to secure some of their most fundamental human rights. And they were doing so at the risk of being punished by the Iranian government.
About a week ago I returned from another trip to Iran. While there, as I sat in the living room of my aunt’s house, my cousin received news that one of her childhood friends, a journalist and blogger, was condemned to serve six years in prison for her writings. In her blog, this young woman had merely voiced her desire for a more democratic system of life in Iran. Though my cousin was deeply saddened by the news of her friend’s arrest, her reaction showed little surprise.
In Iran, as in many parts of the world, an individual’s most basic freedoms and quality of life are stifled daily. And those who pursue the arts are faced with severe censorship, bleak resources, and a lack of support to promote or build careers from their work. In the face of realities such as these, I am reminded of my responsibility to work passionately and without excuses on my craft; and I am reminded to not squander the opportunities provided by organizations such as Poets & Writers.
I am grateful for Poets & Writers—not only for the resources it provides but also for its fundamental support of writers at every level of their careers. When I first began to publicly share my writing, I turned to Poets & Writers. Because I lacked a community of writers, it became my sole resource for everything outside of the process of producing my work. Through Poets & Writers I found a publisher for my first book, writing residencies I have attended, journals in which my work has been published, and awards I have won. More recently, at one of the many events sponsored by Poets & Writers, I finally had the opportunity to meet other writers—a rare and valuable opportunity for me, considering the extreme solitude of my writing process.
Poets & Writers’ network of support, its love for literature, and its readily accessible information and resources allow writers like myself to focus on producing our writing, gifting us with, among other things, time, which is priceless.