Afghan women's voices brought 'Out of Silence'

April 12, 2011

Can you fight with me?
You have a gun
I have a pen
You have power
I have mind, intellect and tongue
Your result of fighting: war, blood and killing
My result of fighting: peace, light and freedom
Now, judge, who is the winner?
Or Me?

These words were written by a woman in Afghanistan. Her name is Freshta, and that’s all we know about her. Download Full Image

If her identity became public, she could be at risk for her safety, and perhaps even her life, because of reprisal from the Taliban – or even her own family members.

That’s why it is so vital for Freshta’s poetry to be heard, and heeded, in free nations, according to Melissa Pritchard, ASU professor of English and women’s studies. Pritchard will be honored for her humanitarian and literary work on April 13 by receiving one of nine 2011 Faculty Achievement Awards.

Pritchard and eight graduate students will present the first-ever collegiate reading of works by Afghan women at 7 p.m., May 3, in Neeb Hall on ASU’s Tempe campus.

The free program, “Out of Silence: Readings From the Afghan Women’s Writing Project,” will include essays, poems and stories written by participants in the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP).

AWWP was founded in 2009 by international journalist and novelist Masha Hamilton. The project matches Afghan women with American women writers who serve as their online mentors. The finished writing is posted regularly on AAWP’s Website, with space on each for readers’ comments.

(Comments are encouraged, according to the website, because the writers “work in such isolation and under such difficult conditions that any feedback or commentary helps them know they are being heard and is greatly appreciated.”)

Hamilton said she became interested in Afghanistan in the late 1990s during the Taliban period, when she understood it was “one of the worst places in the world to be a woman.”

She first visited the country in 2004, and was “awed and inspired by the resolute courage of the women she met.”

When she returned to Afghanistan in 2008, she saw that “doors were closing and life was again becoming more difficult, especially for women,” and began to fear that “we could lose access to the voices of Afghan women if we didn’t act soon.”

And thus was born the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, whose goal is “to allow Afghan women to have a direct voice in the world, not filtered through male relatives or members of the media.”

The writing workshops are taught in three secure online classrooms, but many of the women have to make extreme efforts to gain computer access in order to submit their writings, according to Hamilton.

A recent outgrowth of the project is AWWP Presents, a global theatrical initiative that promotes staged readings of the Afghan writers’ works. So far, readings have been held in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and ASU’s is the first to be presented by students on a university campus.

Reading and assisting with the program at ASU on May 3 will be eight graduate students who study with Pritchard: Laura Ashworth, Paul Ocampo, Adrienne Celt, Naira Kuzmich, Courtney Fowler, Tessa Stevens, Branden Boyer-White and Eman Hassan. Only the women will read, in respect to the Afghan culture.

Each student selected three to four poems, essays or stories for consideration. During rehearsals, the final writings for the evening will be selected. Even though some of the students admitted to being shy, they didn’t hesitate to volunteer for the reading.

Kuzmich, who was born in Armenia and grew up in Los Angeles, said she writes in an ethnic narrative motif and was interested in the writing by the Afghan women, since it follows the same theme. "I will be voicing other women’s stories, stories that are in part a result of their cultural background and circumstance."

Stevens commented that “the writing is so good. I am appreciative of their work as writers.”

Boyer-White said, "My passion for human rights work is just as great as my passion for writing. This is an opportunity for those two to intersect.”

Ashworth volunteered to read because she was moved by the work on the AWWP Website. “I am invested in women’s rights – the right for women to voice their opinion,” she said. “We will be the vessels.”

Fowler said she thinks the Afghan writers are “incredibly brave.”

“We don’t hear these women’s stories. Art is crucial in places where people are experiencing such suffering.”

Ocampo, who has been helping shape the script, pointed out that writing is a freedom often taken for granted. ”We forget that writing is a luxury and a privilege,” he said. “It’s cathartic to hear these voices that have been silenced.”

Celt said that ”with the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the role of women has been pushed under the rug. It’s an honor to be involved with these women.”

Though the reading is free, donations will be accepted for AWWP’s Ashton">">Ashton Goodman Fund, Pritchard said. “Our goal is $1,000. That will buy three laptops, or three months of Internet access.”

For more information about the reading, contact Pritchard at melissap">"> For more information about the Afghan Women’s Writing Project – and to read the work of the Afghan writers – go to


The reading is supported by ASU Project Humanities and the Creative Writing Program in the Department of English at ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

$10.3M grant to improve photosynthetic process

April 12, 2011

Scientists in the United Kingdom and United States, including researchers at ASU, have been awarded $10.3 million to improve the photosynthetic process as a means of producing renewable fuel.

This award will permit four transatlantic teams, one directed by Anne Jones, ASU assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, to investigate methods to overcome the limited efficiency of photosynthesis. This will lead to ways of significantly increasing the yield of important crops for food production or sustainable bioenergy. Schematic comparison of a natural photosynthetic system and the hypothetical sys Download Full Image

Ensuring a stable energy supply is the central challenge of the 21st century.

The funding has been awarded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in an unusual program designed to co-opt some of the best minds from the United States and United Kingdom to explore this important problem. Although photosynthesis is nature’s means for capturing the sun’s energy in plants, algae and other organisms, it has intrinsic limitations for major energy production.

“The project represents a radical approach to augment and surpass photosynthetic strategies observed in nature by engineering modular division of labor through electrical connectivity,” said Jones, from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Center for Bioenergy and Photosynthesis at ASU.

“A simple analogy is a power plant unconnected to the distribution grid," Jones said. "Unconnected, excess energy goes to waste, and this is what currently happens in photosynthetic organisms when they are overwhelmed with light. However, engineering of transmission lines allows energy to be utilized and stored elsewhere. In this project, we will set up conductive transmission lines between the photosynthetic apparatus in one species and the fuel-producing metabolism of a second species to funnel excess energy directly into fuel production.”

The strategy is to create a trans-cellular, plug-and-play platform that allows the team to shunt electrons from photosynthetic source cells to independently engineered fuel production modules along biological nanowires.

"Photosynthesis is essential for life on Earth," said Joann Roskoski, NSF's acting assistant director for biological sciences. "By providing food and generating oxygen, it has made our planet hospitable for life. This process is also critical in addressing the food and fuel challenges of the future. For decades, NSF has invested in photosynthesis research projects that range from biophysical studies to ecosystem analyses at a macroscale. The Ideas Lab in photosynthesis was an opportunity to stimulate and support different types of projects than what we have in our portfolio in order to address a critical bottleneck to enhancing the photosynthetic process."

"This is hugely ambitious research, but if the scientists we are supporting can achieve their aims it will be a profound achievement," said Janet Allen, professor and director of research at BBSRC.

Other members of Jones’ team in the United States are John Golbeck from Penn State University, David Kramer from Michigan State University and Ichiro Matsumura from Emory University School of Medicine. Lee Cronin, from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, will direct the British part of the team, including also Travis Bayer at Imperial College London and Thomas Bibby from the University of Southampton.

This project integrates diverse disciplines to address a critical limitation in the efficiency of photosynthesis, and along the way will advance both fundamental and applied knowledge in the areas of synthetic biology, inorganic and biosynthetic chemistry, protein engineering, electron transfer, energy storage, photosynthetic physiology and integration of novel traits into organisms.


Anne Jones, ">

(480) 965-0356

Media contact:

Jenny Green,">">

(480) 965-1430

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences