As a young girl, I was terrified to say what was on my mind. I lived in a muted bubble and sealed it tight with fear. What would people think? I would wonder, before frantically swallowing the words I wanted to say. But this silence, this shoving down of opinions and thoughts and feelings for fear of judgement or of being laughed at, made me miserable.
I must have been five or six when I discovered my love for writing. I desecrated our family photo album by giving each image speech bubbles and lots of effusive dialogue punctuated by too many exclamation marks. It annoyed my mother, but I was secretly thrilled. I had finally found a way to capture and convey my feelings without opening my mouth. I had found my voice. I embraced writing from then on: I wrote on scraps of paper I found lying around, then glued them together to make a book solely for my own reading pleasure. I wrote in the back of exercise books, creating characters that both terrified and delighted me in equal measure. In secondary school, I wrote terrible plays, and forced my friends to act in them while I directed and produced.
Girls Write Now Unmuted: The 2021 Anthology
To be unmuted right now requires a new brand of bravery, and these young writers show how it’s done. Using stories, poems, essays, fiction, drama, interviews and more, they report on a global pandemic, a climate crisis and the movement for racial equality. In a world pushed to the precipice of change, in a society that values the tried and true over the dynamic and new, the Girls Write Now class of 2021 is breaking the chains and showing what it means to speak loud, clear and true—to be unmuted.
After I left Nigeria, as I struggled to find my place in a society where I looked different, and where my ability to speak “good English” surprised an astounding number of people, I found myself trying to make my writing fit into the expectations that society had created for me. I wrote about characters who had blue eyes and blonde hair and who played lacrosse and attended boarding school in the Scottish Isles even though I had no idea of what lacrosse was at that time. The fairy tales I loved also did not feature any characters that looked like me, and so as I wrote my own stories, I subconsciously erased my own existence out of my own narrative. It was tortuous; and it wasn’t until I began to read books filled with characters who braided their hair or wore it in an afro, and who lived in Lagos or Ibadan and ate Jollof rice and Yams and spoke Yoruba and Hausa as well as they could speak English, that I realised that I could, and should write the stories my soul wants to write, about people who looked like me. It was then that I began to emerge gloriously liberated from the process.
It gives me immense pleasure to present this anthology, and to share works from girls who are more courageous and inspiring than I was at their age. Girls who have decided to use their voices to tell stories that are relevant and undiluted and authentic, each word constructed with care and urgency, as if to say: This is my story, told in my own way—Listen!
And I hope you will listen.
I hope you will experience every remarkable piece, each one written from a particular point of view no one else has, by writers from a myriad of backgrounds and perspectives, whether in the stanzas of poetry that deserve to be memorized and recited, or in prose that is stunning in its beauty. I hope you will hear these unmuted and unafraid voices and that they will inspire and move you, and as you turn the last page, I hope you will emerge transformed by the journey, and with your heart imprinted with the power of the unforgettable voices in this book.
Enjoy every moment.
MEET THE FOREWORD AUTHOR
Abi Daré is the author of The Girl with the Louding Voice, which was a New York Times bestseller, a #ReadWithJenna Today Show book club pick, and an Indie Next Pick. She grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and went on to study law at the University of Wolverhampton and has an MSc in International Project Management from Glasgow Caledonian University as well as an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London. Abi lives in Essex, UK with her husband and two daughters, who inspired her to write her debut novel. (Photo Credit: Gazmadu)