Coming back with another exciting feature of the Trailblazers series, where we focus on writers and individuals of our family who spread their wings and took off towards heights previously unthought of and uncharted. In this feature we will be writing about another graduate of the second batch of our Literary Fellowship program, Fatema Bhaiji.
Fatema Bhaiji And Our Outcast Magazine:
Before she joined our fellowship, Fatema had already made herself known and left a mark on us, by participating in and becoming one of the top finalists of The Stories Untold season two. Her story, titled “Holding her Hand”, was in perfect accordance with the theme of our story writing competition, “A War Within”. Our phenomenal writer Fatema, in her book, addressed very boldly the dilemma of having feelings for an individual of the same gender. The havoc it causes on our emotions and inner stability, all the while living in a society which in no way tolerates this. Her book was put up for crowdfunding, and through the help of our community, was brought to print.
Outcast Magazine Makes Rounds:
With this booming introduction, Fatema came to join the Editorial department of our fellowship program. Halfway through the program, Fatema came to the team with her idea of forming a queer lit magazine. A magazine targeted towards the South Asian community that zeroed in on increasing the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community through art, poetry and stories. In the beginning of the fellowship, graduates were encouraged to pursue projects on their own with full support from Daastan. Despite all the criticism, Daastan stood strong. And so, the Outcast magazine ‘came out’ – its website was launched a month after the idea was rolled out, and its first digital issue came out a month later.
Acclaim and Applause:
Outcast Magazine was later on endorsed by a global platform, i.e. Commonwealth Writers, who conducted an extension of our Stories Untold Season 4 on their forum. The LGBTQ+ community were encourages to put to words any abuse they might have faced, directly or indirectly. Outcast went on to announce a Micro Fiction competition of their own in collaboration with Daastan and White Falcon Publishing. The first issue was released in print the very next year. Fatema was invited to many events as a speaker, one of which was “Salzburg Global Forum” held in Nepal and powered by UNDP.
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Come the summer of 2018, having just successfully conducted a ground breaking season of The Stories Untold, Daastan teamed up with a few others who were also in the race to bring quality literature to their readers. Since its inception, Daastan and Qissa have scaled, and eventually launched a writing competition which was dubbed “Literati”. The team was once again taking not only Pakistan by storm, but also slowly but surely taking over the world too. And so, to bring another round of thought-provoking stories that made one bite their nails with the anticipation of what was coming next, we opened the award for participants from all over South Asia.
Literati Micro Fiction:
Literati was brought to the public in collaboration with White Falcon Publishing, a company that provided the services of self-publishing much the same way as us and encouraged quality literature to find its way to the surface, but across the border in India. Another collaborator of the micro story writing competition was Outcast, a queer lit magazine which was founded by a graduated Literary Fellow of Daastan. The authors of the micro fiction award were given a time period of one month, in which they were to write short stories with no more than 2500 words on the themes of “The Fifth Rivulet” and “Mosaiced Souls”. The themes themselves were enough to get any true storyteller thinking and dreaming in their world of imagination, spinning and weaving tales which would eventually find their way to our screens.
The award was closed a month after its launch, and all the partners were delighted to received more than a hundred submissions of gripping and awe-inspiring literature. The submissions were all carefully reviewed, and the top 20 were selected. These finalists would receive the exciting prize of seeing their work go into print, along with exclusive opportunities to further their career as a writer.
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We, at Daastan, recognized that abuse was an issue that transcended gender, religion, social, and traditional bounds, and so had its roots present in all kinds of society everywhere around the globe. Through this, both the team of Daastan and Outcast wanted to encourage stories of abuse to come forth from the LGBTQ community. The people who identified as any of these have, more often than not, been ostracized enough, and are at the brunt of many incidents of abuse that are enforced upon them as a way of punishment. The social stigma attached to such cases is even higher than the one attached to cases of child abuse, with people choosing to hush it up rather than talk about it so that the wrongdoers can be held responsible.
The magazine encouraged its writers to challenge the norms and break through the socially imposed boundary of remaining silent in the face of such evil, by raising their voice and penning down thoughtful, and inspiring work, between the word limit of 4000-6000. The competition received numerous entries from across the globe, and was a huge success. Being powered by Daastan, the finalists selected would be published in a print anthology, and the authors would receive a free copy of the published work. Along with this, they would also be awarded with a certificate and their names displayed on both the website as well as the Facebook page to help them gain publicity for their work.
Daastan launched its very first Literary Fellowship program in the fall of 2016, which turned out to be a huge success and an instant hit. This not only benefited the fellows, who were given multiple opportunities and exposed to a plethora of resources and networks, but it also helped the team of Daastan meet a very cool bunch of people seeking to improve the landscape of the literary industry in Pakistan. Upon their graduation some of them were also be taken on board – especially those who wanted to join in the cool happenings of our space.
The Second Batch:
With another year coming to a close, the team decided to make the Fellowship a recurring one, so as to spread the message of the revival of literature, by enabling people who were interested to come see it first hand and become a part of it as well. With the announcement of Batch Two of the Literary Fellowship program, submissions rolled in by the dozens. This time around, the team received more than a hundred applications, double the amount received for the debut batch. The applications were screened thoroughly, and around 40 people were shortlisted and called for an online interview session. A friendly discussion was carried out with each to determine their passion for literature, their willingness to work for the achievements of their dreams, and their past involvements in our field. It was an even harder job to screen for and select the bunch that would be joining Daastan for the next three months, but eventually 25 people were chosen to comprise the second batch of the Literary Fellowship. The selection was made on the basis of their clarity of vision, their justification for the claims they provided in the application form, as well as their relevant experience.
The Literary Achievements of the Fellowship:
This time around, the fellowship
was divided into four categories, i.e. Marketing, Editing, Digitizing and
Design, and each fellow was made a part of the module they favored and/or the
module best fit for them according to their experience. What came together was
a group astounding in abilities which, after being groomed, bagged multiple
prizes. Two of the fellows, Ms Maham Syedain, and Ms Arooha Arif won
Silver and Bronze in US Story Writing competition, and Ms. Nadia won
Urdu writing competition on The Ancient Souls. Several of the fellows were
featured all over the digital media for their different achievements, and a big
bunch of them went on to graduate as well. Chief among them was Ms. Fatema Bhaiji, who launched a
Queer-Lit magazine designed specifically for literature focused on the LGBTQ+
community named “Outcast”.
Another fellow, Ms. Arooha Arif, launched a book club in her
hometown to encourage readership and connect like-minded people, and yet
another graduate Ms. Sameen Aziz launched a digitizing company by the name of “Harf Nagar”, focused on
providing digitizing and bringing handwritten content to print ready form. Many
of the graduates were hired into the team and given various positions. The
highlights of the second batch’s achievements can be viewed here.