In the second of our author interviews, Abdul wakil Sulamal tells us more about his writing and about short fiction from Afghanistan.
Can you tell us a bit more about you and your writing? When did you first start writing fiction? Does your work tend to have a speculative/ non-realist element?
I started my literature activities when I was a child. In sixth class I wrote a poem that was later published in the Daily Nangrahar newspaper. I continued writing poetry for two or three years but became more interested in writing short stories. Meanwhile, I wrote radio dramas, stage dramas and TV shows, and three film scenarios for short films. One of my radio dramas (The Flame of Revenge) was broadcast from Radio Afghanistan while I was in tenth class.
As an adult, I’ve published three short story collections and another three are ready for publication. One of my books is about stage dramas and is also ready for publication. Many of my stories are translated to other languages such as Dari, Urdu, Hindi, English and Slovakian, and published in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and USA.
My writing is based on symbolism and surrealism, and I add my own fantasy flavour. But all of my stories are based on my beloved country’s tragedies and traditions.
What led you to write “Faces and Thoughts”?
The moral of the story is that riches and power have a corrupting effect on people. Sadly, once a person has tasted a luxurious life and enjoyed power and influence, they may never want to return to their humble origins, no matter how happy they were before, living a simple, honest life.
The story is translated by James Caron, an academic at SOAS – how did your relationship begin? Do you work closely together?
I met James through an email exchange for first time around ten years ago and saw him for first time when he had a job at SOAS in London. Since then we have become good friends and meet occasionally. He likes my stories and he has a plan to translate the stories which are linked to history. He has also organised a meeting regarding my stories and provided me with opportunities to read my articles in international seminars. James has a good understanding of South Asian history as well as good knowledge of its literature and culture. He also has written prefaces for my stories, which I appreciate the most.
You’ve also written journalistic and academic articles – does this aspect of your work affect your fiction?
My journalistic motivations are just about two or three years old, so don’t have a direct impact on my stories. Though, in a way this work has inspired my thoughts and given me new ways of imagining. At the moment I am not just writing short stories but sometimes also drama, criticism, screenplays and theatre. Also, if someone requests an academic article about cinema I am willing to write about it.
What Pashto writers would you like to see translated into English? Is there a tradition of speculative/ non-realist writing in Afghanistan, and is it an important element for other contemporary writers?
The history of Pashto short stories is not even a century old. At the beginning they were very simple and mainly based on realism. The realism of Pashto short stories is still visible but many writers are under the influence of international stories and experimenting with new ways of writing - for instance, Akbar Kargar, Zarin Anzor, Obaidullah Mehak, Wfa Samandar, Assadullah Ghazanfar, Ajmal Pasarly and Emal Pasarly. From my prospective it’s worth translating these writers’ short stories into English. From the above list these writers – Akbar Kargar, Ajmal Pasarlai, and Emal Pasarly – are not following realism but are writing stories in new forms.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Abdul!
And Samovar and Strange Horizons will be at Eastercon this weekend, so we’re looking forward to continuing the conversation about speculative fiction in translation!