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Saira is currently a graduate student at the Department of English at the University of Karachi as well as a teacher at the Government Elementary College of Education (GECE) at Hussainabad. She was previously a staff writer at The Tempest, and her current research and writing interests include gender, media, and Muslim womanhood.

WINNER

A PAKISTANI WOMAN COMES OF AGE
by
Saira Mahmood

A compelling memoir which articulates a girl’s journey to womanhood through the coming of age of social media in Pakistan. Original thinking at its best: bursting with freshness and ambition.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • ​This essay feels fresh—in form, in theme, and in its linguistic fizz. I was hooked from the first graf, smiling at the image of a Bildungsroman as a wiggling mound of Jell-O. This piece has a graceful arc and tells a story, albeit in social-media-sized bites. - CP

  • Gender angst told revealingly through the refuge of sharing on the internet, as websites emerge and wane  - SS

  • This piece has so much hope and beauty. I was impressed by the command with which the writer chronicles how to navigate suffocating circumstances, find the courage to cope with adversity, and eventually grow from it. - WH

  • Original in form, good blend of intelligent humour and anger - AA

  • Deftly structured. Tightly told, holding both rage and lightness. Contained yet expansive, universal yet specific. A voice I'd like to hear more from. - SV

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Laila is a socially engaged writer and community organiser from London. Her work explores racial justice, immigration and intersectional feminism. She graduated from Edinburgh University in 2022 with a degree in Persian language and Middle Eastern Studies.

HIGHLYCOMMENDED

A SEAT AT BIBI'S
DINING TABLE

by
Laila Ghaffar

An evocative and heartwarming account of familial relationships across three generations.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • ​ It leaves the reader wanting to know more about these remarkable women. I adored the idea, the concise sentences and the flawless prose. -WH

  • Captures love, real love, yet remains remarkably unsentimental. I would like to spend more time with these women. -SV

  • A lovely homage to women across the generations.    -AA

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Aisha is an Assistant Professor at Colorado Mesa University in the Bachelor of Social Work Program. Her work has been published in Canadian literary magazine Yolk, Digital 50-50 magazine, and Future Folklore (2021), an anthology of Climate Fiction. She has also written columns for Aajj News  Network.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

EMPIRE OF ILLUSION
by
Aisha Chapra
 

Themes of postpartum depression and the climate crisis are skillfully woven together in a frantic search for meaning in a collapsing world.

 

 

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • The writer uses themes of post-partum depression and existential climate crisis to show us flashes of what it means to try and comprehend things that are too big, too difficult, too painful and too desperate to look at face on. There's an uncomfortable honesty to it. -SV

  • An important, timely essay. The writer skillfully tackles the themes of hope, grief and redemption and successfully addresses the challenges of motherhood and postpartum depression. -WH

  • Though semi-elegiac, this piece pulses with life. In often vivid descriptive language, the writer forges an impressive braid of the existential and the domestic. What could have merely been an account of a fraying relationship becomes something more in her hands: a frantic search for meaning and wholeness in a collapsing world. -CP

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Sundus is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bonn. She was previously at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad. She is a regular contributor to the magazine Development and Cooperation (D + C). Her writings have also appeared in The Express Tribune Blogs and Jamhoor

HIGHLY COMMENDED

FRIDGE MAGNETS
by
Sundus Saleemi

A subtle and complex essay with elegant meditations on home as a repository for both memory and hope

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • ​It’s hard to write well about home, cross-cultural wandering and a broken heart, mostly because so many writers have done so before. It’s especially impressive when an essay spears all three themes—and then some—without losing integrity.  Through carefully chosen visual and cultural details, and its elegant meditations on home as a repository for both memory and hope, this writer creates a subtle and complex essay. -CP

  • An elegant, heartrending depiction of love, the gradual breakdown of a relationship and the loss of a home. The writer’s delicate use of sensory details makes it an excellent piece of writing; you can almost imagine the house she is reminiscing about. I liked this very much. -WH

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Areej is an alumnus of the Yale Young Writers’ Workshop, and is currently a student at LUMS where she is studying English Literature and History.  Her work has been published in The Blue Blood International, Digital 50.50Hamara Internet, and GenderIT.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

OF BRAS AND BREASTS
by
Areej Akhtar
 

Ideas about womanliness, or the lack of it, are examined in this triptych of portraits of women betrayed by their own bodies.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Courageous, clear-eyed and inventive, this piece takes three disparate, vivid anecdotes that might seem specific to lead us to a larger truth, one which, at the very end, manages to be both surprising and cautiously optimistic. -CP

  • Captures the pain of coming of age for a woman -SS

  • A challenging subject handled intelligently. The voice is especially unforgettable in that it is sentimental and tender but always so charming.     -WH

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Michelle is a writer from Lahore. Her works have been published in The Daily Times, ProperGaanda, and Youth Correspondent. Her writing echoes the abstractions of culture and society that confound her.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

THE SILENCE OF THE DEMENTED
by
Michelle Nadeem
 

An original piece speculating on the silence of women (and the self-silencing of dementia) as a trauma response.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • ​Effective use of the second person. A profoundly humane work about how the pent-up rage of women is playing out after centuries of being wronged by society. -WH

  • Some really original thinking and good turns of phrase which, with some focused honing, could be a truly brilliant piece. -SV

  • Profound and filled with emotion -AA

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Embracing The Chaos

Rajaa Bokhari

"Karachi is testing the limits of my mental health. ... This city is loud - and, at the same time, incoherent. ...

My heart sinks. In fact, not just mine - I feel everyone else’s depression, too. There’s a persistent sadness enmeshed in the humidity of this city by the sea."

By

Reflection Through Broken Glass

Job Hunting for the Broken-Hearted

Alina Yasir Mughal

"I had prayed that no one asked about my experience in writing. The writing that I had termed as freelance content writing was actually doing homework assignments for rich Arab kids in the UAE … You can’t exactly write all of this out in a resume. It was frustrating being me. No wonder he had left me, even he couldn’t stand the person that I was"

By

Baking Dough

A Letter to My Sister

Zuha Siddiqui 

"I remember the first time I saw you bake ... I thought you didn’t know what you were doing  and then, magic began to pour through your fingers ... I noticed you looking at me ... as I took the first bite. The crust was flaky and crisp – it melted in my mouth. And I wish I could tell you now ... that everything you did was perfection."

By

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Mothers and Daughters

Mahnoor Fatima

 

 

"Mother. Daughter. Cusps. At the beginning. At the end. Inversions. All she could have been. All I could become. Nothing alike. Everything alike."

By

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An Other Country

Sarah Khawaja

 " It is not with nostalgia but with a more prosaic yearning that I look to Karachi: I want to forge something new, discover something fresh, rather than polish away the patina to reveal the sheen of a bygone era."

By

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It Takes a Village

Maham Niazi

"They say you need a village to raise a baby ... What I've learnt from my health scare is, we often fail to recognise our blessings and sometimes it takes one of us nearly dying, to jolt our tribe into action. But ... when we're in need, when the time comes, our village arrives in full force"

By

Sad Girl in the Window

Dard

Tehmina Khan

"Is dard this heart which lies in pieces and doesn't know how to gather itself? When I am here, I am not there. When I am there, I am not here. ...

Who can teach me how to live with my heart in pieces on two separate continents? "

By

Sparklers

For Old Friends

Fatima Ijaz

"No one really knows you the way your childhood friends do. Is it because they’ve seen you grow up? Can the knowledge of who you were at 6, become damning for you?  … I somehow knew from that nascent time that I would build my own family. It would not be a family of blood ties, but rather of souls."

By

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The Pakistani Dream

Sabahat Zakariya

" ...Pakistan cheerfully passed the baton from British colonialism to American imperialism to create yet another generation of teenagers who existed physically in the confines of their conservative country, but thrived mentally in the Upper East Side apartments that flashed across their television screens." 

By

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