Meet the writers – Awake Not Sleeping: Reimagining Fairy Tales for a New Generation

Date : 15 November 2021

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Illustration: Natasa Konjevic/UN Women

Through the power of storytelling, the Awake Not Sleeping: Reimagining Fairy Tales for a New Generation initiative aims to change the way societies think about women and girls’ roles, rights, and human potential. While many fairy tales were originally created by women for women about challenging restrictive gender roles, expectations, and laws, these narratives were rewritten by the powers of their times to bolster harmful social norms. ‘Awake Not Sleeping’ looks to bring back these forgotten narratives and support fresh dialogue among younger generations to promote gender equality.

Meet the writers
The ‘Awake Not Sleeping’ initiative is driven by innovative feminist writers from diverse backgrounds and experiences from across Europe and Central Asia. They came together to create new fairy tales that will challenge gender norms and empower the next generation of citizens and leaders. Through their reimagined tales, they are moving us closer to building a gender-equal society.

Daria Apakhonchich. Author of Wee Little Khavroshchechka 

Daria Apakhonchich is a teacher of Russian language and literature, writer and performance artist. She was born in a small town in Kamchatka (Russia) and currently lives in Georgia. In 2013 she began to engage in contemporary political social art, took part in dozens of exhibitions in Russia and Europe, organized cultural events and festivals. In 2019, together with the St. Petersburg feminist group, Rib Evas she published two feminist books within the fairy tales collection: Tales for Girls. She wrote several fairy tales, street poems and a play.

Photo: Personal archive.

 

Why fairy tales? Because children learn sexism from an early age and it is in our power to come up with new fairy tales that are free from stereotypes but that retain the charm and magic of traditional fairy tales. It was very interesting for me to participate in this project, to think about traditional plots and gender roles, and to remember the childhood joy of reading fairy tales."

 

Kalina Maleska. Author of The Child Without Golden Hair and co-author of of The Room with Formulas on the Wall

Kalina Maleska is a writer from North Macedonia. Her work includes three collections of short stories, two novels, a play, a children’s book, and a study of contemporary literature. Her stories, as well as articles on literary theory and criticism, have been published in various journals and anthologies in North Macedonia and abroad. Her story, ‘A Different Kind of Weapon’, is part of the anthology Best European Fiction 2018. Maleska teaches English and American literature at Ss. Cyril and Methodius University – Skopje. Read more 

 

 

 

There should not be an end to the efforts for achieving human rights.”

Photo: Aleksandar Zlatev

 

Altyn Kapalova. Author of Snow

Altyn Kapalova is a feminist activist, artist and children’s writer from Kyrgyzstan. She converts the results of her anthropological research into works of art that aim to make the voices of vulnerable communities louder so that they influence political decisions and structures. Her curation expertise covers visual arts, theatre and creative writing. Read more.

Photo: Anna Shlyafstein.

 

 

 

What we read to children today shapes their actions tomorrow.”

 

Ivanka Ferenčić Martinčić. Author of The Frog Girl

Ivanka Ferenčić Martinčić is a children's author, storyteller and librarian from Croatia. After graduating from the Faculty of Philosophy in Osijek, she worked in elementary and high school as well as public libraries. In 2014, she became a director in the Virje public library where she continues to work today. Her first children's novel, Matilda and the Witches' Cat was published in 2012, and its sequel, Matilda and the Mysterious Frogs, in 2014. She is also the author of two picture books and the co-author of a handbook for children's librarians.

 

By learning from traditional fairy tales, we can write powerful and therapeutic stories. Being a part of this journey with UN Women was amazing, inspiring, and above all, educational. It has helped me discover what kind of characters I want to offer my readers in the hope of inspiring the best in us all.”

Photo: Darko Šostarec

 

Bergrún Íris Sævarsdóttir. Author of The Spinning Girl

Bergrún Íris Sævarsdóttir, 33, is an author/illustrator from Iceland whose books have received wide recognition, awards and are popular among readers and critics alike. Since graduating in 2012, she has illustrated over 50 books on different topics. The first book she both wrote and illustrated, Vinur minn, vindurinn (My friend, the wind), received a nomination for The Nordic Council Children and Young People's Literature Prize. Since then, Sævarsdóttir has written 13 books. In 2020, she was chosen as Artist of the Year in her hometown of Hafnarfjörður.

Ólafur Már Svavarsson

 

 

When I was approached by UN Women, I felt honoured and saw it as a chance to do my part in challenging gender stereotypes, dismantling the patriarchy and driving positive change for all.”

 

Siobhan Tebbs. Author of Jack and the Beanstalk

A poet and writer of fiction, Siobhan Tebbs comes from England. A voracious writer in primary school, she rediscovered this need in her 20s when, in London, her anger at frequent street harassment found its way into her first spoken word poem. Since then she has not stopped writing – often on themes of pleasure, grief, cities and cultural intersections. Her poems, stories and anecdotes have been published in a number of literary journals and magazines. Aside from writing, Siobhan spends her time building community and finding and making music.

 

I want young readers to find characters in the tales who have their own unique characteristics and motivations that are not defined solely by their gender. I want them to see women taking charge of their own destiny; that the emotional lives of boys are important; and to see that differing from the norm is what makes us who we are.”

Photo: Darko Šostarec

 

Asli Karataş. Author of Beyond the Woods

Aslı Karataş is a legal attorney based in Istanbul, Turkey. She is also the founder of an online gender platform www.sebuka.com. Karataş creates online and offline content and provides training and consultancy services on gender equality in the workplace, sexist legislation and gender-neutral parenting. Her latest book, Sleeping Beauty Has Waken Up, on gender stereotypes in fairy tales came out in 2020.

Photo: Personal archive.

 

 

I believe in the power of the slogan “you will never walk alone”. I felt empowered to work together with feminist writers from all over the world. I feel I will never walk alone.”

 

Bethan James. Author of The Woman of Flowers

Bethan James is a freelance writer originally from rural Wales in the United Kingdom. She lives with  a chronic illness and in 2021 is taking a sabbatical from her job as a book publicist to complete her debut novel. She has numerous writing achievements and her stories are published in magazines such as Litro. She runs writing workshops and is passionate about helping people find their voices against inequality.

 

 

My goal is to reclaim stories from my heritage where women take a secondary role or are portrayed as villains and transform them into something more complex. I hope to empower girls to overcome gender stereotypes, find their voices against inequality, and unlock transformative possibilities in themselves. A new generation of bedtime stories can make this possible.”

Photo: Megan James

 

Deirdre Sullivan. Author of The Haughty Princess

Deirdre Sullivan is an award-winning writer and teacher from Ireland. Her most recent novel for young adults, Savage Her Reply, is a retelling of the legend, The Children of Lir, from a female perspective. Her first book for adults, I Want to Know That I Will Be Okay, was released in May 2021. Sullivan has always been drawn to fairy tales, particularly stories she first encountered as a child. With her work, she aims to invite the reader to look again, with a keener eye and question the structures within the stories we are told time and time again. She is delighted to be participating in this project, as its goals are very dear to her heart. She was most excited about the opportunity to revisit a story she remembers being read to her at bedtime.

Photo: Personal archive

 

 

Though stories can be tools for change, the power and potential for that lies within the reader. Once a story is written, it stops belonging to the writer and instead becomes a shared conversation.”

 

Doruntina Vinca. Author of The Ghost Rider

Doruntina Vinca is a writer, translator and researcher working and living in Albania. Born and raised in Prishtina, Kosovo[1], she studied cultural anthropology and political science in New York. Her work focuses on storytelling centered around women and the imaginary interpretations of silenced voices. In 2018 she co-founded and became the co-editor of Radical Sense, a feminist reading group. Vinca has an extensive background in cultural research projects, including children’s literature.

 

 

Stories, fairy tales and legends are a living form of inheritance. They are organic and open to change. Storytelling, and in particular children’s literature, can be a powerful tool to help us reimagine a better and more equal future. The only fixed variable is the power of imagination.”

Photo: Personal archive

 

Aslı Tohumcu. Author of The Storyteller

Aslı Tohumcu, a writer from Turkey, studied English language and literature. She worked as an editor at various publishing houses, as a presenter and consultant, and she published numerous books and magazines. Her published children and young adult books include: Bolbadim Chronicles for Children, The Adventures of Eximus, The Black Riders, The Girl Who Turns the World, Three, Two, One, Fire!, The Day When Everybody Turns Back Home.

Photo: Personal archive

 

 

I believe literature plays a significant role in empowering young girls. Awake Not Sleeping has been crucial for bringing us together around reimagining fairy tales and challenging gender norms to jointly build an equal future.”

 

Rovena Rrozhani. Author of Hana, The Girl Who Caught the Sun

Rovena Rrozhani (Kalaja) is a well-known journalist and writer from Albania. She has a rich career in writing across the social and cultural fields in both print and audio-visual media. She is also known as a writer of children's literature. She is the author of a collection of poems, Po vjen Babagjyshi (Santa Claus is coming), also the novel, Lëndina e Arushëve (The Bears' Meadow) and the fairy tale, Fani në kërkim të dritës (Fani in the search of light). She has written several children's plays, worked as a screenwriter of animated films and author of children's song lyrics. In her tales and plays she brings sensitivity to the environment, healthy eating and themes about children’s mental development.

 

 

Through the fairy tales I write, I want to encourage girls and boys to think outside the box, to dare, to experience emotions, to dream, to fight for their rights, and to become protagonists of change.”

Photo: Personal archive

 

Nina Horvat. Author of The Girl With the Short Hair

Nina Horvat, 32, is an award-winning dramaturg, playwright, drama pedagogue and the artistic director of Tirena Theatre from Croatia. She writes plays for children, young people and adults. Her plays were staged in theatres in Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo. She specializes in theatre for young audiences. In shows for young audiences she has dealt with topics such as mental health, tolerance, loss, being different, underage drinking, drug abuse and the influence of technology on everyday life. Since she is a drama pedagogue and works with her target theatre audience, she always does some form of field research with the target audience before starting to work on a show.

Photo: Personal archive

 

When I heard about this wonderful project, I was very excited for an opportunity to write a different kind of fairy tale, a different kind of ‘happy ending’. I hope that while reading my story, girls will see a heroine who isn't afraid to be herself, to make her own decision, to stand on her own and to fight for her rights.”

 

Louise Young. Author of The Princes and the Peas

Louise Young is a writer, artist and upholder of children’s rights from Scotland. Louise is one of the writers contributing to the Awake Not Sleeping initiative. Over the past six years, she has worked with children, young people and women who have experienced domestic abuse and heard them speak about the controlling tactics used by perpetrators. She hopes that readers of her fairy tales become more alert to ‘hidden in plain sight abuse’. And that they call it out and help shape a world where violence against children, women and men is no longer tolerated. Read more.

 

 

 

Stories are a powerful expression of our souls and crucial to creating human connections.”

Photo: Personal archive

 

Esther Obi Smith. Author of The Wound of a Heart Too Kind

Esther Obi Smith is a writer and freelance journalist from the United Kingdom currently based in Zurich. 
She is also an anti-racism advocate and activist dedicated to abolishing the various stigmas that black people and black women in particular face in society. In her current project, she is developing a digital documentary about the life of young black professionals living in Zurich to show the world that there are thousands of young black people like herself who have the passion to live in a world where discrimination does not exist. Read more.

Photo: Personal archive

 

 

 

My parents experienced racism in the 70s. I experienced some – I felt it in my skin. I want my children to not even know what racism is.”

 

Laura Niemeyer . Author of The Sirens of Carraig Mhór

Laura Niemeyer is a writer and aspiring fiction editor born and raised in Hannover, Germany. Her childhood home was filled with books from floor to ceiling, and reading has always been one of her greatest passions, so it is no wonder she grew up to dream of a career that revolves around books and stories. She is currently working on her master’s thesis on climate change fiction and also writing her first novel, a coming-of-age story set on a mystical island in Ireland which inspired her story for the Awake Not Sleeping Collection.

 

 

 

I hope that these new tales will provide a positive outlook on the world by teaching children that they have power and agency, and that despite the challenges of our times, there is light to be found even in darker times.”

Photo: Sophie Gerike

 

Emrah Güler. Co-author of A Tale of Two Ševalas

Emrah Güler is a writer and communication specialist from Turkey. He has over 20 years of professional experience in journalism and writing for print and online media on arts, culture, pop culture, gender, cinema and TV, both in English and Turkish. He has two published books and his fantasy/science fiction novel, Sudan Gelen, features a female superhero as its protagonist. He has worked closely with disadvantaged groups, including women, LGBTQI+, children, and minorities. Read more about Emrah Güler at www.emrahguler.org.

Photo: Personal archive

Fairy tales and children’s books are our first gateways into figuring out what life is all about, with its complexities, conflicts and rewards. It’s one of the greatest pleasures for a writer to become part of these gateways, and to be able to instil in children some sense of equity, justice, inclusion and acceptance. I’m hoping to do that, even if in small doses, with the UN Women’s Awake Not Sleeping initiative.”

 

Amila Hrustić Batovanja. Co-author of A Tale of Two Ševalas

Amila Hrustić Batovanja is the concept creator, art director and one of the authors of the book #WomenOfBiH from Bosnia and Herzegovina. She works as an art director, idea maker and creative lead in the domain of marketing. She has won numerous awards in design and marketing. Her work has been exhibited in Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. She is a part of the team that created the conceptual design for the Sarajevo pedestrian bridge Festina Lente. She lives and works in Prague.

 

 

 

 

The past, the present, and the future are also female.”

Photo: Personal archive

 

Hatidža Gušić. Co-author of A Tale of Two Ševalas

Hatidža Gušić is an experienced programme and grants manager from Bosnia and Herzegovina. She has worked in local and international organizations, implementing human rights and media projects and programmes. She is a co-author of the book #WomenOfBiH – an illustrated work about extraordinary women from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Photo: Personal archive

 

 

 

 

Women don’t need saving, they need equality.”

 

Masha Durkalić. Co-author of A Tale of Two Ševalas

Masha Durkalić is a researcher, editor and one of the authors of the book, #WomenOfBiH. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, and a Master’s in Democracy and Human Rights. She is a fellow of the UN University Gender Equality and Training (UNU-GEST) programme of the University of Iceland. She works in communications and public relations for UN Women, and researches social movements with a focus on feminist activism in South East Europe. She lives and works in Sarajevo.

 

 

Let’s start telling stories that reflect the true experiences of girls and women to inspire other courageous stories to come out.”

Photo: Imrana Kapetanovic

 

Karina Bezrukova. Author of Marta

Karina Armlos Bezrukova, 33, is a writer from Ukraine, living in the Czech Republic. Having graduated from law school, she worked for several years as a jurisconsult. But after having her first child, she decided to stop practising law and realize her dream of writing a book. Today, she is the author of two novels and is currently finishing her third one. Her books are about women and for women. She explores concepts like growing up, inner support, expanding self-awareness, breaking stereotypes. In her work, she pays a lot of attention to the inner world of her heroines, trying to open for them a life with new opportunities and a changed worldview.

Photo: Personal archive

 

With my story, I tried to expand girls' feelings of limits. And I tried to reclaim the significant role of women in the healing process and their ability to be head of a community, which they were deprived of for a long time.”

 

Khulya Jafarova. Author of The Discovery of Princess Jane

Khulya Jafarova is a journalist and public relations specialist, a university lecturer and a PhD candidate in Political Sciences from Azerbaijan. She is the author of the first superhero fantasy novel series in Azerbaijan with strong female superhero characters, called Kulek. Her readers are mostly children and teenagers. Jafarova is the official translator of three international bestsellers, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. She believes that everyone has their own way of searching for themselves and expressing their inner world. She aims to spread positivity in the world and help people with the inner search through her writing. 

 

Issues, such as idealization of love at first sight, dependence of women on men, ideal beauty standards, association of ugliness with being evil, have disturbed me since childhood. To avoid leading children in the wrong direction, it is very important to create modern and more powerful alternatives for them.”

Photo: Personal archive

 

Irina Solomatina. Co-author of The Room with Formulas on the Wall

Irina Solomatina is an author of many articles and several books. The most significant of them are, Feminist (art) critique (2015) and She existed: 16 Women Who Became a Part of Belarusian History (2019). She received her Master’s in Gender and Cultural Studies at the European Humanities University.

Photo: Personal archive

 

 

Our fairy tale was written based on a story from my book, She existed: 16 Women Who Became a Part of Belarusian History. I was happy to be part of a team that turned stories into fairy tales.”

 

Ana Stjelja. Author of Aisha in the Dreamland

Ana Stjelja is a poet, writer, translator, journalist, researcher and editor from Serbia. She has published over 30 books of different literary genres. She is an editor-in-chief of the Alia Mundi, Enheduana and Poetryzine magazines. In 2018, she established the Association Alia Mundi for promoting cultural diversity and is a member of several professional associations. Her work has been published in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovenian, Farsi, Chinese, Arabic, Azerbaijani and Greek.

 

 

Through my fairy tales, I insist on the idea that children should preserve their childhood, to remain innocent, but curious, creative and playful. I wanted to show them the real values of life.”

Photo: Personal archive

 

Alex Chighvinadze. Author of The Belted Sona

For many years Alex Chighvinadze wrote plays and scripts in Georgia for adults. While his partner worked on children’ rights, children’s issues were something they often discussed at home. At some point, she started creating illustrations and he started writing for children. A couple of weeks after the birth of their son, their first picture book was published. Now their son is almost four and they are the authors of four picture books.

Photo: Personal archive

 

 

What makes me proud is writing for children, which means hopes of the twinkling stars in the eyes. This is exactly what I like about this initiative – a chance to start the change from a fairy tale.”

 

Tania Kasian. Author of The Sleeping Castle

Tania Kasian is an author from Ukraine. She started her path in native Mariupol but now she lives in Kyiv where she built a career as an editor-in-chief of media. She has 10 years of experience in journalism covering issues of gender equality, diversity, and inclusion. In 2019 she wrote a book, What they keep silent about, - 13 interviews with women from the stigmatized groups in Ukraine. Currently she works at NGO Fulcrum UA. She advocates for equal rights for women and LGBT+ community in Ukraine. 

 

 

My fairytale, The Sleeping Castle, is my first experience in such a genre. I wanted to challenge fairytales where the princess is passive, to create a story which kids will like.”

Photo: Olena Shebanits

 

Katerina Paouri. Author of The Myrtle Tree and Pomegranate Mirror

Katerina Paouri, 43, is a teacher in primary education from Greece. Books have always been her companion. She wrote her first poem when she was nine and has never stopped. She combines her love for teaching with writing and storytelling. She believes that a bite of happiness resides in doing what you love. 

Photo: Personal archive

 

 

 

Rewriting a fairy tale was a wonderful adventure. The strong symbols hidden in every fairy tale, where every word counts, was a challenge – how to keep the elements that do not change the essence of the story but rethinking our place and defying gender stereotypes.”

 

Saida Rashidova. Author of Zumrad and Kimmat

Saida Rashidova, 35, is an English language teacher from Uzbekistan. She also teaches Uzbek language, writes and illustrates children's books, as well as runs a reading club for women in the community. While working at the International School in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), she fell in love with children's picture books that are lacking in her country. Saida authored the book, The Story of Dopka, published in 2021 about a little cap with an Uzbek ornament, hurt and assured of his unattractiveness. The story tells about the uniqueness of every individual and their own place in this world.

 

 

My passion is to work with children. As a teacher at an international school, I witnessed how children love books. I decided to take it further and use the power of storytelling within my own community.”

Photo: Personal archive

 

Natalia Remish. Author of House 92

Natalia Remish is a writer, script writer and animation series producer based in the Netherlands. She studied political science, published five books for children and one animated TV series. She works in the area of children’s and parents’ mental health, emotional intelligence and empathy. She founded an NGO that helps reduce levels of violence in facilities and provoke bonding and emotional security.

Photo: Personal archive

 

 

In this project, I was inspired by the amazing women who are working for one big idea. I really wanted to contribute to the idea of ‘yes, you can’ – to empower girls to feel strong enough to do what they want in life.”

 

Noémie Petremand. Author of The Wyvern of Lake Léman

Born in Switzerland, Noemie Pétremand is passionate about words, their creative power and their ability to create multiple universes that question and unveil our daily reality. She has been writing and adapting tales for children since 2012. Along with Jenay Loetscher, she created the Plume et Pinceau project and the eponymous publishing house, which has produced eight books including Eldorado (2017) and Une journée extraordinaire (2020). Discover more about her works here: www.ecrire-en-coeur.ch.

 

 

 

It is important for me, as a freelance artist, to create stories that are close to my heart.”

Photo: Personal archive

 

Zebuniso Rasulzade. Author of A Tale of a Brave Daughter

Zebuniso Rasulzade is  a young award-winning poetess and writer from Tajikistan. Her first book, Pandname, was published in 2019. Her new books, Pandnoma, Revelations of the Muse, Adventures of Firuz were published in Tajik, English and Russian in 2020. Her poems and prose are designed to help the reader discover the magic world of eastern fairy tales and legends; and to give them a chance to dive deep into the Tajik and Persian wisdom, ethics and history. Through these legends and fairy tales, she shows the importance of responsibility for the environment, nature, society, each other and oneself. 

Photo: Didor Sadulloev

 

Thanks to this initiative, I understood that fairy tales have a significant impact in forming the mindset of children and empowering girls and women. I hope that my fairy tales will encourage girls and women to become the painters of their lives.”

 

Awake Not Sleeping Editors

Angela Walsh

Angela Walsh is a highly experienced consultant, project manager and mentor from Australia. She is a leader of multi-year International, national, state and territory projects driving intersectional systemic change for the prevention of gender-based violence, racism and promoting gender equality. She has worked with UNICEF, the United Nations and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) in Timor-Leste, Indonesia and Thailand; as well as with national, state and territory governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across Australia over the last 20 years. Read more.

 

 

I feel deeply privileged to work with UN Women, bringing people together to enact social, community and organizational change through high-quality facilitation, mentoring for self and systems reflective practice, and the co-design of localized approaches and models.”

Photo: Personal archive

 

Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli is a writer and professor of linguistics and social justice at Swarthmore College in the United States of America. She has published over 80 books for young people in many genres. Of special interest to her are fairy tales, myths and religious stories. Her books have won awards and been translated into many languages. She loves to garden, bake bread, dance, practice yoga, and make pottery. Her website is https://www.donnajonapoli.com/Read more

Photo: Personal archive

 

 

 

The truth of a story nestles in the heart.”

 

Kalina Maleska

Kalina Maleska is a writer from North Macedonia. Her work includes three collections of short stories, two novels, a play, a children’s book, and a study of contemporary literature. Her stories, as well as articles on literary theory and criticism, have been published in various journals and anthologies in North Macedonia and abroad. Her story, ‘A Different Kind of Weapon’, is part of the anthology Best European Fiction 2018. Maleska teaches English and American literature at Ss. Cyril and Methodius University – Skopje. Read more.

 

 

 

There should not be an end to the efforts for achieving human rights.”

Photo: Aleksandar Zlatev

 

Check out "Awake Not Sleeping: Reimagining fairy tales for a new generation” initiative's interactive website here.


[1] All references to Kosovo should be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).