Transitioning out of the white gaze to become more authentic

The Roots That Help Us Grow
Cover art "Down to the Roots" by Mireya S. Vela (

The Authentic Voices Fellowship, fostered by the Women’s National Book Association and the Women of Color Writers organization, seeks to bring BIPOC women to a deeper level of inclusion in the publishing industry and the literary world at large. Through the words of these inaugural fellows, the reader may understand how telling these stories—despite the tragedy, trauma, injustice, political movements, language barriers, and grief involved—allows one to root more deeply into a heritage that helps us grow.

Through the writing of six exceptional women, you will get to know cultures and stories from a truly authentic lens, not the lens that you’ve been accustomed to. Whether through fiction or creative non-fiction, these stories will transcend stereotypes that you’ve been slowly accustomed to and will give you a look into the heart and soul of communities you wouldn’t know otherwise. The words in this anthology are raw and aren’t polished to make you feel better. They are left sharp to just make you feel.

These stories are a reminder that we have so much more to learn about each other. They are unforgettable because, more than just stories, they are a look into a gaze that is authentic and not white. The essays and their authors remind us that while the United States is diverse, the views represented from those diverse communities are often not. Try as our communities may to open themselves up to other cultures and communities, often are those stories given a re-fresh, or in publishing terms an “edit,” so that the story is more comfortable for you to read. More often than not, the polishing of publishing comes at the cost of authenticity.

Our communities are complex. We are complex.

All these stories are steeped in culture—each so different, so personal—yet something that we can relate to and experience authentically through their words. All these stories are rooted in strength.

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Foreword by
Devi S. Laskar

Devi S. Laskar
Author, The Atlas of Reds and Blues (Counterpoint Press, 2019) and CIRCA (Mariner Books, 2022)

Introduction by
Natalie Obando

Natalie Obando
National President of Women's National Book Association and co-Founder of Women of Color Writers

• Alaa Al-Barkawi, "A Disappearance"
• Amber Blaeser-Wardzala, "What Comes After"
• L. Iyengar, "Life Cycles"
• Yemimah, "Far Above Rubies"
• Cecilia Caballero, "A Starburst Within Myself"
• Arao Ameny, "Tangawizi"

Alaa Al-Barkawi first fell in love with literature after reading Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street as a sophomore in high school. Since then, Alaa has always had an affinity for raw, poetic storytelling. As a first-generation Iraqi-American, Alaa hopes to uplift other immigrant and refugee voices through her writing and in her future publishing career. She currently serves as a Literary Fellow for Bookends Literary Agency, as well as an inaugural fellow for WNBA’s Authentic Voices program. She is also the founder of SWANAVoices, an online resource hub for Southwest Asian and North African kid-lit writers. “A Disappearance” is her first short story.

"A Disappearance"

Seventeen-year-old Hajer has come back to her former Iraqi-American community after her divorce. While gossip about Hajer sweeps throughout the community, a young Iraqi woman established in her social rank is tasked to take her in. As Hajer bonds with the woman and her children, a decision about allegiance must be made.

Amber Blaeser-Wardzala is a current MFA student in Creative Writing at Arizona State University and an alumna of Denison University, with a BA in English – Creative Writing. Blaeser-Wardzala is Anishinaabe from White Earth Nation and grew up in rural Wisconsin. Her poetry and photography have been included in various regional publications, and she has received several fiction awards, including from Ruminate Magazine in the 2021 William Van Dyke Short Story Competition. Blaeser-Wardzala’s work often explores identity and culture as she strives to transform her experiences as an Indigenous woman into stories that complicate the “American narrative.”

"What Comes After"

From beyond the grave, the speaker narrates the method in which her killer disposes of her body and the tragic reality of murdered indigenous women.

L. Iyengar spent her formative years in India. Her writing is an amalgamation of her interests in culture, travel, and science. She believes a good narrative, whether fiction or non-fiction, communicates ideas across borders and cultures, and may bridge the diverse veins running through the global human family. She is a regular columnist for India Currents, an award-winning San Francisco-based community journalism initiative serving the Southeast Asian diaspora since 1987. She feels privileged to be published in this anthology with her fellow Authentic Voices awardees.

"Life Cycles"

In this non-fiction piece, L. Iyengar brings home the simple fact that life proceeds in a cyclical manner while also reflecting on two crises: one in the present and the other a distant childhood memory, that were faced and then taken in stride, to continue with the adventure of life. Set in disparate cultural backgrounds in the USA and India, it speaks about tensions resulting from man-made situations on one hand, and uncontrolled upheavals of Nature on the other.

Yemimah is a gifted Djelimusa and Author who uses her talents to promote awareness to lesser-known historical events and people. Yemimah recently won the Royal Wolf Film Award for her work as a Narrator on “Until Caleb.” She has written and starred in several one-woman shows focusing on domestic violence and historical women of courage. Being a teaching artist with Arts For Learning, Outschool and Wolftrap of Virginia, allows Yemimah to teach African History through storytelling. Being part of the Authentic Voices Fellowship program is exciting and has given her a new opportunity to embark on writing her first book. Modupe to her Ancestors for choosing her to give them a voice! Simba Simbi, hold up that which holds you.

"Far Above Rubies"

A woman studies the jury and reflects on her history of men and her family’s history of men as she awaits judgment on the case of the murder of her abuser. Through this story about a woman’s journey of a lifetime of abuse and Domestic Violence, we remember those who lost their lives as a result of it and honor those who survived it. The story reminds us that Domestic Violence affects not just one individual but the entire family. If left ignored, it can easily become a generational curse. Yemimah hopes this story inspires individuals to seek help for themselves or someone they care about if there are signs of Domestic Violence.

Based in Los Angeles, Cecilia Caballero is an Afro-Chicana single mother, poet, creative nonfiction writer, poetry workshop facilitator, speaker, educator, and co-editor of The Chicana Motherwork Anthology: Porque Sin Madres No Hay Revolución. She has been invited to give talks and poetry workshops for institutions such as East Los Angeles College, UC Berkeley, the University of Arizona, and elsewhere. Cecilia is a Tin House alum and Macondista and her work is published or forthcoming in Dryland Magazine, Epiphany, Raising Mothers, The Acentos Review, and elsewhere. Cecilia is currently revising her first full-length creative nonfiction manuscript titled Other Alive Creatures.

"A Starburst Within Myself"

The narrator offers a love letter to literacy and language. As a child of working-class Mexican immigrant parents with limited formal education, the narrator states that “her father was her first library.” The narrator then traces the politicization of her literacy by connecting her childhood experiences with the advent of COVID-19 and her viewing of The Parable of Sower Opera. Ultimately, this story invites readers to consider Octavia Butler’s call to deeply feel their own and others’ emotions as a pathway towards liberation, justice, and healing.

Arao Ameny is a Maryland-based writer and poet from Lira, Lango region, Uganda. She spent her early childhood in Uganda and grew up in the US. She has an MFA in Fiction Writing from University of Baltimore, an MA in Journalism from Indiana University, and a BA in Political Science from University of Indianapolis. Her first published poem, “Home is a Woman,” highlighting the importance of foremothers and women’s land rights in Uganda, appeared in The Southern Review in 2020 and won the James Olney Award. She is a 2021 fellow for the Women’s National Book Association’s Authentic Voices program.


A daughter tells a story about the loss of the family’s house in Ohio after the mother passes away from cancer. It’s a story about the loss of a home after the mother worked and saved for the house for two decades. It’s a story about loss, growth, resilience, and transformation. It’s also an immigrant story.

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Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ The Nasiona (November 13, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 126 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1950124118
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1950124114
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 8.6 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 0.32 x 9 inches