In 1980, Nadia Anjuman Herawi was born in the city of Herat in northwestern Afghanistan. She was one of six children, raised during one of Aghanistan’s more recent periods of tumult. In September 1995, the Taliban captured Herat and ousted the then-Governor of the Province, Ismail Khan. With the new Taliban government in power, women had their liberties drastically restrained. A gifted student in her tenth year of schooling, Anjuman now faced a future with no hope for education, as the Taliban shut the schools for girls and denied any instruction to her and her peers.
As a teenager, Anjuman rallied with other local women and began attending an underground educational circle called the Golden Needle Sewing School, organized by Herat University professor Muhammad Ali Rahyab in 1996. Members of the Golden Needle School would gather three times a week under the guise of learning how to sew (a practice approved by the Taliban government), while in actuality the meetings enabled them to hear lectures from Herat University professors and lead discussions on literature. If caught, the likely punishment was imprisonment, torture, and possibly hanging. In order to protect themselves, the attendants had their children play outside the building and act as lookouts. They would alert the women of approaching religious police, at which point the students would hide their books and take up needlework. The program continued through the entirety of the Taliban governmental rule.
The Golden Needle School was not Anjuman’s only creative outlet while the Taliban were in power. She decided to approach Professor Rahyab, in hopes of having him mentor her in writing and literature. In a time when women were not permitted to leave their homes alone, Rahyab began to tutor the sixteen-year-old Anjuman, and helped her find the voice that would soon captivate thousands of readers. He also exposed her to many writers that would greatly influence her work including Hafiz Shirazi, Bidel Dehlavi, Forough Farrokhzad, and others.
The citizens of Herat suffered the abuses of the Taliban for six years before their purported liberation by the United States-backed Northern Alliance in 2001. Anjuman was 21 and, as she was free to pursue an education, applied and was accepted to Herat University. While earning her degree in literature, Anjuman published a book of poetry entitled “Gul-e-dodi” (“Dark Flower”). which proved popular in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
Anjuman’s husband, Farid Ahmad Majid Neia, graduated from Herat University with a degree in literature and became the head of the library there. Anjuman’s friends and supporters are of the opinion that Neia and his family believed her poetry to be a disgrace to their reputation. Anjuman continued to write despite, and was set to publish a second volume of poetry in 2006 entitled “Yek sàbad délhoreh” (“An Abundance of Worry”) which included poems expressing her isolation and sadness concerning her marital life.
On November 4, 2005, Anjuman and her husband had an altercation. According to Neia, Anjuman wanted to go out and visit family and friends, a common practice during Eid al-Fitr (the final day of the holy month of Ramadan). Neia said he would not allow her to visit her sister’s. Anjuman protested, and they began to fight. That night Neia beat Anjuman until she was unconscious, causing severe bruising and a cut to her head. Hours later, as Anjuman was apparently still unconscious, Neia took her to a hospital by rickshaw. The driver later told authorities Anjuman was already dead when Neia placed her in his carriage. Soon afterward, a senior police officer, Nisar Ahmad Paikar, stated that her husband had confessed to battering her, following a row, but not to killing her. Neia claimed she took poison and confessed to doing so before she died.
Anjuman is said to have vomited blood after having lost consciousness, which doctors believe was the most likely cause of death. Neia claimed that Anjuman had taken poison after their row and had asked him to tell family and friends that she had died of a heart attack. Neia and his family barred doctors from carrying out an autopsy, so no definitive evidence of the actual cause of death was found. Neia and his mother were both arrested for the possible murder of Anjuman.
Neia was convicted of murder for Anjuman’s death and subsequently incarcerated. Tribal elders in Herat began to lean on Anjuman’s ailing father, asking that he forgive Neia for her death in order to shorten Neia’s prison sentence. With the promise that Neia would remain in prison for five years, Anjuman’s father relented. Anjuman’s death was officially deemed a suicide by the Afghan courts, and Neia was released just one month later. Her father died shortly after from the shock, according to Anjuman’s brother.
Anjuman was survived by a six-month-old son, who is now in Neia’s custody. Her complete works were published in 2007 by the Iranian Burnt Books Foundation in “divâne sorudehâye Nadia Anjuman” (“The Book of Poems of Nadia Anjuman”). “The Book of Poems” is currently available only in the original Persian. “Dark Flower” has been reprinted three times and sold over 3000 copies.
The United Nations condemned the killing soon afterwards. Their spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, said that "[t]he death of Nadia Anjuman, as reported, is indeed tragic and a great loss to Afghanistan... It needs to be investigated and anyone found responsible needs to be dealt with in a proper court of law." Paikar confirmed that Anjuman's husband had indeed been charged. According to friends and family, Anjuman was apparently a disgrace to her husband's family due to her poetry, which described the oppression of Afghan woman.
Poetry in Translation
Diana Arterian holds exclusive English translation rights of Anjuman's complete works, as conferred by her estate and family. Her translations are done with the assistance of Marina Omar. Excerpts can be read in Asymptote, The Brooklyn Rail, Circumference, Exchanges, and elsewhere.
Cristina Contilli, Ines Scarpolo, and M. Badihian Amir translated Anjuman's work into Italian in a volume entitled Elegia per Nadia Anjuman, published by Edizioni Carte e Penna, from Torino, Italy in 2006.
- A Nation Challenged: Afghan Poets Revive a Literary Tradition (New York Times report)
- Afghan poet dies after battering (BBC News report)
- Afghan Poet Dies after Beating by Husband (New York Times report)
- Afghan Poet's Death Raises Many Questions (Institute for War & Peace Reporting)
- Afghan woman poet beaten to death (Middle East Times report)
- Afghan woman poet Nadia Anjuman remembered two years on (AFP)
- Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2008: Vols. I and II
- Lamb, Christina. "The Defiant Poets' Society," The Sunday Times, April 26, 2009. 
- Lamb, Christina. "Woman poet 'slain for her verse,'" The Sunday Times, November 13, 2005.
- Synovitz, Ron. "Afghanistan: Author Awaits Happy Ending To 'Sewing Circles Of Herat'", Radio Free Europe, March 31, 2004, accessed 29 July 2010.
- R M Chopra, "Eminent Poetesses of Persian", Iran Society, Kolkata, 2010
- Nadia Anjuman's life story, written by her brother and the executor of her estate. 
- An archive of Nadia Anjuman's life, audio, photographs, and book. 
- Read more about Nadia Anjuman, including her poetry, at UniVerse of Poetry, which was founded after Anjuman's death.
- Some of Nadia Anjuman's poems, translated from the original Persian-Dari into English by Diana Arterian and Marina Omar. 
- Nadia Anjuman's complete works in the original Persian-Dari, available on Amazon.